Posted by: kshayes513 | November 23, 2008

New England Fan Experience

I spent yesterday at New England Fan Experience in Cambridge, MA. Its a reinvention of an old, respected fan convention, United Fan Con, which has been held up to now in Springfield, for almost two decades. I had a enjoyable day, listening to guests from several of my favorite TV franchises (Stargate, Heroes, Firefly), as well as my friend Bob Eggleton, browsing the dealer room (2 gently used Discworld novels and a Serenity graphic novel) and catching up with friends that I don’t see face to face very often (Hi, James, John, Penny & family!).

I also made up some business cards for WorldBuildingRules (very last minute, as I didn’t know until Friday that I’d be able to attend). I gave some out to people I met, and left a stack on the freebie table. So if you’re reading this because you picked up one of my cards, Welcome! Thanks for visiting, and I hope you’ll say hello and find something of interest here.

I attended a panel called The Science of Heroes, presented by Yvonne Carts-Powell, a science writer and author of the book of the same name. Later we had a nice chat about her work at Harvard developing software and technologies to assist students with disabilities, and about the challenges of writing an unlicensed book about a licensed property, since most of my published work is in licensed magazines. Yvonne has a Science of Heroes blog too. Though I’ve only taken a quick look today, the blog and her links to other science related sites look like good sources for worldbuilders looking for hard science information and issues. And of course, lots of fun for any Heroes fan interested in the sciences and how they relate to the show.

From Yvonne’s presentation at NEFE and her comments on the blog, it appears that there’s little or no real science behind the way Hero DNA and Hero powers work in the show. Which raises a challenging question for worldbuilders: how important is it to make sure that your world is grounded in reality, except in those areas where you’ve specifically made your own rules?

For me, the answer is, “It depends.”

It depends partly on the audience. Yvonne, a scientist, is annoyed by the mistakes they make in Heroes and Fringe. I have no advanced science education, so I mostly don’t know and don’t care much that the genetic science in Heroes is sketchy. I do, however, get really annoyed by any mistakes concerning horses in books or films, because I’ve been around horses much of my life. So there’s always going to be someone who knows more than you do about some detail in your story.

It depends a lot on the kind of story you’re writing. For hard SF, you’d better make sure your science is as accurate as you can get it, or your readers are going to be very unhappy with you. Fantasy readers won’t care about scientific accuracy, but they will care if you don’t have a really believable and consistent mythology and magic. Procedural fans will want every forensic detail to be spot on.

It depends, most of all, on which aspects of your world are central to the story, and which are minor or incidental. I’ve seen worldbuilding sites which have exhaustive lists of questions about every detail of an imagined world. No one who wants to get around to writing a game campaign or a story, could ever answer all of those questions, and we shouldn’t try. If we just make sure that we really know our stuff in detail where its important, then most of our audience is likely to accept the reality of the world we present, and let the occasional glitch slide past their disbelief.



  1. Hey thanks for the mention!

    I wouldn’t say that there’s no real science behind the show — just that the show runners are inconsistent about it.

    I tend to think that consistency is a big issue in playing fair with your audience, especially in fantasy or science fiction. For example, I have no problem with folks who posit a faster-than-light drive. But once you’ve laid down the rules about how it works (no matter how nonsensical), stick to those rules. Deus ex machina exceptions aren’t fair to your readers.

    Really, it’s just an extension of Chekhov’s “gun on the mantlepiece” dictum.

  2. I stand corrected, then, on the science in Heroes. It never seemed to me to be real genetic science, mainly because of the point you’ve raised, that heroes don’t usually inherit powers like their parents.

    But then, in this show, as in Lost, I’ve never felt that real science was the point!

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