Recap: The Science of Science Fiction: Canon Fodder

Phil Plait was the moderator (not shown), and from left to right are Jane Espenson, Kevin Grazier, Ashley Miller, Jaime Paglia, Jon Spaihts, and Zack Stentz.

Oh, Comic Con.

The San Diego Comic Con is the largest pop–culture (scif, fantasy, and so on) convention in America, and one of the largest in the world; over 130,000 people attend. It’s actually a madhouse, with a packed exhibit hall and hundreds of amazing panels and talks.

Space Tourism

Orange streaks of flame obscure the view outside the spacecraft’s small circular window.  Smoke wafts from behind control panels. Loose equipment bounces around the cabin at the thud of Earth impact.

These images, recorded by Richard Garriott from inside the Russian Soyuz TMA-12 capsule as it descended from orbit, feature prominently in Mike Woolf‘s documentary Man on a Mission. Released in January, the film includes about twenty minutes of zero-gravity footage captured by Garriott, who in 2008 became the sixth private citizen to visit the International Space Station. These scenes include eating with crewmates, shaving, juggling tennis balls and performing science experiments. Garriott also takes viewers on an end-to-end tour of the International Space Station from the research labs to crew quarters.

Robots! Aliens! Time travel! Superheroes! SCIENCE!

At the 2012 San Diego Comic Con we’re putting the Sci in SciFi with the return of the popular panel:

The Science of Science Fiction: Canon Fodder

Packed with the names behind some of the biggest science fiction hits in Hollywood and TV, the panel will explore the science behind movies and series including Thor, Eureka, Prometheus, and SyFy’s upcoming blockbuster series Defiance. Keeping the science straight in an ongoing series can be a nightmare for writers, so we’ve tapped some of the best to talk about how it’s done, and how to remain faithful to both reality and story mythology. We’ll be talking prequels, sequels, and creating good stories with good science from the ground up.

It must be true…I saw it in a movie

I can’t say I have a particular aptitude for science, or that I have had years of film experience, but I can proudly say that I was the catalyst for The Science & Entertainment Exchange, or rather my defective pancreas was. When I was eleven I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  It’s all a bit of a fog now, but I do know that that particular day changed my parents’ lives forever.  My parents, Jerry and Janet Zucker spent the first few months after I was diagnosed buying me presents and basically tending to my every need (it was awesome) but they soon realized that this wasn’t going to cure me, and would most likely turn me into a rather inept teenager. They immediately sprung into action and started Cures Now, a non-profit with the goal of finding cures for diseases through stem cell research.

“Anything Is Possible”….which might be the problem

There’s a saying that’s meant a lot to me for quite some time.

It’s nothing new, it doesn’t change your life when you hear it and it’s not a wise observation on the complexity of life or an enlightening insight into our culture.

It’s very simple.

“Anything Is Possible”

I love that saying probably more than any other. 

One of the first movies I remember seeing when I was young was Star Wars.  I was just a kid but I could still appreciate the enormity of the world Lucas created.  Of course I had no clue how he made that world come to life but neither did a lot of people in the room much older than me.  Suddenly, space seemed real, it seemed that this might actually be going on in a galaxy far, far away.   Space finally seemed possible.

Preaching with Prometheus: Religious Responses to Alien Visitors in Science Fiction Films

One of the more intriguing, and controversial, thematic aspects of Ridley Scott’s new film Prometheus involves its overt discussions of science and faith. The character of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is a scientist whose father was a Catholic missionary. She retains her religious faith even after she finds scientific evidence that an ancient alien species created humanity in its own image using genetic engineering. Rather than question the concept of a supernatural creator, she merely shifts her belief to the notion of an intergalactic God who created the creator species.

Podcasts for the Science Enthusiast

Modern society keeps yelling out “there are not enough hours in a day” and “we must increase our multi-tasking capabilities” so let’s consider discovering science via podcasts. An array of choices await, each presenting science uniquely. Here are a few to sample:  

Science Friday (SciFri)   

How I Stopped Worrying (about science accuracy) And Learned to Love The Story

When I was a kid – and who am I kidding; when I was an adult too – I made fun of the science in movies. “That’s so fakey!” I would cry out loud when a spaceship roared past, or a slimy alien stalked our heroes.

Eventually, my verbal exclamations evolved into written ones. Not long after creating my first website (back in the Dark Internet Ages of 1997) I decided it would be fun to critique the science of movies, and I dove in with both glee and fervor. No movie was safe, from Armageddon to Austin Powers.

I was right; it was fun. It was surprisingly easy to deconstruct Hollywood accuracy, or lack thereof. Any mistake was fair game; a flubbed line with bad math was just as likely for me to mock as a plot device upon which the entire movie rested. Blowing up a giant asteroid? Pshaw. Saying “million” instead of “billion”? Please. Shadows moving the wrong way at sunset? Let me sharpen my poison keyboard.

Tribeca Film Festival: WarGames

It is all fun and games – until you accidentally start World War III. That is what Matthew Broderick’s character, David, discovers in the acclaimed 1983 film WarGames. Believing he hacked into a war-based computer game, David starts to play the game by sending missiles from the Soviet Union to the United States. What he does not realize is that he hacked into the U.S. military’s War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) supercomputer, and his game is believed to be a real attack. A thrilling chase to save the world ensues, and, well, we will not spoil it for you.

Science and Entertainment Mash-up

Science and entertainment are mixing it up everywhere. They have been crossing paths in a variety of ways; some are not that unusual, but others seem out of the ordinary. Here are some recent examples of science and entertainment hanging out together.


Live theater seems to have embraced science in a big way. Has there been an uptick in science-themed plays? It would seem so. Science, technology, and mathematics have been the inspiration for a lot of drama on the stage in recent years. Plays such as Copenhagen and Proof have drawn large audiences and critical acclaim.