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Sci-Fi Writer needs your help

  1. Aug 9, 2011 #1
    Ok, I am no physics major…. I am a writer, but I truly need to get some Physics information. I am sure that should I get this work in progress published, some physics major will be able to blow huge holes in my idea, as it stands today. So I would like to throw out some suppositions here and let those who know what they are talking about discuss my idea here. This will help my work in progress to be more realistic for my sci-fi audience.
    So here goes….
    1) My Protagonist’s (female) mother was kidnapped by my Antagonist and hidden in another Dimension.
    2) My Protagonist follows my Antagonist and My Protagonist’s Mother into that Dimension.
    3) My Antagonist has the ability,when in this dimension, to manipulate Strong Force, Weak force, and Electromagnetic Force to cause them to be what he wants. I see him considering himself a kind of cosmic computer simulation programmer in this Dimension.
    4) I see this Dimension as having more instability in these forces than our own.
    5) When my Antagonist or someone of his race it not existing in this dimension long-term cohesion is not possible.
    I know this supposition is tenuous at best. But what Can I say, I am a sci-fi writer. What I am asking is the following questions.
    Say such a dimension actually exists….
    1) What would it be like to exist here even for a billionth of second without cohesion? What I mean is if My Antagonist simply held her together but not the rest of the proto- matter around her?
    2) How might to human brain try to process what it was experiencing in this dimension?
    3) What universal Laws would have to exist in order for this dimension to exist?
    4) What would this proto-matter look; act; and be like? What it be a corrosive, or alkaline substance? Would it be Liquid, semi- solid, or gas? Would it be none of the above?
    5) Since my Antagonist doesn’t actually come from this dimension but another dimension that allows him to move very quickly (say the speed of light) how would this supposed Proto-matter react to his presence.
    6) What other things would you all be able to suppose about my hypothetical dimension?
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2011 #2
    I am no physics major either....but can grasp some of it...But I am a big big fan of sci-fi...

    Another Dimension? A good idea...but if you need to give your story a mind-bender angle, make that dimension 'TIME'...Say your antagonist takes the protagonist's mother back in time (what i mean is that the antagonist just finds a way to go back in time)...this way there are a lot of possible ways in which he can change the future in which the protagonist and his mother actually exist..maybe change their family structure altogether...become the protagonists father (or anything else!) .think about it...time travel is always fascinating :-)
  4. Aug 10, 2011 #3
    Although this is an exciting concept I truly want to play with the ideas of the four force and string theory.
    Personally I find this theories fascinating in the first place. which of course is why I am wanting to write about it. Thanks for the idea, but remember Time Travel is highly overdone at this stage.
    I am looking for a fresh and exciting angle. If you have watch Star trek next generation however you will get a clearer idea of what My idea is.

    Imagine a whole dimension that is in effect a Holodeck... that is the ability to reorganize matter and have it behave in a programmatic way.

    However, My dimension would be at the nuclear level. I am clear about the idea just not on whether my character could even be able to understand the things around her before the "Holodeck" program begins.

    example: My character appears in the dimension before he orders the physics of the world to resemble our own. Only she is fully formed... what would she see, hear feel, smell,taste, before that program begins?

    Immediately after this he will take her back to her bed, her mother is fixing her breakfast. Although it is a good copy of how he perceives the world she lives in to be, but for instance the dog when she first sees him is has hair about 1 inch the next time she sees the dog it is 3/4 and inch long. This is because of the fact that matter is so loosely cohesive that in this dimension it seems that one is always losing protons and all the other "tons" that are the elemental components that make up matter.

    This is the reason that she must quickly get her mother out of this place before she and her mother lose cohesion as a whole.

    Also It is my plan to have it where when she thinks she has found her mother My Antagonist begins the process of dissolution in elemental particles. She will notice that the Mother she thought she found will dissolve into symbol and blink out of existence and suddenly another program begins.
    In time she will quit searching and sit at wherever he has her at the moment doing nothing. He will be angry because she will not play his game anymore.

    I hope that this further explanation will help explain my idea better.
  5. Aug 10, 2011 #4
    Errr.. this will probably sound discouraging but SCIENTIFICALLY, everything you're saying here is just a bunch of gibberish. Which, is pretty much the case for all sci-fi so I wouldn't be detered by it. Do you think there's ever been an episode of Star Trek that made any sense scientifically? Of course not. However, if you want some quick analysis:

    Dimension in physics refers to a degree of freedom, like you can move in the x-direction, y-direction etc. Not a physical place you live like a 1920's Flash Gordon serial. Also, Proto-matter isn't a word, best I can google it's from Star Trek III, so there's really nothing to be said about how the *fictional word* of a "dimension" behaves. Also, you keep saying "cohesion" but most of the ways you use it don't really make any sense in terms of what the word means in physics. And I couldn't even begin to parse a statement like "would the dimension be a solid, liquid, metal, etc." Such things are labels given to aggregates of atoms, usually related to their electron structure.

    As for tuning the parameters of the universe I don't think anyone really has a handle on that. Of the few dozen constants that define the "Standard Model" of physics I don't think anyone has any real idea to what extent they can be varied and still have things like quark confinement or sufficiently screened electron charge, etc. Of course in a computer simulation you, of course don't have to use OUR universes laws of physics at all...
  6. Aug 10, 2011 #5
    I know My postulation has holes(obviously more like huge tears), in it scientifically
    OK, but I am trying to firm it make it more scientific. I am sure it does sound like gibberish. What can one expect when it comes to Physics I only have the most basic of understanding.....

    Point is I want to know more, and I know to come to some people who do and ask them to explain a few things to me.

    Sci-fi writers do however, want their ideas to be possible. They do wish that any scientific guy such as yourself could pick up their book and say something like this.....
    " OK, so she got a few things wrong but basically she got that right.

    OK so dimension isn't the word... what would you call a place that doesn't obey the same universal laws that we do.

    Two- proto-matter is just a word I created because I couldn't find a word to discribe what I am talking about. What I mean by that word is...
    Proto-matter in my mind would be the basic elemental stuff we are made of ie: electrons, atoms,Quarks and the like.

    I am glad we have to set about defining that because that is at the core of my question.

    What would it be like to be in a world where these things are as unstable as I discribe, or at least slightly less cohesive than our own?

    Is their a word already in existence that I am not aware of for those things?
    Please be patient with me I want to understand. If I get it wrong please explain like you just did with Dimension. I now know the word Dimension is wrong for it isn't a Direction I mean. I mean a pocket of space in which the laws of our universe are only slightly changed, enough where it could be manipulated.

    Scientifically, could such a pocket exist? I think this question is fundamental to all my other questions.could there be unknown to us place within our universe that contain a pocket of space where the laws of cohesion as we know it are more fluid.
    ie. quarks or atoms (or whatever we call it) are less likely to remain solid than our own?

    For instance My desk I am writing on; in this pocket of space;would lose enough atoms(if you will) In say, 6 hours that I could really tell a difference. Would such a place even be able to be explained scientifically?
  7. Aug 10, 2011 #6
    Hi scifiwriter,

    I think I understand a lot of what you're trying to say. I'll try to give you a hand...

    Sort of, but not quite. Something science fiction writers frequently do is this:
    "I know that in the real world, [X] isn't possible (or maybe theoretically possible, but not anytime soon). But suppose - just suppose - [X] were possible, by doing such-and-such. What would be the implications? How would our technology be affected, and how would this change our lifestyle/culture/existence? And what original, interesting narratives might arise from such a situation?"

    In other words, it's ok to change a rule or two - but, to make good science fiction - try to keep it at just a simple rule or two, and then the real work comes from figuring out the implications. Take Mass Effect, for example. They postulate an element which, when an electric current is run through it, affects the mass of nearby matter. Very simple. So what can they do with it? Well, they come up with a bunch of things, some more far-fetched than others. Good science fiction (imo) comes from breaking just a couple (best=just one) rules which result in interesting implications which are not far-fetched, but follow directly. But as long as you're consistent about which rules you break, how, and what the results are, the science fiction can be fun and interesting.

    I think the word you're looking for is universe. Your character can travel between our universe and a different one (and possibly more?) It's a different universe because (1) you can't reach it just by traveling through space, and (2) it obeys different laws regarding strong and weak nuclear forces, etc.

    This actually might have precedent (the existing part, not the travel part) in some versions of the multiverse hypothesis/theory/notion. Namely, that ours is only one of countless separate universes, all of which obey different laws of physics (or, at the very least, have different values for the various cosmological constants). So that part makes sense.

    It sounds to me like you're imposing two "fictions" on top of this: 1) the ability to travel between universes, and 2) the ability (of some characters) to actually influence the cosmological constants in some universes. The first one sounds like a reasonable plot device to use in a science fiction. It's been done before, in some ways. In Asimov's The Gods Themselves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves), the laws of the two universes would slowly change, merging towards an average, evey time the universes connected (by teleporting material between them). That was a neat idea, perhaps worth your attention.
    The second notion, that some entities can manipulate the laws (or at least the cosmological constants) at will, seems a bit more fantasy-ish to me; it's not a simple rule change, for one thing. And, if not restricted in some way, you essentially turn the character into a kind of Dr.Manhatten, who could probably dissolve a planet by thinking about it. But, see if you can put some interesting restrictions on it that lead to a non-contrived-sounding narrative. *shrug* It's your story!

    Hope this long-winded spiel has helped clarify stuff for you :)
  8. Aug 10, 2011 #7

    Thanks so much for your post. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to explain it in a way that others could understand enough to be able to help me.

    I know what you mean by it being just one rule. I guess the one rule that would have to be the rule of cohesion. It's more central to my story's plot line anyway.

    I guess I used the device that he could manipulate this universe because I wanted to explain why she just didn't disintegrate the second she arrived. I know it was a lazy way out , but I wasn't sure how that could work.

    Of course, the fiction of traveling between the universes is a must. As there could be no story without this.

    Let me see if I can surmise my premises in the Book in a concise form.....

    1. Our Universe is actually tucked into another Larger universe. Picture a Basket of apples and you get the picture I am trying to pose to my readers.
    2. These Universes are each peopled with Intelligent life.
    3. The larger basket(if you will) is the oldest Universe of all and is peopled with being that move faster than the speed of light. They are capable of choosing to slow them self for short periods of time and it is at that time they are able to make themselves apparent in our universe.
    4. What separates our universe and the bigger Basket universe is a Brane. The Brane that some Physics people consider as what created the Big Bang.

    This at least must remain a part of my book or the whole thing falls apart
  9. Aug 10, 2011 #8
    Well of course the multi-verse/alternate reality, etc. trope is probably amongst the oldest and most common devices in science fiction. And, as has been mentioned (kudos to "the gods themselves" reference, that's a good book) the "different universes with different laws" is well covered territory. However, this brings me back to the first point, science fiction never deals with such things SCIENTIFICALLY, it's always just a bunch of SCIENTIFIC GARBAGE (not literary garbage of course, I'm a big sci-fan myself). In these things it's always like "The laws of physics are different in this universe so apples are purple and platforms of rock can float and the sky is orange, etc." of course this is nothing to do with how real laws of physics would change and, of course, the reality would be infinitely more complex and infinitely less capable of being molded into a plot or narrative.

    Look at it this way, our universe is made of chunks of "matter" the most important every day properties of this stuff (how it bends, how it shines, how it conducts heat or electricity, etc) relate to how the individual electrons, associated with the atoms that make up the matter, undergo a dance of attraction to the bare atomic nuclei and repulsion between other electrons all playing out in the structure of quantum mechanics and the electromagnetic force. The atomic nuclei are then made of protons and neutrons which are, in fact, composed of quarks which are attracted into stable "bound states" by the strong force through a not rigorously understood mechanism called "quark confinement".

    Now in a science-fiction novel one always must relate things, through analogy, to something the reader intuitively understands. Unfortunately this pretty much bars all of interesting physics immediately. As was mentioned, in Mass Effect what do the Mass Effect pylons do? "Ship go in blue light, go super fast, end up at other end of universe". Readers can understand that. Is it forbidden by physics? Absolutely, don't let some Scientific American article try to con you into thinking otherwise. Or let's go to your proposed story where an alternate universe is "collapsing" or losing "cohesion". A science fiction story might portray this as the ground collapsing or the air becoming unbreathable or some such as the protagonist races away for their dear life as the "universe" loses "cohesion" behind them like something out of a Roland Emmerich movie. However, if you REALLY tweaked the fundamental force laws then quarks wouldn't become confined, thus no protons, no atoms, no dance of electrons, no solids or metals, etc. Everything entirely down the line of physical abstraction (quarks -> atoms -> solids/gases/liquids/plasmas, etc) would simply instantaneously stop working. The protagonist WOULD NOT drop to the ground clasping their throat, the air WOULD NOT explode in fireballs, it would just be an image of the world we know then, I guess, a blank screen (assuming light could even be said to behave the same way or exist in such a universe which it likely wouldn't (exist I mean)). Could quarks with different strong force strengths form DIFFERENT kinds of bound states in this universe? Perhaps. Would these form super-protons and super-neutrons, which form super-atoms, which form super-solids, etc.? Absolutely not. Could such a universe have life? Perhaps. Would that life be "just like a human but with pink skin and a third eye" or "made of blue incorporeal glowy stuff and have a hive mind"? Absolutely not. Speculation on how the differences in such a universe would cascade up levels of abstraction to the point where you could have some sentient entity would be so unbelievably beyond conception it is ridiculous.

    The point of all this is that sci-fi has never been about accurate science and if it were it would be the most worthless genre ever. It's about speculating how plot, narrative and characters change when the writers quill can frame such things in a world that is different then ours but still relatable and insightful for us today.
  10. Aug 10, 2011 #9
    My pleasure! Science fiction is one of the things that got me into science.
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "the rule of cohesion". Is this a rule you're making up, or is this a real-world rule that you're breaking? Do you mean how matter (as we know it) would be unstable in a different universe? If so, I think you could safely get that one for free. Like I mentioned before, I understand that multiverse theories (and the world you are postulating would classify as some sort of multiverse, albeit within a bigger, unifying universe) frequently claim differing laws of physics in different universes. Interestingly, if my understanding is anywhere near correct, the vast majority of these universes could not support any kind of coherent matter.

    Here's a thought, then - let's make the universe-manipulator and the inter-universe transport two facets of the same technology. Say you have something that opens a traversable wormhole between two universes. Now, let's borrow from Asimov's book and mix the universes' laws: your wormhole, while open, has a "lensing effect" which causes matter near the ends of the wormhole to be affected by laws of both universes, simultaneously. "Near" could be anything from a couple kilometers to a couple lightyears, whatever you need. Maybe you could set up several wormholes with overlapping areas of effect. This could compound the effect until you've constructed a "safe zone" in the other universe in which conventional matter can exist without losing cohesion.
    Perhaps you could overlap wormhole-end-areas from multiple different universes in order to customize the laws you want in a volume of space, kind of like vector addition and scaling.

    Or - on the other hand - maybe wormholes are one-way affairs, and a (universe A -> universe B) wormhole will spill A's law effects into B as long as it's open, but the effect will disperse and wear off slowly after the wormhole closes. A wormhole from B to A would have the converse effect. This might make a good plot device, as maybe you'd need to regularly open a wormhole to keep "recharging" your safe zone, or else stuff begins to disintegrate. These ideas are rough, but can perhaps be worked into something consistent and elegant, or help inspire you as you seek a better solution.

    1. Sounds interesting. A multiverse within a larger universe...

    2. Are you sure? How would there be intelligent life in all the universes with no matter cohesion? According to standard multiverse ideas, those would be the vast majority. Or what about universes whose laws cause them to instantly collapse into a black hole? I imagine covering these cases might score you some realism points. But I recommend that you only put intelligent life where it makes sense. For cohesionless universes, perhaps intelligent life could build colonies there, using safe zones?
    [EDIT: thank you maverick_starstrider for your excellent treatise on what "losing cohesion" actually means in this context.]

    3. Ah, very interesting! You should read up on tachyons; these are the theoretical particles that travel faster than light - only faster than light. They are usually beaten to death in science fiction, but at least it's a starting point. I came across a neat picture near the bottom of wikipedia's Spacetime article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime). They have a graph of #space-dimensions vs. #time-dimensions, and the resulting kind of world. Notice the square for (1 space dimension, 3 time dimensions) - "Tachyons only". xD
    Perhaps your larger basket-universe is one such universe, an infinite line with three different dimensions of future. Have fun figuring that out! xD
    If I was going to have life in such a world, I would (1) treat them, character-design-wise, as ascended beings, or lesser deities, or some such (how could you or I understand a being inhabiting three distinct dimensions of time??), and (2) if you must have them interact with our mundane universe(s), I would have them do it through an avatar of some sort, as opposed to "slowing themselves down" (I think that would violate general relativity just as much as us going past the speed of light).

    4. Sounds realistic, at least from an inside-the-universe POV.

    Finally, this conversation should probably be moved, classical physics is probably the last place it belongs! xD
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2011
  11. Aug 11, 2011 #10
    I would suggest making up your own rules perhaps taking only some inspiration from real science. Basically the only thing you need to do to make most scifi fans happy is keep the rules consistent and make them make some sort of sense. In another thread recently we were discussing what bothers us about movie science. I remarked that "sciency" explanations tend to ruin it and I think at least a couple other members agreed. It is far easier to suspend disbelief when you are not asked to think about how these things work (out of sight out of mind) than it is to choke down really poor "scientific" explanations for them. And typically the harder you try the worse it gets. It just highlights the lack of realism rather than adding to any sense of realism.

    That is just my honest opinion as an avid reader and consumer of fiction.
  12. Aug 11, 2011 #11
    I think your ideas sound very cool. And you're right, the very best of sci-fi incorporates strong and legitimate science into it.

    One thing I would caution you is to avoid pseudo-scientific words and jargon like "proto-matter" and "law of cohesion"-- people with an education in those areas instantly sniff those out, and they decrease the authentic feel of the book.

    The image of the protagonist being unable to hold herself together in this alternate universe is very alarming and a very cool idea. Could you investigate some of the principles of entropy for this, perhaps? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy It's a classical idea, but could easily be extended, I think. That everything tends towards entropy has always fascinated me. If your antagonist can manipulate the fundamental forces, perhaps he can hasten this process in your protagonist-- taking scientific liberties, of course, but losing body heat more quickly and almost having the effect of "dissolving" into the matter of the new universe?

    I have always loved the idea of getting into parallel universes... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation is a good starting point for that, perhaps? Have you ever read The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman? It's part of trilogy but contains some tasty and satisfying scientific fantasy that calls strongly on the Many Worlds Interpretation, as well as (later in the trilogy) quantum entanglement. It ends up being believable because of its basis in existing theory.

    I love sci fi and realistic fantasy, so lemme know when you publish cause imma buy that baby :)
  13. Aug 11, 2011 #12


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    I think she should be hidden in DEPTH!

    Like, at the end of a long hallway, or something.

    EDIT: I'm so sorry. I just couldn't help it. I'm actually still laughing at myself a little.
  14. Aug 11, 2011 #13


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    Or hide her in WIDTH, and let the yo' mama jokes ensue...!!!
  15. Aug 11, 2011 #14


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    I think the funniest thing is that Xom has only one post. That means he registered this account for the sole purpose of executing a multi-dimensional "yo' mama" joke!

    I'll buy you a drink.
  16. Aug 11, 2011 #15
    That sure as hell has no basis in "existing theory". Many-worlds has nothing to do with "alternate realities", where Lincoln wasn't president or some such no doubt. I'm afraid this is also another sci-fi trope with no grounding in science.
  17. Aug 11, 2011 #16
    Let's be clear: Traversable Wormholes and Tachyons aren't physics. No more than your standard "omicron radiation" and "quantum resonance cascades" in a Star Trek episode (that's just gibberish). Ultimately there are 2 main types of sci-fi. The "leave the laws of physics behind" kind, where you have ships going faster than light or through wormholes (or "being shot through quantum foam" a la Crichton's "Timeline", that still makes me laugh) and meeting alien species and having laser battles and traveling in time, we'll call this the "Star Trek" type. The second type REALISTICALLY extends knowledge and technology we have to some disquieting limit. i.e. what happens when A.I. surpasses human intelligence? What if we could re-write our genetic code through gene therapy, what if we could make robots that were so realistic we couldn't tell the difference. We'll call this the "Gattaca" or "Neuromancer" sci-fi. These are both good types of sci-fi with a long proud history of entertaining me. However, IMHO whenever you have a "Star Trek" type that tries to pretend to be a "Gattaca" type you just get a big joke. Star Trek doesn't make the least bit of sense, the writers just allow whatever they want to happen (if a time-traveller from the future touches themselves in the past their past self then only has 47 seconds to reduce their theta radiation count or else their heart will explode.... sure....) and just cover it with gibberish words (or "techno babble"). Again, my point is, if you want to write "Star Trek" type sci-fi with wormholes and alternate universes that's cool but you must realize that you left science behind quite a few exits back, that's just the price you pay. It can never be made "realistic" or "sensical" to anyone who actually knows something about such things. That's why you don't try to.
  18. Aug 11, 2011 #17


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    Woah, there's your book right there...
  19. Aug 11, 2011 #18

    Yes, I'm pretty clear about that. :) If you look in any of my posts, I try to say clearly (to the best of my understanding) where rules start being broken.

    For example...

    IMO, there's a third kind of science fiction that you haven't mentioned; you might say it's the "Larry Niven" kind, or the Asimov kind shown in The Gods Themselves. In this, yes, you do break rules; but you don't just throw physics to the wind like you do in Star Trek. Instead, you change something - fully aware that you're making this universe different from the real one - but then you work out how this would affect the universe, using the best logic you can, and trying to stay true to all the physics you haven't changed (which is usually most of it, at least in the early Niven). And you see how believable you can make the integration of your different physics into the real physics.

    While it is not Gattaca-type scifi (nor is it pretending to be), it would hurt to have it classified under Star Trek. One of the goals is for it to be "realistic" and "sensical" to people who know stuff about it, even while they know that it is not real. We may not be perfect at it, but it looks to me like this is the kind of SF being pursued in this thread.

    (btw: there are probably better examples for this type than Niven, but Niven is already a far cry from Star Trek/Wars/Gate etc. in paying attention to real-world physics)
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2011
  20. Aug 11, 2011 #19
    I would say that there is definitely more variation than those two scenarios you give, maverick. Extension of an idea beyond what is perhaps proven to be possible is very common, and I think most people would happily read a science fiction book containing these extensions without feeling the need to analyse flaws in the extension. However, you can make the experience more enriching for those who DO sense flaws by ensuring that, as far as is realistic, you draw on real science, and inject your "made-up" theories or laws with the flavor of real, everyday scientific rigour.

    Yes, there are books that simply throw all realism to the wind and you must swallow it and simply contain your disbelief entirely if you are to enjoy it (very difficult, at times!). Then there are books that you can acknowledge contain flawed science, but still enjoy for the very realistic, science-like texture that they contain.

    It reminds me a bit of comparing an unremarkable, run-of-the-mill fantasy book containing numerous dijointed made-up words to something like Tolkien's universe. Both are equally as fake as another and contain no basis in actual mythology or human history or human interaction, but Tolkien's is much more enriching and enjoyable because it imitates realism so closely. People like that.

    I think this writer is looking less for locked-and-loaded, it-all-checks-out conclusive physical support for her scenarios, than for ideas and concepts that could inspire and lend some credence to them.
  21. Aug 11, 2011 #20


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    I think maverick is right but as people have said there are different ways to do the star trek type throw the physics book out the window. Some do it well by examining the implications of the technology others do not.

    To the OP I would say think carefully about what you want from your story. If you have an idea for a plot why just tack on science fiction? It is better to thoroughly worldbuild your setting first before trying to write a story in it.
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