Real or Not Real: Does Scientific Accuracy Matter in Fiction?

Science fiction movies nowadays are constantly in production, and stories are being told all the time. Some of these stories present a series of facts, whether verbally, visually, stylistically or as part of the narrative. Most of the time the public can discern between what was made up by the creators and what represents reality, but on occasions a film incorporates scientific concepts in such a convincing manner that the audience does not bother questioning if what they just learned is real or not real.

With the imminent release of the science fiction action-adventure film Jurassic World, a sequel to the highly successful 1993 film Jurassic Park, it is worth asking the question of why it is important for creators in fiction, whether they are authors, screenwriters or filmmakers, to present current scientific thinking within the context of their work. The cultural impact of the original film will be explored, as will the decision to not incorporate the latest scientific knowledge regarding dinosaurs in the sequel, and the possible consequences this can have to the public in general. The so called “Science Fiction Scale of Hardness” will also be briefly touched upon, highlighting its usefulness when trying to determine how and why it is important that a work of science fiction reflect the most up to date current scientific knowledge.

As a starting point for discussion, there will be an excerpt from the following video, which demonstrates a common misconception often portrayed in movies. The narrator is a little annoying, but the video can be stopped at 2:22, after the main point has been made clear.

Download (PDF, 2.33MB)

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She changed the Future

And so it ends, with Connie returning to Rockover State Psychiatric Hospital, probably for life. It’s not clear whether she managed to poison the doctors after all, although her report states that she did not have the final operation, the amygdalotomy, because of “the incident”…

At the end of the story it is never made clear whether Luciente and the future society was real or all just in her head, and I’m glad of that because to me the story makes a lot more sense if it was real. The characters in the future that remind her of her loved ones are just a coincidence, after all, when a person really misses someone it is not difficult to find objects, situations or people that remind you of those you miss.

Picking up from where we left off in the story, Connie manages to end up “in enemy camp”. We get a glimpse of what life is like in the parts of the world where instead of becoming one with nature, people continued to depend on technology more and more, where women such as Gilinda are heavily operated, always on drugs, and are basically just kept alive for pleasure. There is a sort of caste-system in place, where only “richies” live past 40’s (284), have access to medical care, and live above the level of the polluted atmosphere. We also learn that some individuals here, such as the security corps, have mind control implants that allow them to manipulate their mental states (292). The security officer is unable to sense fear in Connie, sensing instead that there is something blocking it, which could be the implant doctors had put inside of her at the time. We’ll come back to this in a second.

Back in her own time, at the hospital, we get a whole bunch of pointless gossip about the doctors’ lives and right after we get a whole chapter dedicated to Jackrabbit’s funeral. After all the time she spent on the “other side”, being unconscious in the present, the doctors think it’s best to remove the implant from her. Shortly after she goes back to the future, where she finds herself in the middle of battle with Luciente, Bee and Hawk. She seems to be going back and froth between future and present; she is literally on the edge of time (!). In the climax of battle she sees the doctors’ faces in the enemy ships, and it is then that she realizes that she is also fighting her own war in her time. This is a turning point for her, as her resolution to not be used becomes strengthened. She manages to get hold of a powerful toxic insecticide while staying with her brother “Lewis” and his family over Thanksgiving, and eventually slips it into the doctors’ coffee, presumably killing them and freeing herself as a guinea pig.

It is worth mentioning the connection between Connie’s implant and the implant the guard in the enemy territory claims to possess. From the way I understand the story, this is the future that would take place if the doctors’ experiment had been successful. People would start getting implants in order to be controlled as time went on. At first it would be mental patients, then prisoners, them maybe workers, employees, and at last the population in general. Connie, through her actions, manages to stop the progress of the mind controlling implants in its initial stages, therefore altering the future and presumably avoiding the technological civilization from developing, leaving only Luciente’s society as inheritors of the Earth.

One last point worth mentioning is how Luciente claims that she feels naked without her kenner while on the battlefield. According to her, “For some it’s only a convenience. For others part of their psyche” (321). Even in Luciente’s society there are individuals who feel so attached to their technology, their kenner, that losing it is equivalent to losing part of their memories, to the point that some individuals commit suicide from the loss.

Although a tedious read at many points due to the excessive amount of back-story and unnecessary detail, towards the end I was somewhat drawn in to the novel, I actually wanted to know what Connie’s fate would be. This happened mainly during her escape sequence, and during her plotting for her “war” on the doctors at the hospital and at her brother’s house. It certainly isn’t the kind of book I would read on my own volition, but I can’t say it wasn’t somewhat interesting.

Project #2 proposal – Real or not real?

Draft #1, 04/24/2015

The topic for Project #2 that I discussed with Prof. Belli in our meeting asks the question “Does Scientific Accuracy Matter in Fiction?”, and if it does, why? Let me explain.

Many times in stories we are presented with a set of facts. Depending on where the work falls on the Science Fiction Scale of Hardness the audience can either interpret the facts as just an invention of the author as a plot point, or as a representation of real life science. In some cases it’s pretty obvious what has been made up by the author, such as light-speed space travel, or matter-disintegrating lasers, or something like that. However, in more “serious” works that feature topics that fall under ‘real life’ scientific theory, like genetic engineering for example, the facts presented in the work can be so convincing that it may lead the audience to take that made-up ‘fact’ as a representation of actual scientific thought.

The matter becomes even more complicated when a work actually blends the latest research on a certain topic into its narrative, and becomes a stellar example of the theory at the time of its creation, but becomes an issue when science marches on. In other words, because of either technological advancements or new discoveries in the field, the knowledge presented in said work becomes outdated. However, that “knowledge” already made a lasting impression in the minds of the audience, even more so if the work was successful enough to reach a wide audience and became a cultural icon.

When such arguments are brought up, many individuals who identify with said work and hold it dear to their hearts (aka fanboys/fangirls) argue:


What these individuals fail to notice, however, is how that “knowledge” presented in the work has become so entrenched in pop culture that the majority of the audience (who, let’s face it, don’t keep up with the latest research in the field) take it for granted, and keep passing on the made-up or outdated views presented in the work onto others, which go on to become the inspiration and basis for other stories, merchandise, toys, etc. All based on what is basically false or outdated knowledge.

For the project itself, I’ll try to find examples of popular movies/stories that have skewed the audience’s perception of certain facts. I already have one in mind, which is one of my favorite all-time movies, but since I’m aware that my tastes are… different, I’ll try to find at least two more good examples to make the paper/presentation stronger and less biased towards my own preferences.

Draft #2, 04/30/2015

I was told to be more specific about what movies I plan to analyze, so here it goes.

As some may know, Jurassic World is coming out this year in June, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to address an issue that has been a topic of conversation within the paleo-community (that is, the community formed by scientists that work on prehistoric organisms, artists that specialize in creating reconstructions of said organisms, and members of the general public that have a personal interest in the field).

The original Jurassic Park came out in 1993, based on the novel of the same name by author Michael Crichton. It is a science fiction & action/adventure movie whose plot revolves around the revival of dinosaurs through genetic engineering, and the consequences of using science for basically entertainment purposes by manipulating nature. At the time before the movie came out, dinosaurs and other prehistoric organisms were perceived by the general public as giant, sluggish creatures that lived in swamps, doomed to extinction. The filmmakers of Jurassic Park worked in collaboration with scientists and artists to incorporate the latest science regarding dinosaurs (the so called “Dinosaur Renaissance”) into the movie, and the result was a film that challenged the views of dinosaurs at the time, portraying them as the active, agile and intelligent creatures that they actually were. To add to that, Jurassic Park became an iconic movie of the 90’s, with it pioneering advancements in special effects.

Although the science presented in Jurassic Park was top-notch at the time of its release, further discoveries in the field of paleontology (dino-science) have proved that dinosaurs were even stranger than we ever imagined. One of the main aspects that have come to the forefront is the fact that they were all not just scaly giant versions of lizards, but that many of them had some form of covering on their body (what is known as integument), consisting of feathers, fur-like fibers, spines and quills. Adding to that, when we look at animals today we realize that their skin doesn’t lie snugly against their skeletons and muscles, they have all sorts of tissues that give them their unique appearance. This all has lead to what some people call the “Feather Revolution”, which is a movement that tires its best to break the mold of the old scale-face monsters and portray dinosaurs and other extinct organisms as living, breathing creatures as accurately as possible with the data available.

When the trailer for Jurassic World, a sequel 22 years in the making, was released a couple months ago it was revealed that, unlike the creators of the original movie, the filmmakers decided to keep the dinosaurs “retro”, portraying them not only using the inaccurate science from 1993, but also incorporating or prolonging common misconceptions regarding dinosaurs.

The response from the paleo-community was one of dissapointment, as can be seen in this article by artist John Conway, whereas some folks outside of the community find the scientists’ concerns a matter of ridicule.


The goal of my project is to raise the question of why it is important for creators in sci-fi, whether they are authors, screenwriters or filmmakers, to present current scientific thinking within the context of their work, and I will be using the Jurassic World conundrum as a springboard for discussion. In addition, I would also like to have examples of other films/works that have been criticized for portraying science in an incorrect manner. I might talk about the movie Gravity, which although I haven’t seen it, I’ve heard that it also portrays many misconceptions regarding space travel and physics. I’ll have to watch the movie and conduct further research of course.

Also, while thinking about other examples of incorrect “facts” being portrayed in movies I came across this video where they demonstrate a common misconception portrayed in movies: the supposed fact that humans only used 10% of our brain capacity. The narrator is a little annoying, and you can stop watching at 2:22, but it basically makes the point.

On a different note…

This has nothing to do with Woman on the Edge of Time, but it is related to another “text” we explored in class.

I did a portrait illustration of a familiar character in a familiar scene, although with some “additions” that weren’t in the original work to give the piece some extra depth.

Check it out here. Feedback/discussion appreciated 🙂

Your language is like the rest of you, out of the gutter!

Title has nothing to do with what I’m writing about, I just liked that line.

So the book goes on and we learn more about Luciente’s utopian society, and it’s interesting to contrast it to Connie’s time and our own. During Connie’s conversation with the character Parra, we learn that rape is seen in this society as cannibalism (201). Today cannibalism is seen as barbaric, repulsive, something only the vilest of individuals, possibly with a mental disorder, could commit. Even though nowadays rape is obviously a serious crime, it seems so pervasive in our society, with issues such as date-rape and slut-shaming used as excuses to justify it.

While on a walk with Luciente, we get a lot of exposition regarding the way they manage waste in the future. Everything is reused and recycled, evidenced as when Connie asks Luciente if they throw anything away, she just replies “Thrown away where? The world is round” (234). We also learn that in the future everyone works equally, no one profession is more important than another (261). That way there isn’t any one “class” or profession that can consider themselves superior. This is in contrast to Connie’s time, where scientists such as Dr. Redding look down on Connie and the other patients as just guinea pigs for his experiments.

The enemy that have only been briefly mentioned before are now described as being androids, robots, cybernauts and partially automated humans (261). This leads me to believe that while Luciente’s society exists in the future, they are actually in combat with what could be thought of as the descendants our actual present civilization. The reason behind this thought is that there is a part of humanity that decided to change their ways, embrace the Earth and one another and became Luciente’s people, and then there is the part that kept on depending on technology and machines (us), that are on their way to destroying the planet with pollution. Evidence for this can be seen when Luciente tells Connie:

Once they ran this whole world, they had power as no one… and riches drained from everywhere. Now they have the power to exterminate us, and we to exterminate them.

As far as Connie developing as a character, we learn that for some reason catchers from the past are usually females in hospitals or prison (188). After Connie has a dream where she fantasizes about her becoming a mother in the future, Luciente points out that romance, sex, birth and children are all Connie thinks about, however those things are not women’s business anymore in her society, but everybody’s (245). It’s interesting to see that these are the feelings and the things that Connie holds on to the most, that make her feel complete; however, Luciente tells her that in her time “dignity comes from work”.

Finally, we have Connie dealing with the anxiety stemming from her being recaptured and brought back to the hospital and the impending experimental surgery that awaits her. Even though Luciente tries to encourage her with words, Connie points out that Luciente doesn’t understand what it is for others to have control over her life (257). Since she was born, Luciente has been free from any kind of control from someone “superior” to her, since in her society everyone is treated as equals, whereas in Connie’s world people she disliked held power over her, power to run her life or wipe it out.

I don’t know where the story is heading from this point. With the brain surgery performed on her, will she lose her ability as a “catcher”? Dun, dun, DUN…

Class Notes: April 16, 2015

Free-writing exercise and discussion: What can we learn about a text we don’t like?

– Analyzing critically: emotions get in the way of people intellectually critiquing.
– Self-reflection and self-awareness: whether we enjoy or dislike a work, we ask ourselves why.
– We are forced to see an opposing view.

Discussion: Why does the majority of the class dislike Woman at the Edge of Time?

– Chris: Don’t like Connie as a character, no development at all. Also Connie is a bigot (towards the future family structure, upbringing style, etc).
– Andrew: The way the story is written, not engaging, too much back-story and exposition.
– Randy: Introduces elements and does not develop them, or they are solved simplistically.
– Aaron: Too many characters, overload. Becomes confusing.
– Joel: Connie’s life story is depressing.
– Donovan: There seems to be no point/purpose to the narrative.
– Danny: Progression of the story is very slow.
– Eugene: Brings up themes of race, gender, social disparity, yet nothing is done about them.
– Surge: Undeveloped themes.
– Jonathan: Confusing explanations.

Prof. Belli response:

– In utopian literature, typically if the message of the narrative is relevant, the characterization is underdeveloped. The main character becomes an “outsider”, a proxy for the reader. The other characters then proceed to explain.
– Historically, utopias are didactic in nature, whereas in dystopias the world is already made and the reader is thrust into the action (ex. Brave New World).

A look at excerpts from Woman at the Edge of Time blog posts:

– Talk about inverting chapters 1 and 2. Discontinuous narrative.
– Connie’s identity linguistically, socially and sexually.
– Lewis vs. Luis: aspirations to another identity.
– Connie’s three identities: Consuelo, Connie and Conchita.

Group Exercise: Identifying all of Connie’s characterizations and the individuals or entities that view her as those characters.

Results: throughout the book Connie is perceived by herself and by others as: mother, woman, very poor, impoverished, receptive, depressed, proud (as a woman), Chicana/Latina, secretary/mistress, survivor, pickpocket, maid/cleaning lady, mentally unstable and unfit for being a mother.


Righteous Indignation – being mad/angry in a condescending & superior way.
Didactic – preachy, educating in an annoying/pompous manner.
Extraneous – additional information that is not needed.


– Quiz on the book
– Catch up on readings
– Read Science Fiction: A Short Introduction (chapter 4: “Utopias and dystopias” & chapter 5: “Fictions of time”)
– Individual conferences over the course of the week, one-on-one with Prof. Belli to discuss: progress in class, essay #1, midterm, ideas based on free-writing and beginning of project #2.

If you were absent this week, contact Prof. Belli to schedule an appointment during office hours before next class. If you don’t show up it counts as an absence.

–end of transmission–

50 Shades of Bizarre Future

Yes, I’m referring to Connie’s sex scenes *cringe*.

So as I predicted the book seems to be more about the human drama. That is not to say that technology isn’t mentioned or acknowledged. It just seems to not be much of a focal point of the story. The protagonists are definitely human, not machine, not artificial, not “other”.

Just to mention a few things that stand out in this bizarre future:

  • People can communicate with animals using gestures, even domestic animals meant to be food (89). There is definitely a connection with nature that seems to lack in the “present” setting.
  • The language used leaves out gender. His/her has become “Per”, He/She is just referred to as “Person”, Himself/Herself is now “P’self”.
  • Following with this train of thought, children are not taught the present sex roles, toys are gender-neutral, men can become “mothers”, etc.
  • Materials are not wasted, personal items used for pleasure are disposable and biodegradable, or otherwise meant to last and “rented” as one would borrow a book at a library. Personal possessions don’t seem to be a “thing” in the future.
  • Kids are put out in the wilderness to fend for themselves Hunger Games-style as an initiation into adulthood.
  • They seem to be fighting some kind of enemy (Aliens? Robots?). On page 93 Luciente mentions that they are fighting a battle against “robots or cybernauts”.
  • Multicultural test tube babies!

Connie’s conflicts with this future:

  • Women gave up the only remaining power they had, birth (97) and breastfeeding (126) to achieve equality.
  • Connie believes the future society can’t truly love their test tube offspring like a real mother who gave birth would, she sees in them the family that adopted Angelina and resents them for that. However on page 125 Luciente assures her “You think because we do not bear live, we cannot love our children… but we do, with whole hearts”.
  • Connie’s idea of what makes a “good” man is made clear on page 112, where she enumerates a series of qualities that fit the stereotypical “manly” attributes.

Connie finds a similarity with the people of the future having different names throughout their lives, since she herself has different names for her own different personas: Consuelo, the submissive Mexican woman; Connie, the hard-working woman who went to college and got decent jobs; and Conchita, the drunk, mean part of her that gets her through jail and the bughouse, and the one who hurt Angelina (114).

Regarding the future society, their notion of evil is explained by Magdalena as being based on greed and power, taking away from others their food, liberty, health, land, customs and pride (131).

The children are everyone’s future, so it becomes everyone’s social responsibility to nurture and take care of them. All children, even strangers (175).

I just hope things get more interesting and we have an actual plot twist or something, other than Barbarossa having bewbs.

That escalated quickly, fasure.

Judging by the title of the book, I was expecting a lighthearted story of a time travelling woman. Boy was I in for a surprise. In just the first two or three pages we get references to drug use, prostitution, rape, domestic violence and abortion.

Woman on the Edge of Time (WOTEOT from now on) is very different from other works we have explored in class so far in many ways. Consuelo/Connie differs a lot from the usual science fiction protagonist. She is a poor, old (in her own eyes), fat, short, dark Mexican woman. What we know about her so far is that she has suffered a lot at the hands of the men in her life: her father, ex-husbands, lovers, to the point where she sees in her niece’s pimp, Geraldo, all those abusive men (34). Her mother’s attitude while she was growing up didn’t help, preferring her sons over her daughter (38). Luciente tells her she is a “catcher” and an exceptionally good one at that, while Connie herself admits to being strongly “receptive” and able to discern information from just looking at people, such as knowing her ex Eddie was cheating on her and that Dolly was preggo after her vacation. This leads me to think that she will end up being a “THE ONE” figure at some point.

The future presented in WOTEOT is also very different from what you would usually expect in a science fiction narrative. Little importance is given to technology; it’s more about every member of the society doing their part, working together in order to advance. In some ways it seems more realistic than the other versions of the future we have explored in class, it actually resembles some of the proposals seen in the Urban Landscapes exhibit at MOMA. Also worth noting is that gender roles are not clearly defined in this future, Luciente speaks about comothers, although it’s not clear if people are raised by two or more females, or if the biological father is considered a “mother” also, making both parents comothers. We’ll have to keep on reading for that one.

Something I found interesting about the story so far was the discontinuous narrative style, especially the first two chapters. After reading them both I realized the order of chapters 1 and 2 could be inverted and not alter the story in any way. Also worth noting is the use of Spanish words and phrases interspersed throughout the text. Being bilingual, I find that extra layer of information relevant, although I’m not sure if I would find it rather distracting and pointless if it were in another language I didn’t understand.

One thing that I dislike about the book is that it goes into too much unnecessary exposition. Every single detail in Connie’s background, past and present, is relayed to the reader. Also, the author uses a whole paragraph to say something that could have been expressed in a sentence, making the overall experience a somewhat tedious read in some parts.

From what I’ve read so far, I can tell that this story is more about human drama rather than man vs. machine and authentic vs. artificial we’ve been dealing with so far.

If nature won’t be there to witness our demise, then the machines will.

How delightfully disturbing is this short story! The casual tone the narrator has throughout, as it mentions the silhouettes left on the scorched side of the house, where a whole family was presumably wiped out in a sudden nuclear blast was slightly disconcerting. Something I really liked from the story was the author’s epic word choice and vocabulary. Here’s an example:

The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly (p. 2).

In those lines the author tells us the state of abandonment of the house and how it’s mechanized attendants keep working regardless of their masters being absent, but in a very dramatic fashion that adds to the feel of the story.

I found it interesting how the house itself was an entity, and all the automated appliances and mechanized cleaners were all a part of it. The anthropomorphization of the house through the author’s word choice really gives you a sense that it is a sentient being with somewhat rudimentary emotions, for example:

…it had shut up its windows and drawn shades like an old maidenly preoccupation with self-protection which bordered on a mechanical paranoia (p. 2).

We’re told that the house has a sense of paranoia, which in this case would be an artificial emotion that was programmed into it. Surely if the house were actually sentient, it would realize the situation of its masters. At the end I got a sense of despair, after the house burns down and we can still hear its automated voice marking the start a new day.

Compared to the story, the animated short had a much darker feel to it. The creepy, drawling voice of the house’s ‘head robot’, along with the chilling high violin notes only added to a sense of strangeness of it all. The fact that what in the story had been a disembodied voice was now personified by a cold, snake-like automaton that seemed to have a “face” with “eyes” and “fingers” coming out of it only made it that much disturbing.

Out of all the differences between the two versions, one that stood out to me was the ash silhouettes in bed, rather than the blank spaces on the burned side of the house. It makes me feel that something more ominous than a nuclear blast occurred, something so terrible that it vaporized the inhabitants of the house while leaving everything else intact. One of the ash remains still has a watch on its wrist and another one is hugging a teddy bear. Also, the fact that in the movie the date goes from December 31st, 2026 to January 1st, 2027 caught my attention. It happened on New Year’s rather than a random day of the year like in the story.

Finally, it was Sara Teasdale’s poem that tied everything together. The poem tells us of how after mankind perishes due to war, nature will continue its course as if nothing had happened. In the context of the short story and the animated short, thinking all the way to the future of 2026, where mankind has presumably destroyed nature, it will be the machines, the automatons, and the technology that will carry on without noticing mankind’s demise.