Notes on Getting Kids into STEM

High-paying STEM jobs can be the way out of poverty for students. In the past, students who lived in poverty may have taken jobs in manufacturing or other trades. Many of those jobs are disappearing, leaving workers back in poverty. STEM jobs, on the other hand, are everywhere, and the tech industry shows no signs of slowing down. Even as certain STEM trends come and go, we can expect to see the overall number of jobs in STEM fields increase.

So access is one thing, but inspiration is another. STEM, for all of it’s benefits, isn’t on every parent’s radar. One thing I give Elon Musk credit for – he’s made STEM cool again for all the people who wouldn’t care about STEM otherwise. Doesn’t mean he’s a good person and I have my own issues with the guy, but consider all the attention on STEM that’s happened since SpaceX started. It shows people DO think STEM is important, but it needed some rebranding. Musk and his efforts have gotten many members of the non-STEM-aligned portion of the population to pay attention.

Still, can’t leave STEM in Elon Musk’s, or any other rocket-owning billionaire’s, hands. Musk doesn’t care about STEM kids. Let’s face it, he’s a billionaire and his priority toward STEM kids is “how can I use you to make me rich?” We can and we should do better. How can we – the people who can’t afford to sponsor kids like Taylor Wilson and Jackson Oswalt – do better? How do we help kids get into STEM? It’s like Bon Jovi said, ‘you do what you can.’

How To Get Kids into STEM

Most articles about ‘getting kids into STEM’ recognize the value of 1:1 interaction and encouragement. Spending time. Modeling behavior. I don’t have kids of my own, but I still want to help. So as an author, I made a decision – I could write about anything but I want to do my part. I take inspiration from authors like Micheal Anderson. Like Anderson, I write stories the kids who were like me; smart, poor, no opportunities, and stuck in the mental poverty cycle. It’s not enough to write a STEM story and go “This is about STEM, you should love it!” You actually have to write STEM stories that kids think are cool. How do you do that?

The point is, that if you want to get kids into STEM, you have to make it work for kids. Not just silly science experiments – actual projects. Make cool stuff, blow something up, build something crazy!

Champion Your STEM Kids

Beneath those details, it’s important to recognize a truth: The most important thing you to do to get kids into STEM is to help them understand what STEM helps them become. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are powerful tools. Kids who come from no where, with no connections or help, can use them to change the world (Srinivasa Ramanujan, for example).

Think about it: One of the downsides of modern superhero movies is how the hero only emerges AFTER they get their powers. Peter Parker and the spider bite. TMNT before the secret ooze. Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit (honestly, could he have built it without Jarvis?). Hiroki from Big Hero 6 and Baymax. Over and over again – modern STEM-related movies say ‘you’re only a hero once some arbitrary event happens to you.’ That’s unfair to STEM kids. When you put them together, STEM kids change the world, but ONLY IF THEY KNOW THEY CAN AND THEY SHOULD.

Another limiting factor for STEM kids is how little nurturing they get, compared to kids in sports. America invested billions of dollars and generations of kids into playing sports. What have we gotten for our money? What if we fostered kids into STEM the way we do for kids sports? What kind of game changer would that be both for the country and humanity at large?

All of these points are why I told a story where those meek, mild STEM kids turn into geek warriors. Recruited into a technical academy the way you recruit kids to play football or basketball, they band together to take down their supersmart supervillain principal. The real message is ‘you don’t need special powers – you’re already powerful, the hero is inside of you.’ Take away the evil genius, Miramar Technical Academy is a powerful model toward building the next generation of titan technology.

And along the way, STEM forces you to develop a strong work ethic. You burn calories with your brain instead of your body in a STEM career. Blue-collar trades are hard work, and so is this – both career paths are important! Whatever a child decides they’re interested in, our job is to say ‘yes you can, and I believe in you!’

Do It For Them – Do It For Us – Do It For You

We’ve got many elder geeks who invested time in showing us how to do this, it falls to us to continue that legacy regardless of our circumstances. Now more than ever, we need to be the people we needed when we were younger.

We can help on a daily basis by keeping those kids in mind. Hear about a free computer? Tell them. Hear about a free STEM camp? Tell them. Internships? Opportunities? Resources? Tell them. Offer to help. “Do you know how to apply for a job? Let me show you.” “Do you know how to write a resume? Let me show you.” You can be that flashlight showing the way to a better future for that child and their entire family.

When it comes to STEM, some of those kids are going to get there regardless. Others are going to be barred at the gate through no fault of their own. We can open those gates in our own ways, enabling and encouraging them to use their innate talent to make the world a better place. It’s the modern version of ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.’

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk. Discuss This On Reddit

 

Sage Scifi 101A – Elevating Science Fiction

Sage Scifi 101A - Elevating Science Fiction

Beautiful sunny day in Eugene, so let’s not waste it on negativity even though there’s a million things to hate about Reminisence. Rather, let’s talk about elevating science fiction by embracing the concept of ‘sage scifi.’ If sages are the ‘wise fools’ of life, then surely science fiction is ready for some of that wise foolishness as well. Indeed, we’re in desperate need of some experience, judgment, and wisdom if this weekend’s latest SF ‘noir thriller’ is any indication.

Let’s break down what sage scifi means:

– When you refuse the ‘angry comic book nerd’ trope of scifi fans? That’s sage scifi

– When you see Disney is killing what Star Wars used to be, but you still support it for the new life it gives to thousands of actors and creators? That’s sage scifi

– When you boost the next generation of geeky kids diving into Dune or Asimov instead of gatekeeping them? That’s sage scifi

– When you see a movie that could have been better, but you know it’s still got solid scifi bones so you give it positive feedback? That’s sage scifi

– When you can be a scifi fan without being a scifi snob? That’s sage scifi

– When you see new scifi artists and authors’ work and you give them a boost because you want new stories told in new ways? That’s sage scifi

– If you know Battlestar Galactica got the science wrong, but you don’t care because it’s a decent show? That’s sage scifi

Yes, we need sage scifi. We need scifi culture that looks beyond the obvious, recognizes the emotional truths over academic truths. We need some science fiction sagacity.

Why? Simple. The old ways aren’t working for me anymore. Running around, hating on Star Wars? That’s old news. Burning calories over scifi minutiae with ardent ferocity, like we’re sommeliers and the fate of the world hinges on our opinion? Ridiculous. Cancelling SF actors, or hating the people that do? It hasn’t done much for me. If I had to encapsulate everything I’m trying to do, distill it down to a simple idea, it comes back to Sage Scifi. A genre, community, and universe full of expressive, thoughtful wit and verbal skill.

You can see it taking shape now. Think about Mark Hamill’s judgement when he talks scifi or anything else on Twitter. Or Chuck Wendig, Charlie Jane Anders, John Scalzi, Margaret Atwood, or Cory Doctorow. Yes, they use scifi to get through hard times, but they’re also the kind of people you want to get through hard times with. They think, they feel, they empathize, they ponder. I don’t agree with all of their opinions, but I can’t help but admire their spirit. I try to give back in the same way when I write.

Here’s what we get when we start moving toward sage scifi. Not only will this get us better science fiction, but think of the social benefits. Scifi as a community can begin lighting the way back from hysterical polarizing vitriol, modeling behavior for everyone else. Imagine what the world would be like if we approached important social topics with mature, reasoned consideration like Jordan Schlansky brought to Star Wars in a hilarious, improved bit for the Conan O’Brien show.

Look, I’m not saying to go full Spock on every aspect of scifi. Rather, we should spaces for intellectually-accurate scifi and other whimsical, playful stories without feeling like we’re betraying either. We’ve outgrown the 80s or 90s nerds who argued ‘I’m Team Star Wars,’ or ‘I’m Team Star Trek!’ Both franchises have gutted themselves to satisfy greedy, nihilistic studio execs and so have the MCU and DCEU. Well within their right, too. They reduced nerd loyalty to a simple cash transaction. What sage scifi is saying: Stop the insanity – start embracing a post-anger scifi universe where we don’t get fooled again.

When we become scifi sages, we can enjoy stories and say “that was cool, here’s what I would have done differently.” And then we can respond with “That’s awesome, write that story and let’s see how you do it.” Honest, iterative feedback to make a deep, textured universe like SCP has done for scifi horror. Wouldn’t that be a cool idea?

In the end, we wouldn’t have to run around saying “stop arguing” or “here’s what you’re wrong about.” Instead, we could appeal to our nerds’ better nature, diffusing the most scandalous scifi sparring session with a simple question: “What would a sage do?” We’d be back to jumping the hurdles of scifi, instead of being the barriers of each other.

Sound interesting so far? Join me over at Reddit – let’s come up with the rules of Sage Scifi together.

Other posts on Sage Scifi

Scifi Craftsmanship:

Maturity Models

The Big ‘So What?’

of Science Fiction

Creating Art is

Creating Yourself 

What is

Golden Age Scifi?

What is

Golden Age Scifi – Part Two

Notes on

Getting Kids into STEM

Fighting Woke Culture in Sci-Fi

A lot of noise this week about ‘woke culture,’ and some of that spills over to the sci-fi community. Taking this opportunity to say that if you want to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi you have to realize the truth: there is no such thing as ‘woke sci-fi.’ Scifi has been woke since forever. Put down the virtual torches and pitchforks, we shouldn’t be fighting woke culture in sci-fi. The only battle we should be fighting is the fight over who gets to sit in the middle seat at the next Marvel or Star Wars movie opening.

From it’s very beginning, sci-fi has championed the progress of humanity as a whole. Seats at the table for everyone. Address social issues in a non-confrontational way. Ever since Mary Shelley warned us of the dangers of Galvanism back in 1818, and Metropolis challenged our views on social classes in 1925, we’ve used scifi as a way to examine our motivations and reflect on our choices. Now in 2021, we’re returning to the time-honored tradition with some new voices in the room.

Calling things ‘woke’ seems to be both pejorative and political, and science fiction doesn’t have to be either of those things. In a polarized world where everyone that isn’t for you is against you, science fiction has refused to be a walled garden with no room for neighborly friendship. So let’s be clear: We don’t have to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi: our culture has been ‘woke’ forever. Now it’s becoming woke for everyone. Continue reading if you’d like some tips on how to bridge the gap between your scifi garden and your neighbors.


We don’t have to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi: our culture has been ‘woke’ forever.

Now it’s becoming woke for everyone.


Listen 

Taking a page from this doctor’s breakdown on how they de-escalate an anti-vaxer patient, engage with a conflicting opinion by asking: ‘What are your concerns?’ and then listen. Ask them to remember that you own no stock in Disney or Universal, any scifi discussion comes from a place of love and respect for our genre. I say something like ‘my only interest is tell you the best scifi I can write.’ You may choose to say something like ‘every friend who tried movies I recommend has enjoyed them. I thought you might, too.’

Fighting Woke Culture in Sci-Fi

Respond with Sensitivity

If someone attacks a movie, author, or other scifi stakeholder you care about, it’s tempting to strike back in defense of your friend. Remember that other people’s perspectives may include trauma you aren’t aware of. Think about how long it took for the public to acknowledge the harm of the Tulsa race massacre. Your scifi sibling may be dealing with some other painful baggage that they are working through and coming from a place of pain. Be sensitive in how you respond:

“I hate *author*” – I hear you, some people dig *author* and some don’t. Let me tell you what I enjoy, and then you can tell me what you enjoy about your favorite authors.

“*Scifi stakeholder* was a horrible person!” – I agree, they did some bad things and we need to hold their legacy accountable for the values and choices of their era. No one is suggesting we tolerate that kind of behavior today, but we can still appreciate the elements of their art that we enjoy.

“No one’s telling me I have to like *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder*!” – Of course not, your choices are your business. There are a lot of people who do like *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder* and they’re enjoying their moment with what they enjoy. You can still enjoy *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder* and hang out with other people who do, too.

As the Reddit post recommends, ‘Listen even more … Answer questions … Keep it light and approach them with humility. Read [scifi] history. it will make you more empathetic. Read about how people treated Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, or Black SF writers’ problems with getting published if you are really flummoxed as to where your scifi siblings are coming from.’

Welcome Your Scifi Siblings 

Our entry into science fiction happened because we saw something fascinating and reached out for it. It was never about who we were; it was about what we liked.  The rest of the community looked past our weirdness, our otherness, and said ‘hey, if you like this then you’re cool. Come on in to the party.’ Our scifi siblings love science fiction. There’s room in our garden for all of them!

You don’t have to take my word for any of this. Scifi has grown and evolved before, and it’s going to continue to grow and evolve. One of the most powerful scifi voices we lost in the past few years – Stan Lee – had this to say when it comes to inclusiveness:

“I love being with people, it’s the most incredible thing in the world, that world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change, we’re all part of one big family. …That man next to you, he’s your brother, that woman over there, she’s your sister, we’re all part of one universe that moves ever upward and onward to greater glory. In other words, Excelsior!”

Even Stan Lee isn’t a perfect person, but he had the perfect answer to a moment like this. We draw back in fear, or we can step forward in love. Myself, I’m not doing much stepping anywhere, but I know that every scifi fan all over the world is welcome in the world of Inkican. I hope that you are doing the same.

Fighting woke culture in scifi distracts us from our true mission of human progress. It’s a lost cause, and we have other things to do. For me personally, I’m still sending out queries for MESH and praying that it crosses the right desk at the right time to find it’s home. In the meantime, I keep lighting our lights. One day our scifi siblings will see us in the distance and come home. Now, more than ever, we need each other.

 

 

This Redditor Solved Interstellar – SciFi Breakdown

Maybe you’re like me, and you never connected to Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ as much as you wanted to. That always bothered me, because although I loved the movie, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I should and I could never sort out what the problem was. Until now. I stumbled across a thread and realized ‘This Redditor Solved Interstellar for me.’ I’m passing along this scifi breakdown in case it helps you rediscover your lost love for this masterpiece of storytelling.

So as we all know, Interstellar features Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon, and Anne Hathaway as they search for a new planet to support life in the face of Earth’s failing natural ecosystem. The discussion of time and multiverse travel always rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed like a logical tautology (“It is what it is”) but it never explained how the humans were able to achieve multiverse travel on their own. There seemed to be an assumption that future humans had solved the problem and then reached back to our multiverse to give us the clue. I never liked that answer.

But happily, it turns out I was wrong anyway – strap in and prepare for your mind to be blown: This Redditor solved Interstellar, and you’ll be glad they did. Incoming Scifi Breakdown in 3 … 2 … 1 …

This Redditor Solved Interstellar - SciFi Breakdown

I think “They” are AI from the future. If you reconstruct the movie with this idea it eliminates every paradox. The movie begins with Cooper and his children capturing a drone with highly efficient fuel cells. The fuel cells suggest that machines can out live human beings as they do not need food, and instead are efficiently powered by solar energy. The film plays with the idea of an artificial “humor setting” over and over again. Study AI and you realize that humor is one of the great frontiers of AI technology. A machine that understands humor and knows how to use a seemingly illogical human expression is a machine that is artificially intelligent, therefore, TARS is an early AI.

In the original timeline, humanity did go fully extinct, however, they left behind AI (Powered by solar energy) which evolved to a point where it could carry out the prime directive as determined by Isaac Asimov. This law of robotics is:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

In short, humanity went extinct, and was resurrected from the dead by AI. 

And …

This theory completely eliminates every paradox in the film, most notably, why would future human beings need to manipulate space and time to save themselves if they were already alive to do it? Also, how could future humans exist unless a wormhole was opened in the first place? This is inexplicable until you focus on TARS. If you re-watch the film with the AI theory in mind, it becomes apparent that man needs machine, and machine needs man, and it is logical for AI to save humanity for reasons which aid the machine. This is demonstrated when Cooper attempts to dock with the damaged Endurance, TARS questions Cooper and states that it is “impossible” based on his analysis of the situation. Cooper responds, “No, it’s necessary.” This is the key difference between man and machine. The human being will go beyond the impossible to the possible. A human being will create the logical out of the illogical.

 

I’m not going to post the entire thread – you can read it here – This Redditor goes to great pains to explain logically how the plot of Interstellar worked and I’m grateful for their scifi breakdown. It definitely means I’ll be re-watching Interstellar now. This explanation might help you as well, in your scifi discussions. No need to argue, just hold out the information and let it speak for itself.

Back to writing!

Golden Age SciFi – Ask Allen Steele

Click here to Read Part I – When I first asked the ‘Golden Age Scifi – what is it’ question, I was only planning to publish my own research. It turns out that others have asked this question, and have definite gems of information to share. One of those people is one of my mentors – it’s time you met him – Allen Steele.

Yes, Allen’s one of the best-selling authors I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. He’s not the only author I know, but he’s one of them and he’s been incredibly helpful. First, a little introduction. Allen Steele is the scifi writer you don’t know you know. Specializing in hard scifi, Steele’s won numerous awards for his novels and short stories. Along the way he’s graciously offered me (and others, I’m sure) helpful advice about writing and science fiction. Naturally, he’s a walking encyclopedia of information when it comes to Golden Age SciFi.

I shot my first blog post over to him and asked a few questions. The resulting conversation is too big for a single blog post, but I’m including this first chunk as an interesting piece of Golden Age Scifi that I was unaware of: Planet Stories’ contribution to Golden Age Scifi. The email convo started off with a simple question, but led quickly into other areas:

Golden Age SciFi - Ask Allen Steele

“Am I On the Right Track?”

Well, yes, I think you’ve got it nailed down, but it’s also the conventional answer (and let’s forget the tired old saw about the golden age being when you’re 12 years old; Damon Knight was responsible for that decades ago and since then it’s become a cliche that trivializes the issue). John Campbell’s Astounding represented the major thread of the literary revolution that SF went through during the late 30’s through the late 40’s, but it’s not the only thing that was going on. What’s become overlooked has been the more subtle impact caused by another magazine of the time: Planet Stories, and the rise of modern space opera.

Golden Age SciFi - Ask Allen Steele

Planet Stories’ Contribution to Golden Age Scifi

Planet has become almost forgotten except by pulp aficionados and genre historians like myself, and for good reasons. First, it was published only quarterly for most of its history, which lasted only from 1939 through 1955, about when the last of the classic pulps died. It was nearly as garish as Amazing Stories; a typical Planet cover featured a well-endowed girl wearing the least amount of clothing allowed by law being menaced by monsters or an alien horde, which she’s either fighting off with a ray gun or a sword or running away from while a masculine hero with a ray gun or sword rushes to the rescue. And the stories had titles like “The Menace from Venus” or “Air Pirates of Mars” or “Ravenous Denizens of Jupiter”, which were the three major locales for your typical Planet story: Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.

Okay, this sounds like junk. And because much of it really was junk, Planet was easy to dismiss, particularly if you were also reading Astounding during the same time. But since Planet’s forte was what came to be known as “space opera” — Bob Tucker was obviously thinking of Planet when he coined the term in his fanzine Le Zombie — it was the best place to go for that kind of story; Campbell seldom published it anymore in Astounding, and the stuff Ray Palmer published in Amazing was seldom anything but awful. But while the first two or three years of Planet were nearly as bad as Amazing, as the 40’s wore on something interesting began to occur in its pages.

‘Golden Age SciFi’ - Allen Steele Weighs In

How Planet Stories Got Us Ray Bradbury and Empire Strikes Back

Every successful magazine builds a stable of writers, ones whose work is mainly found in its pages and no where else. And this is what happened at Planet, which collected writers whose stories Campbell was too stuffy to buy but who wouldn’t be caught dead at Amazing. The most prolific of these was Leigh Brackett, who together with C.L. Moore was one of the most prominent female authors of SF’s Pulp Era. Brackett’s first story appeared in Planet’s third issue in 1939 and she had the cover story in its last issue in 1955, and during that period she became one of space opera’s grand masters. Her signature creation was Eric John Stark, one of SF’s first and best anti-heroes, sort of a darker version of Burroughs’ John Carter. Brackett was married to Edmond Hamilton, another space-opera master, and since she was also a Hollywood screenwriter, toward the end of her life she wrote the original treatment for the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Those of us who are Brackett fans know that the movie’s great disclosure that Luke Skywalker is actually Darth Vader’s son recognize this as just the sort of surprise development Brackett would spring on her readers.

The other great writer to come from Planet Stories was Brackett’s young protégé, a kid named Ray Bradbury. While Bradbury’s first work appeared in Weird Tales, his science fiction primarily appeared in Planet; many of the stories with which he established his reputation, including most of the ones that were collected in The Martian Chronicles, were first published there. Brackett was Bradbury’s mentor; they collaborated on a story Leigh couldn’t finish, “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, when she was unexpectedly hired to work with William Faulkner on the screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep — yeah, she was that good — and in time Bradbury became Planet’s star writer, and also one of its most controversial.

Golden Age Scifi’s Second Home

From the mid 40’s on, Planet became a magazine that introduced or supported some of the best writers to come from the Golden Age’s post-war period, a home for writers who either couldn’t crack Astounding because of Campbell’s seemingly endless list of rules or were tired of dealing with his demands for rewrites. Fredric Brown, one of SF’s best satirists, was a Planet mainstay. Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry made his first appearance there. Theodore Sturgeon, Gordon R. Dickson, and Alfred Bester also had stories in its pages. Even Isaac Asimov had an early story there, although it was certainly far from one of his best. Towards the end, after the Golden Age but before the end of the Pulp Era, another writer making his debut there was Philip K. Dick. A lot of this was due to another overlooked figure in SF’s history, the magazine’s editor, Jerome Bixby, a short story writer whose tale “It’s A Good Life” was adapted for The Twilight Zone; he later moved to Hollywood and, as Jay Lewis Bixby, cowrote the screenplay for Fantastic Voyage.

Planet was very influential during the Golden Age, particularly in the development of space opera from juvenile literature to a more sophisticated, if not always more mature, subgenre. Unfortunately, over the decades that followed its demise, Planet was lost between Astounding on one side and Amazing on the other, and in recent years only John W. Campbell and Astounding seems to have been remembered, with Campbell lately being accused of racism because of a callous remark he made late in life to Samuel R. Delany (neglected is the fact that, in the early 60’s, Campbell serialized in Analog one of the first SF novels to feature a Black protagonist, Blackman’s Burden by Mack Reynolds … hardly the act of a racist).

I think it’s time for Planet’s place in SF history to be rediscovered and examined. Astounding wasn’t the only magazine to have a major role in the Golden Age and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Golden Age SciFi - Ask Allen Steele

Wrapping Up

I think we all benefit when a guy like Allen Steele weighs in on Golden Age Scifi. This is powerful knowledge about our genre and deserves to be captured for now, and for future generations. Allen Steele is a fountain of great information on the history of science fiction and I really appreciated his input. I hope you did, as well.

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

The Big ‘So What?’ of Science Fiction

The Big 'So What?' of Science FictionReading this article about ‘The Fact and Fiction of Martian Dust Storms,’ I couldn’t help thinking, as I read the ensuing discussion on /r/scifi: “So What?” Part of me is very glad right now that there are no trees on Mars. If there were, many Redditors would be missing the forest for them.

I’m not sure what the deal is, but it’s a common theme in science fiction – the purity test. There’s this recurring logical fallacy that science fiction cannot truly be appreciated unless its science is 100% accurate, or the story is 100% canon, or the plot is logically consistent end-to-end. It’s a pointless, counterproductive exercise and unless the scifi community exercises some self-awareness and self-restraint, it’s bound to end up in utter irrelevance.

Don’t believe me? Look what’s happening to the RWA community right now. That should be a canary in the coalmine for the SFWA and other organizations; you literally can become the villain by trying to be the hero too often. There’s no such thing as institutional immunity. There’s no such thing as institutional infallibility. Sooner or later, we all pull a foul, stub our toe. To err is human.

The Real Questions

So by squawking about the science of The Martian, you’re doing a disservice to scifi everywhere. Here are the real questions sci-fi fans should be asking themselves:

I say all of this to remind you of one simple thing: It’s science FICTION. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s not supposed to be 100% accurate. If it was, we’d never have cell phones because we couldn’t stop saying “Hey, those flip communicators on Star Trek can never work.” Somebody at Motorola saw those and said “Hey, what if they did exist?” The rest, of course, is history.

The Martian deserves every bit of credit it gets for one simple reason: It’s an emotionally consistent story. It helped renew people’s sense of adventure and space exploration, tapping into our own imagination and enterprise. If it sacrificed some of the details to connect with more people, that’s a small price to pay.

So to all of you that got your panties in a twist about the science in The Martian, there’s one simple question you need to tack onto the end of the discussion:

So What?

I bounced these ideas off of /r/scifi and they had some interesting insights. For example, Mobyhead1 hit the nail on the head: “All these attempts at retroactive continuity from the fans is bad enough when attempting to explain a simple plot hole; attempting to ‘fix’ a funny little flaw that the writer straight-up mea culpa’ed is pecksniffery in the first degree.”

I actually had to look that up – pecksniffery is a real word and it comes from Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. It means ‘A hypocritical display of benevolence,’ and I can go along with that. Mobyhead1 expands on this by saying: “I’m going out on a limb, here, but I don’t think the pecksniffs have a great many science degrees amongst them. I think they’re regurgitating criticisms they’ve heard elsewhere simply to piss in someone else’s cornflakes.” I can go along with that, too.

TheDevilsAdvokaat added: “It depends on the reader. For example, I’m a programmer and have been for 40 years. Often when I read sci fi where programming is integral to the plot the writer’s lack of knowledge about how it really works diminishes my involvement…because to me it’s not a ‘tiny niggle’ it’s a huge glaring flaw.” I agree. That’s also a good point.

GregHullender put it this way: “A story can be really good and yet still have flaws. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever read a story with no flaws. Being human, we like to talk about the flaws. We just need to be sure we don’t leave the impression that we thought the flaws ruined a work we actually thought was great.”

Finally, Mobyhead1 wrapped it all up again by saying: “My pet peeve isn’t the prevalence of soft or hard elements in a science fiction story (I like some fantasy stories, too); it’s whether the writer makes his intentions clear and plays fair with the audience.” I can’t make it more clear than that.

Wrapping Up

Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste – I find myself allied with scifi readers / experiencers that like hard science fiction but understand it’s not going to be 100% hard. They can live with the apparent inconsistency if they feel the author is playing fair with the audience. I hope that they find Mesh to be ‘fair’ in that way, because these are the kind of people I really want to win over with the stories I tell. If I can reach them, then I can reach their next generation.