The magic of science fiction
What sets SF apart from Fantasy is that if you label your work as science fiction, you can’t employ ‘magic’ as a cause of stuff. That’s pretty much understood. Sure, at the moment we can’t move (so we’re told) at speeds greater than that of light. And if we can’t, we’re a bit stuck at something like the Star Wars universe, where moving from planet to planet is a bit like catching the number 19 bus.
Enter FTL travel. (Faster Than Light for those who don’t know the acronym.) We can’t do this, nobody knows if it will ever be possible but it’s accepted for the purpose of fiction. Somebody invented Hyperspace a long time ago and that’s how this strange space/time place thing where you could cross the light years quickly is often known. I’m no scientist but cosmology and astronomy have fascinated me for years and years. I watched all the bad black and white footage from the moon and then from the Voyager missions to the outer planets launched in the mid-70s. Sadly, those images from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, beamed back from a tiny satellite with a processor smaller than the thing in your iPhone are still the basis of all the documentaries on those planets. But I digress.
For me, science is becoming weirder and weirder, with scientists having to invent other constants to make the mathematical algorithms come up with the right answer when they’re looking at extremely distant objects. So now we have dark matter and we have dark energy. It’s all reminiscent of ‘ether’; that stuff with which the universe was supposed to be permeated before Einstein came up with an alternative.
This week’s ‘New Scientist’ discusses the theories of one John Webb. If he’s right, physicists will have to reconsider the basic assumption of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, that the speed of light is constant in all directions, everywhere. Webb’s theory is in its infancy. But little old non-physicist me welcomes his questioning, on a number of fronts. If he’s right the concept that there are additional physical dimensions in space (apart from height, width and depth) becomes more of a reality. Why is that important? Well, it gives the possibility of additional pathways between places. As a kind of analogy, look at an intersection where four roads meet. In the centre of that intersection is a square. The fastest (and shortest) route for a pedestrian to go from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner is through the middle of the square. The example is still only a two dimensional model, but it’s the sort of reasoning supporting the concept of space travel I use in my SF. I call it shift-space where a starship moves into this other geometry, if you will. So I guess I’m using string theory as the scientific reasoning that makes my space travel non-magical.
Last week’s ‘New Scientist’ talked about ‘fractal evolution’ and that pressed another button. I love fractal theory and I think we must accept that these rules determine nature. Fractal rules for leaves, fractal rules for weather, snow flakes, coastlines you name it. So why not evolution? Makes sense to me. It equally makes sense to me that galaxies are fractal. I recall seeing an article (small and hidden) on that very subject a year or two ago.
For me, a multi-dimensional, fractal universe makes a heap of sense. Sure, I can’t prove it. But it isn’t magic, so it must be science fiction. How do you think this division works?