The Sciences

Buzz kill

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJul 16, 2008 1:00 AM


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Before I begin, yes, the irony of posting this after making fun of a bad scifi movie is not lost on me. But Armageddon was not just bad science, it was a bad movie. So that's different.

Second update: Others have been posting on this as well, I've found, including scifi writer (and BABloggee!) Mike Brotherton and the scifi blog io9.

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the Moon, has published a science fiction novel, did a guest spot on The Simpsons, and even signed a copy of my book. But that won't stop me from calling him out when he says something silly. In a recent interview, he says that bad and unrealistic science fiction is the reason people aren't excited about space. Basically, he claims that these bad movies and shows are setting up too high a bar for reality, so kids are disappointed when they can't use warp speed to visit planets or beam themselves across the world:

I blame the fantastic and unbelievable shows about space flight and rocket ships that are on today...All the shows where they beam people around and things like that have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It's not realistic.

Buzz? You're a cool guy and all, but on this you are precisely 100% wrong. You have it exactly backwards. Science fiction, even bad science fiction, inspires kids. Ask any astronaut, any astronomer, any space enthusiast, if Star Trek disappointed them or if it actually made them dream of flying into space one day. I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority will say the latter. I've seen countless interviews proving that, as well as having had this exact conversation with many, many of my peers. Those shows filled our heads with the idea of space travel. Sure, scientifically those shows are inaccurate -- even fantasy -- but the ideas presented kept us going. I watched Lost in Space as a kid, and Space:1999, and as bad as those shows were to the science, it was the concept of space travel that got me going. Those shows inspired me. I literally regard them as having helped me be what I am today. Most of us understand the difference between reality and science fiction, and maybe we're disappointed that we can't travel to the stars. But that's not the fault of the fiction, it's the fault of reality for not keeping up. It's our fault for not making sure it happened. I see lots of bloggers complaining "Where's my flying car?", but I'll ask: what did you personally do to make them a reality? Did you watch those shows on TV, or did you get off your butt and do something with that inspiration? Buzz Aldrin sure did something. He walked on the Moon. It's a pity he said what he did, but he is still a role model for doing something. So you're not flying your car around to work, and you don't live on a moonbase. But what have you done to see that future take place? Go watch Star Trek. Watch Doctor Who and Firefly, read John Scalzi's stuff, dream the dream. But when the show's over, when the last page is read, get up. We make the future, folks. Go do it.

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