Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Voila Science...NOT


Somewhere, back in my early school days, I remember a teacher mentioning the concept of “the willing suspension of disbelief”.  This concept plays a major role in one of the literary genres I particularly like – suspense/thriller.  You have to be willing to ignore the fact that the bad guys are invincible until they face the main protagonist; that a single shot to a speeding car will always cause it to explode; and that the hero can absorb enough physical punishment in the final confrontation to put any normal human into the hospital for a month, yet he is out carousing that same evening.  Yes, that all makes perfect sense to me in the context of a good yarn.

But somewhere, somehow, I lost that capability when it comes to science.  Was that a thousand mouse clicks I heard, as you realized, oh no, this guy is a science and technology nerd, and left the page?  Yes, I am guilty as charged.

When I read, “…he placed the device on his head, and immediately, the thoughts of the man sitting next to him appeared in his mind”, I think, wow, maybe.  Thoughts are basically patterns of neural firing, which is chemical/electrical in nature.  We can pick up brain waves via EEG.  Maybe, with enough sensitivity in the electronics, this might be possible.

Then I read, “But I needed the combination for his safe, because in it, he stored the plans to destroy the world.  So, I searched his memory,” and I think, wait a minute.  He was not thinking about the combination, but you are going to activate the network of neurons necessary to find this number?  And he is not going to notice that you are activating portions of his brain without his control?  Really?

And finally, I read, “Suddenly, moving at the speed of sound, the man passed through solid walls of brick, and wood, and concrete, only stopping when he was 3 miles away.  But I could still read his mind.”  Sorry, but this eBook now goes back on my eShelf, probably to never be opened again.  That is just too much Voila Science for me to swallow.

I like to compare this approach to that of another genre I like considerably, historical fiction.  The best of these stories, in my opinion, blend personalities you know with people who represent prevailing views of the time.  And these fictional and nonfictional characters become involved in conversations and events that may have happened, or maybe not, but could easily have.  And I never know which is which.
So I ask, when we stand on the cusp of so many humanity-altering breakthroughs in technology, why do we need Voila Science to entertain us?  Isn’t a slight tweak of reality, a nudge in the state-of-the-art enough to enthrall us?  And when that minor advance is a misstep, and the technology is unpredictable or uncontrollable, isn’t that so much more frightening than when the downfall of mankind requires travel faster than the speed of light while simultaneously reducing your mass to the point of nonexistence?  What about suspense/thrillers that parallel historical fiction, so you never know, what part is fact and what part is fiction?  Not that I would be the first, or only, to write so, but I do seek to join those ranks.