Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Science Fiction Writers Propose Laws

Someone recently quoted Arthur C. Clarke's three laws at me.
1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I'm not sure if I'm just being unusually dyspeptic at the moment, but these are all striking me as rather egregious pseudo-profundities.

But then, golden age science fiction's big three (Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein) Clarke is the one who never produced anything I enjoyed. All three were subject to occasional fits of pomposity, but Clarke's novels weren't even enjoyable.


BTanaka said...

Personally, I always found rule #3 particularly annoying. No, there'll always be a pretty clear distinction between magic and technology, namely that technology will always have a practical explanation while magic will always be essentially unknowable.

Moreover, technology will always have to follow scientific rules (i.e. you can't just arbitrarily shed or take on mass: it has to go/come from somewhere), while magic is unbounded by such limitations (shrinking and embiggening spells are entirely kosher).

So, no, Mr. Clarke, it still matters whether you're dealing with science or magic, no matter how sufficiently advanced you get.

John Farrell said...

Agreed. I did enjoy Rendezvous with Rama the first time I read it; the tiresome sequels I didn't even bother with. Considering that, as writers, all three were basically hacks--Asimov, whom I met not long before he died, I found charmingly self-effacing.

Darwin said...

As I think about it:

Heinlein could (before he went a bit nuts) spin a good yarn, I could enjoy his over-the-top libertarianism, and I enjoyed the characters, including the slightly dumb but stoic Heinlein guys and the super-smart Heinlein girls.

Asimov had a sense of history that I enjoyed, and there was a cleverness to the classic robot stories and such.

Clarke, I never found much to latch on to with the characters, and several of his key novels have a religious element that I totally don't buy (Childhood's End and 2001 spring to mind in this regard).

Literacy-chic said...

I adore "The Star" as an exquisite example of the short story, but haven't read much else.

I haven't gotten into Asimov. I do like Heinlein.

Literacy-chic said...

Aren't they supposed to be egregious pseudo-profundities? They feel tongue-in-cheek to me.

Art Deco said...

One set of possessions with which I will not part is a mess of popular science and science fiction purchased by my father during the years running from 1952 to 1968 or thereabouts. Of course, I cannot read them. The paper will fall apart if I attempt it.

Jeff Miller said...

I wanted to argue with you about this, but maybe in the main you are right.

I have probably read most of his books and there were elements I enjoyed, but I can't think of any that I would reread except perhaps for "Tales from the White Heart" which were rather fun without the scientism aspects of many of his stories. Rama certainly struck me (pun intended even if the word choice was accidental at first) when I read it as a teenager, but the follow on novels not so much.

With Asimov there is much that I have reread. Same with Heinlein at least the juveniles. Although really his later books especially from A stranger in a strange land on that were rather juvenile.

Now as for Science Fiction writers and laws, "Sturgeon's Law" holds true: "ninety percent of everything is crap."

"I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.[1] Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms."

I also like Pournelles "Iron Law of Bureaucracy"

" any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions."

MacBeth Derham said...

Just finished Childhood's End and found it trite and preachy. Loved Rendezvous with Rama, and one other obscure one, the name of which I can't recall, that I picked up off a hospital book cart as a kid. The rest? Meh. Rather read Heinlein any day, or Pournelle and Niven.

Never much of an Asimov fan. My in-laws met Asimov on the QEII. He knocked on their door to announce his presence (he was in the next cabin), and was rude when they were not impressed.