Editorial – Oct 2013: Dated Science Fiction and Misinformation (editorial).
Dated Science Fiction and Misinformation.
Two subjects for the price of one editorial this month. Not that neither of them are insignificant, just not enough for an extended editorial.
It was while I was reviewing ‘Signatures Of Life’ this month and its author, Edward Ashpole, relied practically on only the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series for his Science Fiction references that it dawned on me just how dated it is. ‘Star Trek’ that is, not looking around for alien life, which has gained…er…new life lately. After all, ‘Star Trek’s original template was the 1956 film ‘Forbidden Planet’. The politics of the original ‘Trek’ was born out of the 1960s Kennedy era and even the current USA has expanded beyond that since then. Even its technology had to be re-thought when the 2001-2005 series ‘Enterprise’ was created because things like communicators had developed in the past forty years and would have looked dated had it tried to look even earlier than the original Trek. Ergo, it might be well-known and most people have seen it but as an example of social values and such, to call it dated wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
Although ‘Star Trek’ is known around the world so, too, is the likes of other SF series that reflect more modern attitudes. Surely, the likes of ‘Babylon 5’ and ‘Farscape’ tell us more about human attitude towards aliens today, how we see our place in the universe and our perception of technology that doesn’t contain engineered teleportation? Both shows are over a decade old themselves but a lot more up-to-date than ‘Star Trek’ to understanding the current human psyche. I’m only neglecting the likes of the ‘Stargate’ series because it’s set in present day. Even the current two pocket universe ‘Star Trek’ films don’t really address the politics of the future other than ‘Into Darkness’, it appears that Starfleet is a law unto itself and those who run it.
That’s really a minor issue. The real problem is it would be difficult to ensure any scientist author to have a good grounding in our genre writing non-genre books wanting to use SF examples. It also seems a shame that they appear so limited in it so the extent that few even reference fiction over film. These days, even fans within our genre can’t possibly have seen let alone read everything significant, whether out of personal interest or just rather more specialised, but there is an awareness of most things and especially who came up with them first. I suspect for a percentage of you reading here, you’re also pretty up on the sciences as well or at least as much as what is possible. Which does make me wonder why it doesn’t work the other way round more? Why don’t scientists who write books citing Science Fiction examples at least get some proper help in choosing a variety than rely on only one or a few choices to enhance their credibility in our community.
It isn’t as though there aren’t scientists interested in Science Fiction. People at NASA and even Stephen Hawking have admitted to liking our genre. It’s hardly like we’re total outcasts from society and shunned from being contacted any more. The real problem comes to what knowledge is used as examples in non-fiction from our genre. If you were in that kind of situation, would you pick something everyone would have heard of or something that would be appropriate and rely on multiple examples to choose from? I doubt if the average non-genre reader would check up on all if any of the references. Come to that, how often do we genre readers? However, we would at least recognise the significant examples to their accuracy or not and appropriation to the work and then leave me with nothing to criticise in an editorial like this.
With films, there is often a scientific advisor to keep them on track, so wouldn’t it make sense to have some sort of Science Fiction advisor to point out examples for non-fiction books. It wouldn’t mean that they take over that aspect, just expand the choices that they can pick from and make them look a bit more savvy on the subject. The authors wouldn’t have to accept the choices verbatim because I would still expect them to read or watch them to see if they match the reason why they should be selected against something they have a limited experience of.
Having the right examples means any SF advisor will have to be well read as well as seen a fair selection of SF films to be able to tell the good from the chaff. Whether this would be as good or on par with the capabilities of a scientist is hard to say but surely there must be a middle ground of competency that can allow such co-operation. After all, SF writers seek out scientists when they need help with a scientific problem, then surely the reverse must apply as well?
If non-fiction writers want to appear Science Fiction savvy in their references, surely this would make sense?
Just in case you think there is no connection between the above and my next subject, expertise comes in all places and all forms. Something I discovered recently was that by law in the UK, any medical information used in fictional British TV series must be done accurately. The fact that real-life people have used such learnt procedures to save lives speaks well for getting it right. The USA doesn’t have such a law and probably explains why there are so many serious medical mistakes in their TV series let alone films. There is one thing to not upset the sensibilities of viewers at peak times by not showing blood in autopsies like in series like in the old ‘Quincy’ TV series but, these days, things are a bit more liberal in what is shown. Getting accuracy should be important world-wide, especially as many American series are shown world-wide.
I’ve been appalled over the years to see how Type 1 diabetes has been displayed wrongly in films over the years. For a diabetic in a hypoglycaemic state which looks somewhat drunken needs food, like some lumps of chocolate, NOT insulin which would surely make things worse because it needs food, specifically carbohydrate to use it.
Yet if you believe in the likes of films like ‘Warlock’ (1989), we can wake naturally from a 24 hour coma. We don’t! We tend to die. ‘Con Air’ (1997) had a Type 1 diabetic convict apparently needing insulin on an aeroplane. Although I suspect the wardens would have carried his medical supplies, they would surely have been carrying the necessary food for the extended trip. Without either items, he would have died.
It isn’t as though it couldn’t have been used correctly in both films. With ‘Warlock’ there was a need to have a syringe to attack the bad guy at the end but not to show the girl as a drug addict so choosing a diabetic seemed a clever choice but no one bothered to sit down and research the subject. All it would have taken was her to be shown to inject and eat to establish she had a syringe. With ‘Con Air’, the diabetic convict might have had his insulin held secure for the flight but I doubt if he wouldn’t have had something in his pockets to eat in emergencies, not to mention a blood meter to monitor his blood sugar. It would have been foolish not to. This still wouldn’t mean he might need either a syringe and insulin and food within the time frame but he certainly would have slipped into a coma without them both.
Even more recently, the number of faux pas made about diabetes in the TV series ‘Under The Dome’ would scare any diabetic in any country. Too much accent on insulin and not enough on food to control things not to mention thinking that any insulin will do for any diabetic. You certainly wouldn’t sleep after being given some because you’d be seriously hungry.
Diabetics are taught to keep a balance between food, insulin and exercise. Those who live with them tend to understand this. I know some Americans let their emotions run away from them, especially in media shows but what they showed is so seriously dangerous if people imitated it in real life that it would be classed as criminal and potentially fatal. Any diabetic worth his or her blood sugar in a danger situation would be ensuring that they other people know about their condition and the need for food and insulin, both of which they would have close by anyway. They would certainly ensure they had both to hand to inject and eat at regular intervals because they wouldn’t survive without them otherwise.
I don’t keep that close a watch on US medical TV series these days but knowing that there is no law for accuracy in America, there’s no real bet that complete accuracy is maintained there as well. In the UK, it’s our home grown medical soaps that are always referred to as being used for a guide than anything from abroad.
Showing the right way to remove throat blockages like the Heimlick Manoeuvre or stimulating the heart in cardiac arrest would save lives. Considering the problems of legislation and law suits if it’s done wrong in the USA, I can understand why citizens there would be wary of doing the right thing as well. However, having it drilled in from TV series to do it correctly would be a lot wiser than the misinformation that is often given. Of course, there is a problem that the wrong information is still being shown in repeats but that’s easily resolved by putting on warning messages before and after such shows not to believe what is shown medically in those cases. Eventually, there would be more shows being accurate.
This isn’t going to turn anyone into instant medics although clearly there is a valid enough reason for more of us to get some first aid training but in that one instance where doing something correct or wrongly that could save a life, wouldn’t you rather be the person who at least knows what to do correctly?
Just for the record, if any of your friends are Type 1 Diabetics, if they are staggering around then they are probably experiencing hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar. Get them to eat some chocolate which should get them thinking sensibly enough to eat something more substantial and longer-lasting like a packet of crisps or chips, using the American vernacular. If they are carrying a blood meter, get them to check just how low their blood sugar is. It is as simple as that.
If they have fallen into a coma and you can’t revive them, call an ambulance. You’ll saving their lives.
Thank you, take care, good night and don’t be afraid to learn the right thing.
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Don’t forget to check out the SFC Forum for where companies have their stands at this year’s conventions and for book signings.
Observation: This time of year there are a lot of infections around. The day you turn on your central heating, make sure you’re out for a couple hours which should give enough time for the heating to burn the bugs up rather than them fleeing for an organic body.
A Zen thought: A fly in the ointment is going to get sticky feet.