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Board: Help with novels/scifi

  1. Nov 18, 2011 #1
    Hey guys,

    To give myself some background before posting this, I've read through the "Personal Theories" and "Crackpot Forum" Suggestion threads, and re-read the relevant Global Guidelines. So, if this idea just doesn't meet the forum vision, I understand. Having said that...

    I think there's a case to be made for a new board, dedicated to people who come here looking for science advice as they put together a world for a science fiction (or dare I say fantasy?) novel.

    1. The category exists.
    In my humble, ~50-post career here at PF, I've seen threads like this a few times. Lots of people without the first clue about relativity want to write scifi novels, but what's interesting is that a few of them come here, hoping to get help in making their world more realistic - or, at the very least, to get an assessment of how realistic their world is. A noble goal, in my opinion.

    2. The category requires its own area.
    Well and good. They ask for realism; we can direct them towards The Truth Of Reality (something at which this website is pretty good!), and they can accept it or leave it. That's one approach - but it's frequently not that simple. Some necessary plot devices may require a compromise to The Truth Of Reality, and the novelist is looking for how to allow this while avoiding as much inconsistency as possible in their world (archtypical example: FTL travel). So such discussions, if they are to help the novelist, sometimes need to stray into the realm that would be called "crackpottery" if it were attempting to address reality. This is where the actual suggestion comes in: such discussions, if they were to take place on these forums, should be abstracted away from the parts that preach the pure, unfettered Truth Of Reality (ie. all the science boards).

    3. This website is a good place to host it.
    People come to this website because of its good reputation. Ok, ok, [citation needed]. Maybe it's the first thing that came up on google. But it's good that they end up here, because lots of knowledgeable people hang out here. Here, they can in fact get a thought-out assessment of how realistic their world is, and perhaps what inconsistencies they may have to address. If we have a board dedicated to helping them, we can be flexible to their needs instead of giving them hardline requirements that veto the plot of their story, while still giving advice based on a good knowledge of modern physics.

    Here's an example of what I mean...although, before reading it, please understand that I am in no way trying to denounce or decry the way the thread was handled. My suggestion would simply offer an alternative way.

    -Jack Desh is proposing an idea important for his story. It is backed up by intuition and no data, and thus counts as a personal theory. He is requesting expert opinion on how realistic his idea is.
    -Option 1 [current model of PF]: Call out the fact that he is asking for assessment on a personal theory, assert the invalidity of such a topic, and lock thread - as executed by Vanadium 50.
    -Option 2 [my suggestied model]: Call out the fact that he is looking for advice in constructing a fictional, potentially non-realistic universe, as opposed to seeking information about reality. Assert that it is off-topic, and move it to the SF Novel Help (or whatever) board.

    Yea? Nay? Thoughts?

    Thank you for your consideration. :)
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2011 #2
    Well, I certainly see these posts regurarly. But are they really frequent enough to merit a special category?? I think each separate category here has at least 10 new topics each day. I don't that a novel-category would have such an amount of posts.

    I've never seen this happening. There were a few people asking here for help in their SF-novels, but these threads weren't locked. In fact, they received a number of helpful responses.

    It eventually comes down to the attitude of the poster. If somebody wants their main character to travel through dimensions, then we will point out that dimensions don't work like that. If they persist that we're wrong, then the thread should be locked as it is a personal theory.
    This is what happened in Jack Desh's post. He wanted to discuss his SF-novel idea. But he didn't like the answers, so he proposed a personal theory, which is why it was locked.

    Also, I think it's best not to post such a topics in the "general physics" forum. They rather belong in general discussion, I think.
  4. Nov 18, 2011 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    The mistakes were

    1) science fiction is not allowed in the hard sciences forum

    2) The OP changed from "what if we pretended" to actual speculation

    I will allow "how could I make something impossible sound reasonable for my story" type of threads in GD as long as it's understood it's just make believe.

    I can only think of a couple of threads this year, there aren't enough for a separate subforum.

    Yeah, what micro said. :biggrin:
  5. Nov 19, 2011 #4
    OMG! I was just thinking about posting an interesting sci fi reality I thought up, but decided against it because I didn't know where to post it without everyone getting irritated about the fact it's full of interesting bs mixed with true things (and a lot of false implications between them).

    I'll concede that my doing so would be of no intellectual value to the community, though. Maybe some entertainment could be extracted from it, though.
  6. Nov 19, 2011 #5


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I appreciate the sentiment but I don't think a separate subforum is necessary. One of the biggest problems that springs to mind is whether or not that subforum would attract the level of knowledgeable members it would need. If a budding author has questions regarding specific minutia of quantum physics, or needed help in writing planetary orbits or wanted advice on evolution under alien conditions it would be best to post in the specific places where the experts on this subject usually post.

    In addition I think the set up we have now is still fit for purpose. So long as the user has a good attitude (like micro said) and takes the thread in a "I'm trying to write a believable situation with A, B, C attributes" direction rather than a "I have a personal theory" diatribe then they will get the help they want.
  7. Nov 20, 2011 #6
    Ok, so what I think I understand from you guys is:

    1. It happens, but it's not common enough to merit its own board/subcategory.

    2. Better for people to bring their questions to the actual science boards--provided they don't start proposing personal theories--because that's where the experts actually hang out.

    Fair enough, and thank you for responding :)

    A bit of a follow-up question, if you'll allow?...
    Suppose a such a topic is made--in, say, the Relativity forum--and the OP essentially asks: "I read the FAQ about relativity and it says X. But I need my universe to breach/circumvent X; what are some realistic/damage-controlling ways to do that? Would Y work? What would be the implications of Y?", where Y amounts to a "personal theory". Could this sort of question be considered acceptable, given that the purpose of discussing the "personal theory" is to address a need in a fictional universe? (And assuming good attitude on the poster's part! o:)) Or would this belong more in General Discussion?

    Thanks again.
  8. Nov 20, 2011 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    My favorite comment, posted elsewhere:

  9. Nov 20, 2011 #8
    Exactly! Attempting to patch together a coherent answer to that question is exactly what science fiction writers frequently have to do. xD
  10. Nov 20, 2011 #9


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    No problem, thank you for the suggestion. Even though the consensus is leaning away from you it's still nice to see productive suggestions for the site.
    I have a few thoughts on this. The first has been covered by D H via Borek, the problem comes in designing reasonable technobabble which isn't something a lot of science minded people are necessarily good at nor want to be. I've seen a few SF threads get derailed in argument as some members argue with others over how to deal with made up science.

    In terms of developing ideas as you have suggested it's an awkward topic. On the one hand there may be good ways of doing this, for example I remember a thread where the member wanted to write about a spaceship with physics defying possibilities. They wanted to say at first that it was made out of the structure of space itself and after this was explained as not making any sense they changed it to simply "exotic matter" and made up it's characteristics. In other situations I've seen members get very argumentative because their Y-theories for their X-conditions (to borrow your terminology) literally don't make sense i.e. aren't internally consistent, don't match anything close to what we know etc. An example would be a thread I remember where the user was adamant about keeping a tachyonic universe where beings could see all of time and control matter because of it or something like that.

    Overall I enjoy trying to help SF authors but whether or not a thread is productive, is locked instantly or devolves into page after page or arguing really depends on the attitude and ideas of the authors.
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