Launch or Be Lunch, Day 14 – Research, Research, Research!

Ever read something that felt like it was cribbed from the Onion?  No, seriously.  I had the "pleasure" (if you can call it that) of reading a cheap 99-cent Kindle book that was theoretically a sci-fi book.  And I mean "theoretical" in the same way I mean that D&D LARPs are authentic period depictions.  The book was about a crack team of scientists trying to save the Earth from overheating, similar to the film The Core.  The difference was, it regarding the sun.  And the author had all these great ways about how the Earth was in danger…yet couldn't quite tie it to the sun.  At one point, he even tied it to "iceberg shifting" though I don't think that was intentional.

About halfway through reading it, this Onion article seemed more plausible than the author's plot.

Clearly, he didn't do his research.


Research is important to any work that you do, in order to make it plausible.  Yes, there are some situations where you can't make it plausible, but those are few and far between.  Even if you were doing a story in an alternate reality on an alien world where phlogiston is the rule of the day, you still have to research what the hell phlogiston is.

Here are some facts that you might not be aware of (and fortunately, not many other people are), but are still good for research:

  • Mars is nearly 2:1 ratio equivalency with our own orbit around the sun and nearly 1:1 match for the sidereal rotation (aka a full 24-hour day).  It is theorized that if Mars was successfully terraformed, the match would be so close that for all intents and purposes, you could use the Gregorian and Julian calendars on Mars without a hitch.
  • When shooting single-handed (or with higher-power guns if you're using both hands), a revolver will jerk to the right.  An semi-auto pistol will jerk upwards.  Likewise, when faced against a shotgun, it's usually better to dive to the ground closer to the shooter.
  • The closest star to us, Alpha Centauri, is actually three stars: Rigel Kentaurus (Alpha Centauri A), Toliman (Alpha Centauri B) and Proxima Centauri (Alpha Centauri AB).  Out of the three, Proxima is the closest, only a mere 13000 AU from Toliman.
  • To this day, no one has ever been able to figure out the actual flight mechanics for bees; their wings cannot create enough lift to get them off their perch, much less get them airborne – or even explain why they can fly backwards, a move nearly all flying creatures are incapable of.
  • By their time, the Greeks had already figured out that the Earth was round; the Myth of the Flat Earth has never been true.
  • The largest and heaviest organism on Earth is a Quaking Aspen grove known as Pando, taking up 107 acres in Utah – and it is all one single tree.
  • Contrary to jokes about Guns N' Roses, Brian Wilson's album Smile has the record for longest period between announcement and release.  It was started in 1968 and completed in 2004, thirty-seven years later.

These are just a few of the things that you can think about as research.  Sometimes they're tidbits of information; other times they play a part of the plot.  Don't think so?  

  • Most science fiction writers use the Mars terraforming scenario when playing a "blue Mars" in their works; the manga Aria mentions it.
  • The "pull" of guns is mentioned often in Batman comics.
  • An unnamed source at Paramount reported that the writers of the show Star Trek: Enterprise were floored to realize the Centauri VII mistake their predecessors made on the original show; the knowledge that Alpha Centauri was a trinary star was known back then and the gravitational pull would make any kind of planet there (much less a habitable one) impossible.
  • The Xerxes institute has a standing reward of $15M for the first person who can figure out how a bee flies.  To this date, it's been unclaimed.
  • The Flat Earth Myth prompted Thomas Dolby to name his fan club The Flat Earth Society.
  • The second largest and heaviest organism is the Oregon Golden Mushroom, of which offshoots live above ground.  The mushroom is believed to be just under 100 acres in total size.
  • The Beach Boys album Smiley Smile replaced the original Smile; it was the band's worst selling album.  The success of Wilson's project, however, has prompted Capitol Records to finally release the complete original album sometime at the end of 2011.

Research plays off research and continues on.  I've said before that we spent four years researching the science fiction background for Claude & Monet and I do mean that.  We've read astronomy books from Michio Kaku, talked with other sci-fi writers.  We decided that mass-driver weapons would be appropriate instead of lasers, due to blooming effects.  We researched the type of FTL travel that not only would look the best on the page, but also the most satisfying to actual science (for the record, both time travel and FTL travel have been proven not to exist by Einsteinian physics; while scientists believe FTL travel may still be feasible, time travel is not.)  We had to go looking for all the G stars in space.  We did all that scientific research in addition to all the other research we put into it.  Sure, we could have skipped it all, but it wouldn't have been right; you would have likely had your suspension of disbelief broken one too many times and just given up.

Of course, we're not the only ones.  Today's Batman works are far more researched than they were during, say, the Dick Sprang era.  We all know about George Lucas' epic Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs errror, combined with the equally laughable backpedalling.  That doesn't mean that we're die-hard purists – we did let James Cameron's fire on Pandora go unchecked.  But what we as an audience and what we as creators demand nowadays are far more than they did during earler eras, and those who come after us will likely need even more.

So, don't forget to research.  It's important, if for no other reason, so that you know what the rules are when it comes time to break them.

And that we'll talk about tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Day 13, – Realism vs. Reality vs. Realization vs. Real Estate? (Quick, Come Up With Another Word!)

Rob Barba (71 Posts)

  • Anon

    Anon here again.
    I missed this when watching Avatar – was there a claim that because of the different concoction of gases on Pandora, that fires aren’t sustainable?
    The unanswered questions regarding atmospheric pressure and the biological function of trees and whatnot might have more to do with that…but I was more curious to your reference there.
    And I thought Mars had a 25-hour day…

  • Rob

    The mix of gases and low oxygen content on Pandora (IIRC, can’t really look it up at the moment) combustion unsustainable…which thus didn’t explain our hero’s torch scene, much less any of the combat sequences.
    The point on that is that either someone just didn’t do the research on that, or they just skipped the realism factor (which I’ll be going into tomorrow).
    Mars actually has a 26.14 hour day (compared to our 24.001 hour one). According to at least one variation of the so-called “black rose” terraforming theory, adding an atmosphere is supposed to induce a slightly faster rotation to bring Mars to a 24.31 sidereal within 200 years. Of course, I’m no scientist, but if that was true, it would spell disaster for Mars’ moons, as they’d either be brought within the Roche limit and pulverized or end up flung out to nowhere. Weightier minds than I should be able to answer that, but it’s been the standard used by sci-fi writers since.