Monday, August 25, 2008

Well, That Explains It

There's a post up at EUREKA unscripted that talks about where they get their nifty science ideas.
Well, first of all, we have our science advisor Kevin Grazier to help us out. Whenever we come up with another “out there” idea, we’ll ask Kevin to come up with actual science to help justify the concept. After a lot of hair pulling, the brilliant Kevin actually comes up with a way to make our silliness a practical, working sci-fi reality. Kevin also does a “fact check” of each script draft to make sure that we’re not violating too many laws of physics each week…

But Kevin’s not always around… and yes, we’re industrious little busy bodies. Which means, we do a lot of reading. And by “a lot” we mean… A LOT.

Yes, we’ll read any science book, magazine, or periodical we can get our hands on. For example, Supervising Producer Curtis Kheel is currently reading “Physics of the Impossible” by Michio Kaku as research for an upcoming episode. And Staff Writer Eric Wallace was recently seen digesting “Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries” by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
So, they have NASA planetary physicist Kevin Grazier as an advisor, and read popular science books about astronomy and physics. That may just help explain why the biology on Eureka is so bad. Of course I'm biased, but I think that the life sciences can generate just as many entertaining plot lines as physics can, and those stories deserve the same kind of scientific input that's given to robots and time travel.

(Yes, the post also says that they read Discover and other popular science magazines, but clearly their interest and focus is on physics.)

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3 comments:

Sean Craven said...

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Sean Craven said...

Sorry about the above... Sign-in is confusing me.

I've got to say that I'm startled to find out that the folks writing Eureka do any research at all. While it's no doubt useful as a source of inspiration it just plain doesn't show up on the screen.

I watch the show, I enjoy the show, I really bug my wife by writhing and making pained animal noises whenever the characters start using scientific jargon. I'm not a scientist, just an interested layman, but they just plain never get anything close to right. Not even a little bit.

But I can believe that behind the scenes there is some real speculative thought going on. I've done some scriptwriting myself and I can tell you that the limitations of the format are extremely hostile to any kind of abstract thought.

The use of jargon in SF is something I've been thinking about lately. I've written very little SF and I have to say that one of the reasons for this is that there's only one person in my writer's group that can cope with the science references.

It's an interesting thing. If you explain everything you wind up with an essay rather than a story. And if you don't, your audience is limited to those who either know enough to be able to interpret your cryptic references or who are able to enjoy the word jazz aspects of jargon.

And this is something I find fascinating. One of the reasons why SF has become so much of a pop culture staple is that the language of SF has spread into the mainstream. Before Star Wars only geeks (and I'm self-identifying here) knew what words like blaster and hyperspace meant. Now if you say 'android' everyone has at least a loose idea of what your talking about.

I find it extremely displeasing when scientific jargon is used purely for effect without any any signs that the words are understood by the writers, let alone the actors. I don't mind wrong; I hate note even wrong.

(And to put my money where my mouth is, here's a biological/zoological reference from a story in progress.

Ahem.

The Magpies were dinosaurs from a timeline where the asteroids that caused the Cretaceous extinction had been nuked until they missed the Earth. They were descended from arboreal Maniraptorans who had left the forests for the savannahs. They had black-and-white feathers and the faces of toothy owls, along with the typical Maniraptoran sickle-claw. They weighed about thirty pounds each and were still capable of limited flight. Despite these exotic details their evolutionary history had given them social and personal characteristics that were as close to human as it got. In other words you couldn’t trust them for ****.

“Digital records for the purposes of lying, my friends. We use old analog tech of your noble people, photochemical emulsion on plastic film in sealed cannister. We develop ourselves and for sure you bring us the gizzard stones and not some river trash, you know? Any round rock it will not do.” Mr. Big Johnson opened his snub beak to show sharp little teeth and bobbed his head up and down. “Ha-ha-ha!”

Mr. Big Johnson’s assistance animal picked up the camera and held it out to Duke. It was another feathered dinosaur with a silvery Magpie control blob on the side of its head, feathers patterned in green and tan with a cream-colored underbelly. This one was a local, an Ornitholestes, and despite their similar size and body shape it was as closely related to Mr. Big Johnson as rat-headed Purgatorius was to Skinner and had an IQ slightly inferior to that of a chicken. It opened its long, narrow jaws and echoed its boss in a parrot-squawk imitation of Duke.

“Ha-ha-ha!”

At least I'm making an effort. Eureka! Try harder!

Peggy said...

Interesting point about scientific jargon becoming part of the common language. Certainly "cloning" and "genetic engineering" are terms that even people who don't follow science at all are familiar with, even if they don't fully understand the concepts. I do think that SF can be enjoyable, even if you don't know the jargon. At least it was for me when I was a young teenager, long before I had much formal science education. Sure, there are some stories that require an infodump about black holes or whatnot, but there are plenty that don't.

One of the things that irritates me is that Eureka (and other SF shows) could say pretty much anything when they go into technobabble mode, so why not say something that makes some scientific sense. Sure most people won't know the difference, but some of us would and appreciate the effort.