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Suspension of Disbelief in Science Fiction by Chaaya.Chandra

Hi lovely followers!

This will be the first time I post a journal on all three of the furry sites I'm on. Up until this point all my journals were only found on Fur Affinity.

I mentioned in my post last week that I was going to talk about something else, but I noticed that my posts about the philosophy of writing get a lot more attention than my posts about the technicalities, so I thought I'd take a break for a few weeks and talk about an area that I see doesn't get a lot of attention. Usually when I say "suspension of disbelief" to a fellow author, they can figure out what I mean, but haven't actually heard the term before. Ignorace of it shows in a lot of the stuff I get assigned to read through for RP Games.

Let's start by giving a solid definition of what I mean when I use the term. It means that the events, technology, character, and setting of my story, while not part of the real world, have enough detail and depth for the reader to suspend her disbelief and accept what's said as a very possible and plausible reality. This rarely applies to non-fiction and can be fun to do away with when writing satire, but for most works of fiction out there, it is very necessary. Suspension of disbelief goes along with illussionary depth. You could say it's a subset of that. Today we'll look at how that works in science fiction. Next week I'll talk a little about how it works in fantasy, and I'll finish up the series the following week by tying both together.

Technology is a difficult and touchy area because you have to guess just how much your reader knows and the more specific you get in the details trying to enhance your suspension of disbelief (SD), the greater the risk that the reader will find a hole. A good example of this is found in Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. There are several huge scientific holes in what is presented, but for the vast majority of readers, there's not enough in their education to see through that. Even for those with that level of education, it can still be fun to remove some basic assumptions, but the effort then goes to the reader instead of the author.

Another way of handling that is used in Tom Clancy's Hunt for Red October, the movie version. The submarine, Red October, makes use something called a "caterpillar drive" (also known as a magnetohydrodynamic drive). The viewer is given a basic description of how it's supposed to work, told that the US wasn't able to get it to work, and that the Russians must have found a way to use it. (It does work, by the way, in real life, just not up to the size of submarines). This approach to SD works on two levels. First, you're given a real technology that is known and given the facts about its use and research. Having real scientific facts that people can look up on wikipedia is a great way to create a solid base for your story. It's taken a step further though and here's the technique I wish more authors would make use of when writing about science fiction (especially, for when I'm reading, on the biology end of things). You're told that a way has been found to get past a scientific shortcoming, but due to the point of view of the person proposing the idea, there's no way to know exactly how that was done. "They must have found a way." You don't know what way that was, but there had to be a way because you're seeing it. This approach takes the possible disbelief and handles it head on.

Yet another way of handling SD in technology is used so widely, it's barely worth pinning down to a single work. Call it something and don't explain it. A good example (among countless possibilities) is found in The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In passing things are mentioned that go along with a steam based society, but the author doesn't bother the reader with details. How the heck would someone make a steam powered wristwatch? No idea, but it's still believable because everything in that society comes from having computer technology in the age of steam. If you haven't read that novel, by the way, and you like steampunk, you should read it. Several authors claim to be the "founder" of steampunk, but that novel predates all of them by a long shot. It was required reading (along with a few other books) before I was allowed to write for Terah. Oh and if you do read it, read it as if the box of punch cards is a character. That'll make sense at the end without spoiling anything.

Ok, hopefully this multi-post program works. If you have any questions, post them in the comments. If you want to tell me that I have no idea what I'm talking about... keep it to yourself. :P

Suspension of Disbelief in Science Fiction


16 June 2020 at 10:47:45 MDT

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