Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Well, There's Your Problem, Lady!"

     Reading a well-written Bruce Sterling article on getting the most from a writer's workshop -- and not writing like an ijit -- I tripped over this:
    Just-Like Fallacy.  SF story which thinly adapts the
trappings of a standard pulp adventure setting.  The
spaceship is "just like" an Atlantic steamer, down to 
the Scottish engineer in the hold.
       [Emphasis mine]  See, there's the problem with your damn' spaceship/steamer: get that darned Scot outta the hold (where she is likely checking the cargo from the Auld Sod for volatiles and consuming same) and back into the engine room!

      Mr. Kipling, your imitators have much to answer for. Mr. Sterling, on the other hand, didn't grow up in a steamship world;* he's excused on grounds of being otherwise highly competent.
* I'm reminded of a recent recording of a 1930s Raymond Scott swing tune, "Reckless Night On An Ocean Liner" -- yes, the pun's intentional -- that, while a very well-recorded performance by very talented musician, fails because they don't seem to have caught on that the underlying beat is the sound of a small marine steam-engine (like the SFX used in Afrcan Queen, scaled-up).  As a result, the lower-quality '30s recording, with Scott leading the band, beats it hands-down.  Thus doth time make fools of us all.


Jess said...

I guess they need to be in the hold. After all, the drinking in engineering led to the release of poisonous gas, three sick engineering mates and a reprimand from Star Fleet.

Roberta X said...

Are you sure the word you're thinking of isn't "brig?"

Jess said...

Not the brig. The hold is where they can drink unobserved and with minimal danger to the crew.

If you put the engineer in the brig, there's nobody smart enough to eject the core, when required.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I've always liked this oldie-but-goodie from James Lileks. (Probably NSFW -- loud techno music.)

"Can't change the laws of physics..."


JD(not the one with the picture) said...

Few know that if you filter that lousy rotgut (especially the green stuff obtained from some benighted planet on the back side of an outer galactic arm somewhere) through some crushed dilithium crystals, it will take most of the impurities out and improve the taste quite a bit.

Roberta X said...

I will suggest, Jess, once again, that it is injudicious drinking in the hold that leads one to a short course in brig-inhabiting.

If the starship is so ill-designed, ill-maintained or undermanned that it can't run with the CE and a couple of minions in irons for a few weeks, the darned thing ought to be allowed to blow up. It'd make the galaxy a better place.

It's like the shoddy gravity generators in ST:TOS: whatever happened to Enterprise, you'd hear some engineering type report, "Gravity is down to point-eight here." Sheesh, Mr. Scott, either fix 'em or just set them at 80% of standard and leave them alone.

(Writers, screenwriters in particular, get very casual about artificial gravity but even a 20% drop or increase presents an insurmountable barrier for an unaided individual at the transition zone. [I think Arthur Clarke addressed this in one of his Tales From The White Hart stories.] Crewman 80% is probably stuck there until they can effect repairs.)

Roberta X said...

Also, what is it with ejecting the core? Who designs the sole primary power source so that when it goes wonky, all you can do is spit it out, watch it blow up, and hope help arrives before your secondary sources wind down? What kind of a way to run a railroad is that, and how was such a design ever man-rated?

My guess? Starfleet is a dumping ground for the unwanted. If they die horrible deaths in space, oh well, it's just a bunch of poets, space-case techs, xenosexuals and aliens for 'em to fall in love with. No real loss to the attorneys and MBAs who run the so-called United Federation of Planets. Warp cores are inherently unstable? Aw, who cares? "The Federation's Got Talent" is on the tri-D!

Roberta X said...

(I'm also convinced the Vulcans get off on watching idiots harm themselves. Oh, they have a sense of humor, all right; if somebody in a missile command bunker on your planet slips on a banana peel and accidentally starts an exchange that wipes out your entire species, the Vulcans will laugh themselves sick over it. Brushfire war started 'cos El Supremo is having a bad hair day? Hear 'em snicker! Snotty sons'a'-- Um. never mind.)

Old NFO said...

Bread and water? The poor Scot would expire on that... :-)

Jess said...

If he didn't expire, he'd be so plugged, he'd beg for death....or scotch.

Drang said...

"Crewman 80%" was actually Majel Barrett Roddenberry. Tiger made sure she got paid very well for each snippet of monologue...