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Science-Fictional Shibboleths (antipope.org) 508

An anonymous reader writes: SF author Charlie Stross has put together a short list of what he considers to be shibboleths for implausible science fiction. (If you're unfamiliar with the term, read the Wikipedia entry first.) So, what tops his list? "Asteroidal gravel banging against the hull of a spaceship. Alternatively: spaceships sheltering from detection behind an asteroid, or dodging asteroids, or pretty much anything else involving asteroids that don't look like [a pock-marked potato]." Another big red flag for Stross is when authors fail to appreciate Newton's second law, having their characters undergo impacts or accelerations that would turn them into a thin, reddish paste on their starship's hull. Some interesting examples from commenters include: futuristic yet manually-aimed weapons, technobabble as a plot device, and science officers with Ph.D. levels of expertise in dozens of fields. One of mine: entire races or planets full of people who behave the same, often based on some keyword. What are yours? Stross's focus is on books, but feel free to bring up movies and TV shows as well.
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Science-Fictional Shibboleths

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  • BLANK noun. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:11PM (#51063821)

    Earthican ale. Yeah it sounds cute but Earth does not produce just one type of ale.

    Earthican coffee. See Earthican ale.

    • Re:BLANK noun. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pepty ( 1976012 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:51PM (#51064011)

      Doesn't matter how many styles of ale a planet has if one type is considered prototypical or is the only one that gets marketed on other planets. Columbian coffee. Canadian bacon. Irish whiskey. And Fosters: Australian for Beer.

      Improbable assumptions don't really bother me too much in science fiction, especially if they are only serving as background to whatever the story is focusing on. Tropes are running shoes: use them to go someplace interesting. What gets me is internal inconsistency (if you're going to dream up a puzzle, make sure the pieces actually fit together) and bland assumptions. If the author's answer to "what if ...?" is "the same old tired shit as the last 30 people who wrote a space opera" the result might have some merit, but it won't be from being fascinating, thought provoking, or amazing.

      • Re:BLANK noun. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:59PM (#51064041)

        > Columbian coffee. Canadian bacon. Irish whiskey.

        I think you really nail it here. Canadian bacon is the best example: it's not bacon, and it's not from Canada, but the name sticks. I think the problem is when people hang out *with Romulans* and talk about "Romulan ale"- the Romulans would, of course, know better, as would some ale aficionado. But in the general case, it's very safe to say "Earth Sugardrink" when talking about whatever the most popular human soda is. Sure, *we'd* know better, but the aliens might not, etc.

        • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @06:54PM (#51064293)

          "Earth Sugardrink" when talking about whatever the most popular human soda is.

          I'm adopting this expression. Hell, we should all adopt this expression, so maybe we'll drink less of it and actually enjoy it more when we do have it...

          • Except a lot of 'em don't have sugar - at least ehre in the US, high fructose corn syrup has replaced sugar in a lot of the sodas. Which of course means the imported Coke from Mexico or the "kosher for Passover" bottling now has a market, since it is still made with sugar. And of course, the marketing folks get a kick, as evidenced by the "throw back" versions of Pepsi products...

            • at least ehre in the US, ...
              At least in Europe ... high fructose corn syrup has replaced sugar
              Is still called what it is: sugar.

            • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday December 05, 2015 @10:32PM (#51065261)

              Yeah, it's a different type of Earthican sugardrink. You probably never heard of it. I get it imported from a small distributor.
              - Klingon Hipster

      • Re:BLANK noun. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ofni.hsifcitsalp)> on Saturday December 05, 2015 @07:40PM (#51064515) Homepage

        Foster's is Australian for "that kangaroo piss we sell to Yanks who don't know any better". Discerning Aussies drink Toohey's. Less discerning Aussies drink VB.

        *prepares for flames from fans of Victoria Bitter*

        • I always thought that Foster's is Australian for Budweiser with less taste (which is actually an improvement because the missing taste is foul.
        • by TMB ( 70166 )

          Discerning Australians drink beer from New Zealand because it's a hell of a lot better.

    • Earthican ale. Yeah it sounds cute but Earth does not produce just one type of ale.

      True, but any given region or, in this case planet, may be known for a particular brand/blend/variety of a product that is superior to the other varieties, or at least better known. It happens here on earth all the time (Egyptian cotton, Arabian coffee, Spanish rice).

    • Yes, but in an interstellar community you would still call the variety of coffee available from Earth as Earthiness Coffee. Either because it is all very similar, or because it is the most popular quintessential Earthiness coffee. More than one drink is produced in champagne, France; But many of them are grouped together and called champagne.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Earth coffee is somewhat plausible, in that it could apply to all coffees that originate from Earth. There might be similar drinks derived from similar plants and processes from other planets.

    • Yes, but this trope is modelling the outside view, where earth is just one of many origins.
      Of course there are a million flavors of ale/coffee on earth, but ask a random alien on the other side of the galaxy, they only know the one kind that earth is famous for (because of best marketing?).

      It's a trope based on real life. Just replace earth with *exotic country*.

    • Re:BLANK noun. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @10:01PM (#51065157) Journal

      In contrast, consider (from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe):

      It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian "chinanto/mnigs" which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan "tzjin-anthony-ks" which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

      What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:12PM (#51063823)

    I'm looking at you, Star Wars.

    Your human target is 50 feet away and barely moving and yet SOMEHOW all of your crack Stormtroopers miss with a weapon that shoots at the speed of light.

    A gigantic weapons platform (the Deathstar) with virtually NO point defense, virtually NO fighter screen, and practically no close-in, anti-attacker weapon mount points. WTF??

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cassini2 ( 956052 )

      With Darth Vader, why would you need much of a fighter screen?

      Only a young Jedi using the force could successfully mount an attack against a Death Star ...

    • by Chas ( 5144 )

      It's a terror weapon. And it mainly depends on traveling at light speed to render it immune from counter attack.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:19PM (#51063869)

      I see. You seem to be under the impression that Star Wars is science fiction.

      • I see. You seem to be under the impression that Star Wars is science fiction.

        Nice one.

        Signed,

        A Star Trek fan.

    • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:19PM (#51063873)

      Your human target is 50 feet away and barely moving and yet SOMEHOW all of your crack Stormtroopers miss with a weapon that shoots at the speed of light.

      Those are blasters, not lasers. If you can see a discreet glob of energy fly fast through the air, it's not made of photons, it's giving off photons as a side-effect.

      • Which are slower than ballistic ammo and are stopped by bulkheads and doors. Also, no blaster grenades?

        • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

          They are slower than ballistic ammo, but they seem to explode a lot of things that they hit. Perhaps not the interior of some military installations. They also don't seem to follow a ballistic arc, and they are vastly more deadly than bullets- anyone hit with a blaster is pretty much fucked, it seems. There is also the apparent ease of recharge- we don't know how the blasters are recharged, but we definitely don't see everyone lugging around a hundred pounds of ammo or battery in most cases.

          • In real life a bullet is also pretty much one-and-done. It's almost always one and mission-killed. Particularly since modern firearms, military spec or not, have such a high rate of fire that if they hit you it's 2-3 times. Sometimes small-caliber weapons with extremely high-velocity armor-piercing rounds fail to stick around a human body long enough to do a bunch of damage, and if you have a medical corps as quick as America's you will typically be treated before you can bleed out. But if you get hit by an

            • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

              > In real life a bullet is also pretty much one-and-done.

              This is definitely not true. Assuming we are talking about rounds like you might see from a battle rifle, there's still plenty of survivors, and even in the case of burst fire, it's entirely possible to be struck by one, but not the others, or for the bullets to strike you somewhere that injures or maims but does not kill. If we are talking about other types of firearms, the odds go way up.

              Bullets are nowhere close to a one shot kill, and even wh

          • by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @07:22PM (#51064435) Homepage

            anyone hit with a blaster is pretty much fucked, it seems.

            No, blaster shots only kill you if you're wearing full body armor like a stormtrooper. If the blaster shot hits bare skin -- say Princess Leia's arm on Endor -- you'll wince in pain but shake it off and be back to full health within a few seconds.

            • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

              > . If the blaster shot hits bare skin -- say Princess Leia's arm on Endor

              I always saw that as the blaster hitting the metal, and she is injured by the force of the near miss. You did make me go check frame by frame, and I'll still stand by that interpretation- I see the blaster bolt special effect in one frame as flying at the space where her arm is adjacent to the metal wall, and the next frame has the spark explosion thing with an apparent center point that looks, to me, to originate from the door.

              • by hawk ( 1151 )

                Actually, that scene is what led to modern special effects from ILM.

                If you check, you'll see that one "Carrie Fisher" was admitted at that time to the emergency room for plasma burns, not heat reflection. As a consequence, the Screen Actor's Guild insisted that no more live blasters be used, even if the stuntman was capable of missing.

                hawk

            • If the blaster shot hits bare skin -- say Princess Leia's arm on Endor -- you'll wince in pain but shake it off and be back to full health within a few seconds.

              Obviously the blaster shot was deflected by the midichlorians in the bare skin. :-)

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            To claim that, means claiming a plasma in slow motion, also not realistic. About the slowest thing you could fire which could delivery energy at the other end electrically, would be capacitors. Charged as they are accelerated and developing an energy field in transit to maintain a higher speed and even allow trajectory alternation.

            One thing they get immediately wrong of course is asteroid fields, sorry bubbala, to much flat earther thinking ie stagnant over time. Depending when, the asteroid field was cr

      • Those are blasters, not lasers. If you can see a discreet glob of energy fly fast through the air, it's not made of photons, it's giving off photons as a side-effect.

        So this advanced energy weapon fires a "discreet glob of energy" that moves slower than a 20th-century handgun bullet?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yep. (Who said it was advanced? This was 'a long time ago,' remember?)

    • all of your crack Stormtroopers miss

      If your Stormtroopers been smokin' crack, they ain't gonna hit jack shit.

      Your weed Stormtroopers won't do any better.

      Booze and beer Stormtroopers? Forget it.

      And your LSD Stormtroopers? They will hit all kinds of flying dragons, before quickly destroying your Death Star.

      I may seem old fashioned, but I would prefer to have a group of clean Stormtroopers. Hey, they can all take turns and switch groups when they want, but it would be a good idea to have at least one group of clean Stormtroopers to suppor

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Your human target is 50 feet away and barely moving and yet SOMEHOW all of your crack Stormtroopers miss with a weapon that shoots at the speed of light.

      In the real 3 movies, this is actually explained quite well. (Inability of the armor to protect against teddy bears is another story). It canon that Storm Troopers are good shots: "these blast points are too accurate to be Sand People". So why do they miss so consistently in certain scenes in SW and ESB? Because they've been ordered to let the prisoners escape / capture them alive.

      Think about it: the times in the first movie when Storm Troopers can't hit anything are during the rescue of Princess Leia a

    • Your human target is 50 feet away and barely moving and yet SOMEHOW all of your crack Stormtroopers miss with a weapon that shoots at the speed of light.

      I think the Mythbusters did some measurements on an episode and determined that blasters fire travels slower than light. And they tried to dodge it.

      • I think the Mythbusters did some measurements on an episode and determined that blasters fire travels slower than light. And they tried to dodge it.

        So....it's an energy weapon that fires a payload that moves slower than a 20th century handgun bullet?

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Lasers in sci-fi often don't behave like lasers, more like plasma weapons of some kind. But yeah, how can you miss with a beam or dodge light? When they hit things they rarely behave like lasers either, and the energy density required to power them from a hand weapon is also kinda implausible.

      Weapons in sci-fi in general tend to be a bit off. To pick up your Death Star example, any civilization with FTL and other advanced tech could just fling large rocks at it. Solo even comments about the danger of hittin

      • by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @08:07PM (#51064621) Homepage

        >Did the Death Star even have an FTL drive? If it did, why didn't it use it to escape attack?

        Because one must assume that the smaller ships near it would be in an inertial damping field. It simply has to exist because a light speed jump would mean every person inside a ship would hit the back wall with a few petajoules of energy otherwise. So, ok, there is a 'Mass Effect' field that occurs on the ships, then once a small ship is inside that bubble running away doesn't do any good, much like speeding a plane up to 400Mph to run from a terrorist bomber if the bomber is seating in isle 3A.

        Most of the issues with the death star on ones of hubris, it would have never ran anyway, it thought it was undefeatable.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        There's a IMHO good scene in either "The Mote in God's Eye" or the sequel where the protagonists are fleeing a pursuer, who is firing a laser at them. It's at a great distance, so the beam has spread, and IIRC there's insufficient fuel to dodge it, so they would be "bathed in that green glare for hours". The laser was causing the ship to heat up, with some device working hard to dump the heat, and a brief respite where they are able to hide in shadow for a while. I like it because it uses a simple limit (no

  • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:14PM (#51063827)
    The whole idea of themed planets or themed races largely turned me off of reading SF, and one of the reasons I won't go near StarWars with a 10 foot pole.

    Trying to define an entire race or culture or planet with a 3 word phrase is asinine. Doing that for every race or culture or planet in a galaxy just makes me cringe. I can't read or watch it.
    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:21PM (#51063881)

      And those "aliens" always have the weirdest MANDATORY rituals.

      Like when the Earthican science officer has to travel home so he can celebrate Chr'istm;as with his family or else he will experience a drop in honour and require an increased h;oul'y pAy''ra'te for those days.

      It was bad enough when he had us all sitting around the rec deck cutting Chr'istm;as kh'ah'rdd=s out of pAy''pur so we could exchange them with each other for kh'ah'rdd=s that we had just cut out.

    • by Chas ( 5144 )

      Live long and prosper!

      taH pagh taHbe!

      Gangster Planet.

      Amerind planet.

      Hippie World...oh wait, most of them died. THANK GOD!

    • They're not supposed to be realistic - the stories are allegories and the themed races represent one subset of humanity, represented as one subset of the races in the galaxy in the science fiction stories. From there the allegory procedes.

      • ...the stories are allegories and the themed races represent one subset of humanity, represented as one subset of the races in the galaxy in the science fiction stories. From there the allegory procedes.[sic]

        As someone who is directly in the publishing chain specifically for science fiction (SF-specialized literary agency), I can tell you authoritatively that this level of meaning does not always flow from the creative's pen, keyboard or storyboard.

        For example, various facets of Terry Pratchett's Discworld

    • by pepty ( 1976012 )
      Mostly harmless.
    • The whole idea of themed planets or themed races largely turned me off of reading SF, and one of the reasons I won't go near StarWars with a 10 foot pole.

      Trying to define an entire race or culture or planet with a 3 word phrase is asinine. Doing that for every race or culture or planet in a galaxy just makes me cringe. I can't read or watch it.

      "Spaceballs."One word says it all.

      As in "Spaceballs! Oh sh*t, there goes the planet."

  • shibboleth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikesum ( 840054 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:16PM (#51063843)
    I was unaware of this new definition of shibboleth that essentially mean cliché or trope.
    • Re:shibboleth (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fisted ( 2295862 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:32PM (#51063921)

      Came here to say that. Extra stupid considering TFS contains that suggestion to read the Wikipedia article first, 'if unfamiliar with the term'.

  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:18PM (#51063857) Homepage Journal
    Why does it seem that most "alien" planets have a single climate everywhere? That doesn't even seem possible in any real (~spherical) world. In our solar system, not even Mars has the same climate everywhere; it has ice caps, and plateaus with visibly different weather than the lowlands. Actual aliens that are physically compatible with humans would be expected to live on planets with variability similar to ours, with visible climate changes every few hundred km or so. Granted, you might expect a single climate if only one spot on a planet is involved in the plot. But usually there's travel on the planet, and usually it's about the same (usually desert or jungle) in all the scenes. Of course, there are few exceptions that are more realistics.
    • I think that the latest astronomical surveys have shown that about half of all exoplanets are indeed entirely covered with a uniform mixture of playground sand and polystyrene boulders, with a calm, clear purple-tinged atmosphere. The other half of exoplanets all seem bear a striking resemblance to the Mojave Desert.

      • by Intron ( 870560 )

        You are leaving out the many jungle planets which all have the same type of vegetation as Kauai.

    • Try the surface of Venus. Same weather, same lighting, same air pressure all over the place. As far as vacation spots go, it's the hottest outside the surface of the sun.
    • For practical purposes, all of Earth has a neutral nitrogen and oxygen atmosphere between 0 and 50 degrees Celsius, with precipitation of water, and winds generally under 15m/s.

      If you're planning a pit stop in this solar system, and your choices are between the acid atmosphere of Venus, the hull-threatening storms of Jupiter, or Earth, you probably don't care about such small variations.

      If your species routinely makes such stops, you're probably either biologically or technologically capable of handling a w

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      I'd say Venus or a small asteroid/comet would come close. The latter because small objects would be relatively easy to have single climates and the former due to the smoothing effects of around two orders more atmosphere.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:42PM (#51063963)

    Two of those actually seem reasonable...

    (1) The manually aimed weapons.

    Especially in the event that there is some probability effect that the gunner is able to take advantage from, which a computer can not; for example: the gunner may be a main character, in which case, they can't die, which means if a preternatural aim is necessary to their survival, they will of necessity have a preternatural aim. But there's actually no reason to step past the fourth wall in this case, if we posit psychic capabilities, or very long distances relative to the speed of light vs. the speed of the craft: you will need to shoot where the enemy will be when the weapon passes through their location, rather than where the enemy currently is, and you can't depend on them to not be taking bridge-lurching evasive maneuvers.

    (2) Science officers with Ph.D. levels of expertise in dozens of fields.

    This isn't that unbelievable, although most of the people I know in the "science officer" range tend to be struggling somewhere early in their second dozen...

    • by Junta ( 36770 )

      2) Is interesting in Star Trek. Spock was the science officer with a wide breadth of knowledge. Vulcans also had a long lifespan.

      In TNG, was an android, with different set of rules around learning information, so again a reasonable explanation for the accumulation of knowledge.

      Even in Enterprise, they had a guiding Vulcan presence, with the same longevity benefit.

      Voyager didn't have an apparent person in this role until 7 of 9, at which point one could say being part of the collective gave her a way to kn

    • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

      > (2) Science officers with Ph.D. levels of expertise in dozens of fields.

      This is actually pretty reasonable in most presentations. The big name here is Star Trek, though much sci fi has this trope.

      The thing is, how many giant space ships are there, relative to population? And is it considered a noble calling, etc.? The Starfleet officers generally are of the opinion that there's nothing better than Starfleet, and they all struggle mightily to be the best. How many Federation spaceships are there, re

  • by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @05:43PM (#51063979)
    A galaxy full of upright walking bi-pedal aliens that all around just happen look and overall act like humans currently do. The notion of such widespread parallel evolution across such time and space is pretty darn unlikely. At the same time it is not like I can't suspend disbelief to enjoy fiction.

    Before someone mentions it, I know they did try to resolve the parallel problem in TNG.
    • They live on planets with breathable air, too, and have usually, perchance, evolved technically, politically and culturally to about the same point as Earthlings : ie within a few hundred years one way or the other.

      The "goodies" among them have exactly the same ethical views as the "good" Earthlings too - a fallacy shared (more seriously) by those among us who see no harm in establishing communication with any real alien intelligent life that we may detect.
    • The problem with alternatives to humanoids is how the fuck do you film them?

      Even assuming you can figure out how to get the expressive bits of a 40 ft dinosouroid, a 5 ft 6 in human woman, and a 2 ft froggish-type-thing in the same frame, how can you get the audience to understand the dinosouroid is scared of something the froggish thing has in it's mid-limbs and the human is trying to smooth it over?

      You really see the problem in Star Wars. Most of their aliens only look a little less human then the ones on

  • Wikipedia (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    For those that cant be bothered to click the wikipedia link, a shibboleth is a mythical creature, like the minotaur or the shakira.

  • In the future, everyone will carry personal defense weapons that look approximately the size and shape of 20th century guns. They'll have starships and nanotechnology, and robots, but they'll still need to have holsters and ammo belts. So basically, everything is American, except the villain will speak with a Shakespearean accent and the alien love interest will look just like a 20th century supermodel, except with an interesting glowing tattoo and/or clever contact lenses, so you know she's an alien.

    The

    • This reminds me of a comment I wrote in the 1790's.

      In 2015, people will carry personal defence weapons that look approximately the same size and shape as a small flintlock pistol. They'll have space vessels, thinking machines, and automatons, but they'll still need to have holsters and bullets.
  • Ever notice how whenever there's a Star Trek away mission, if it's not on a planet with fiberglass rocks it's on a planet that looks like Southern California? If you know anything about natural history, you not only can identify the plants in the scene as specific Earth plants, but you can place the site within a distinctive band of montane chaparral about 250 miles long by 50 miles wide running along the Transverse Range north of LA, and nowhere else on Earth.

    That's understandable, since a TV show needs a

    • And while we're at it, where does Iron Man store the reaction mass for his boot jets?

      Or the tiny wires that connect to the Arc reactor in his chest. How big would those wires have to be to carry all that current w/o significant heating?

    • Or planets that aren't close enough to earth-normal are given to other intelligences to explore. Humans wouldn't make good explorers of Jupiter, for example.
  • Size changes (Score:4, Informative)

    by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @06:40PM (#51064225) Homepage Journal

    My biggest cringe is when something changes size - like when Dracula changes to a bat or someone (as for instance Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing) changes into a werewolf of 2x volume. (Or Odo changing into a mouse, or when his full human size fits in a bucket.)

    My second biggest is when the bullets hit everything except the person - such as running along a waist-high cast iron fence and the bullets hit the vertical bars but not the person. (I don't so much mind the "spark" that a bullet makes when it hits concrete in the movies - that's a good visual cue.) Also, someone outrunning the swept arc of machine gun bullets. Also, someone behind a couch being shielded from bullets.

    My third biggest cringe is people hanging on by their hands for more than 30 seconds. People in *really* good shape can hold on for 60 seconds (try it some time), but unless you are an elite climber you won't get past the minute mark. Viz: the scientists in the 1997 movie "Batman and Robin".

    • My third biggest cringe is people hanging on by their hands for more than 30 seconds.

      Getting a bit off topic, but even worse, they hang on by one hand only. In fact deliberately let go with the other hand and wave it around pointlessly.

  • Killjoy (Score:2, Informative)

    Dear Mr. Stross,

    Your little tirade there was only a little less annoying than an argument about whether an Imperial Star Destroyer could beat the Enterprise-D in battle. I imagine building a time machine into a DeLorean is impossible. I know that an X-Wing banking into a turn makes no sense in terms of real space flight. But these thing can be enormous fun. I've often found that books with similarly ridiculous scenarios are quite a bit of fun to read; that is to say, I enjoy them whether you do or not.

  • http://www.critters.org/turkey... [critters.org] - worth reading just for its hilarity (various versions abound, google the subject of this post) this is an invaluable read for any wannabe-writer not just in sci-fi, but the terms that are defined are a special warning-shot across the bows of anyone wishing to make the jump into the especially-discerning genre of science fiction.

    many wanna-be science fiction writers forget that sci-fi readers are usually extremely well-read (i.e. extremely familiar with the genre), as well

  • Entire planets of one biome. I'm sure even forest planets would have ice caps.
  • One is any sci-fi story set more than a few centuries in the future that doesn't have strong AI without a damned good political or technical explanation of why not.

    Another is any interstellar economy where it makes sense to ship raw materials between stars. It is hard to imagine how you'd get a habitable planet without iron. In general, if you have enough heavy elements to make a decent planet in the first place nearly all of the useful ones would likely be more or less available. Unless your story line

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