The relationship of science to science fiction

Since I've been a sci-fi fan for a long time, and since I've actually been a scientist, I've always been interested in the relationship between science and science fiction. An old colleague of mine from Hampshire thought we should do a course on this, and I'm sure it would have been a great course. As a science fiction writer, I generally try really hard to follow basic science, even when it might be inconvenient. 

I saw Prometheus a couple of nights ago. I don't generally critique SF movies on my blog, but I thought I'd talk about this one, because some elements of it bugged me so much. Spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen the movie, don't keep reading.

I tend to like SF that includes the idea that we really can't travel faster than the speed of light. All of my work obeys this, although like many writers, I do some handwaving in the Casitian Universe (and another upcoming novel) by talking about using wormholes (or jumpgates) to do interstellar travel. There is some real physics behind it,  and it seems to be more plausible than, for instance, warp drive (there is, at the current time, no physics that would explain that.) But one could have interesting arguments about that likelihood that we would develop a faster-than-light drive. I do like it that the Prometheus took 2 years to get to their destination, and had to use stasis/cryosleep (which does sometimes seem like a stretch, but is basically plausible, I think.) And I do think the basic idea of the “engineers” being the source of our DNA was pretty interesting., and one which has been explored before.

But the whole thing with the “biological weapon” that was a weird slimy alien makes very little biological sense. You have two things going on – those “vases” full of the biological agent somehow get opened, and stuff pours out of them, and these creatures then sort of develop out of this oozy stuff. Perhaps there are eggs inside, and the oozy stuff is nutrients. OK, that works. But then just a drop of this oozy stuff infects Charlie. what's that about? And he has sex with Elizabeth and she something growing inside her 10 hours later – something that was big enough that if it grew that fast, it should have basically killed her in those 10 hours. And then, once she takes it out, it grows in just a few hours, without any nutrients of any kind, large enough to kill the engineer. C'mon, biology just doesn't work that way – you can't make mass out of nothing!  Then, the Alien that is born from the engineer is different than the alien that killed it. I guess one could handwave around dna recombination or some such – but after the previous stretches, it just seemed even more of a stretch. 

I liked the basic premise of the story, and it is quite interesting, but I hate it how so many science fiction movies play way too fast and loose with the science, just for some thrills and (slimy) chills. I guess as a basically hard-sf writer, I at least want a little bit of explanation of the handwaving done, rather than simply making stuff up without any sense that there could be a scientific explanation for it.  I guess this might be why I'm not very good at writing fantasy.

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