Re: A billion years later...

From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Sun Dec 09 2001 - 01:48:27 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:

> This alleged `rule of the form' (`Introduce only one novelty per story')
> worked moderately well for H. G. Wells, but has been the bane of
> unsophisticated sf and `sci-fi' ever since. You *can't* just add one novum
> and expect the world to proceed in a plausible way--that's not how
> technology or sociology or psychology work.
> Let's see, we'll have horseless carriages, but I won't allow those new
> fangled highways, or if I do I certainly won't permit you to introduce
> *heavier than air flying craft*, and if you claim that's implied by the
> motors in the automobiles, then damme it, you *certainly* shan't have that
> ridiculous *wireless telegraphy* in the same story. And for heaven's sake
> put away those antibiotics, and contraceptive chemical preparations, and as
> for that superpowerful explosive you're trying to work into the military
> scenes... *Quantum* physics? Don't you know *anything* about the rules of
> the form?

Hold on, there, pardner: I'm not claiming that only one thing can change in
reality over time, rather that it's prudent to introduce only one variable at
time and follow the implications of that introduction as far as they will
logically go. This is true in science, and it's true in the (better) examples
of science fiction --- though if the goal is entertaining the credulous, then
go for it, change all the variables all at once, and we have a name for that
stuff: "fantasy." :-)

In your examples: if you've already discovered inefficient motors, then the
highway's a reasonable extrapolation given a motor-driven ground transporation
assumption. If the assumption is efficient motors, then perhaps the heavier
than air flying craft follows. Wireless telegraphy is a reasonable
extrapolation if you've already discovered radio. The point is that you can
extrapolate from the things you *know* as far as you can go; however one leap
of faith relative to best-current-knowledge is all that's plausible.
Extrapolation: free reign. Pure invention: one per scenario.

BTW, it was Frank Herbert that told me that "rule" of the form when I met him
shortly before his death. (I don't know if he came up with that rule, but he's
the one I heard it from.) In his books, the spice and its potential effects on
spacetime are the one novelty, and almost everything interesting in his
universe flows (ahem ;-) is extrapolated from that novelty. Everything else is
just an extrapolation from things we're already familiar with --- even the
sandworms (whales) and even the transformation of Leto into a hybrid creature
(symbiosis abounds in reality.) **


** though actually, I haven't thought about this for years, but he was blowing
smoke at me: Herbert broke his own rule. Laseguns were a reasonable
extrapolation, but shields were an incredible novelty even though they were by
the time he wrote the books a relatively standard sci-fi fixture.

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