I am working my way through Alastair Reynolds' Redemption Space series of science fiction novels. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I like Alastair's hard-science bent and his ability to build it into his plots, instead of using it as mere gee-whiz embellishment. In that same post, I sadly reported on the egregiously abused science in a young-adult sf novel that I had read in grammar school, namely, comets of flaming gas and sound waves propagating through vacuum. It's like spacecraft roaring across the screen in cinematic space operas, complete with ear-shattering explosions in full Dolby Digital sound. Fun, perhaps, but bogus.
Near the end of Redemption Ark, I found Reynolds slipping a sly barb into his prose. Let's join Antoinette Bax on the bridge of Storm Bird as her spacecraft approaches a battle scene where dozens of smaller craft are swarming about a huge interstellar vehicle:
Pinpricks of light within the swarm signified smaller armaments detonating, and very occasionally Antoinette saw the hard red or green line of a laser precursor beam, caught in outgassing air or propellant from one or other of the ships. Absently, cursing her mind's ability to focus on the most trivial of things at the wrong time, she realised that this was a detail that they always got wrong in the space opera holo-dramas, where laser beams were invisible, the sinister element of invisibility adding to the drama. But a real close-range space battle was a far messier affair, with gas clouds and chaff shards erupting all over the place, ready to reflect and disperse any beam weapon.What do you think? Could it happen this way? We always have among us the hypercorrect, the type who insist on saying “between you and I” because it sounds formal, never realizing how wrong it is. Perhaps one day they'll be making sf movies in just the way Ms. Bax anticipates. But stuffy enough to forgo dazzling light effects just because they once heard that vacuum doesn't scatter photons? Probably not.