Friday, October 7, 2011

A Scientist's View on Science Fiction

So, I've been watching the original Star Trek lately. My goal is to eventually watch all of Star Trek, including all of the various series and the movies, and I am currently about halfway through the original series. In fact, I have "The Trouble with Tribbles" playing as I type this post. It's mainly due to the availability of nearly all of this material instantly on Netflix.

I have been a fan of science fiction for my entire life, but my view on the genera has been warped somewhat since I threw myself into a more in-depth study of Biology. Watching a serious such as Star Trek is interesting, and somewhat frustrating. I tend to rant to anyone who may be present during my viewings about "that is soo wrong." Here's just a small selection of the factual errors I've noted so far:

One several occasions, Spock comments on the fact that Vulcans have "copper-based hemoglobin" in their blood, which is why their blood is green. In fact, "copper-based hemoglobin" would not be hemoglobin at all. It's hemocyanin, which is found in such species as the horseshoe crab. Also, hemocyanin doesn't cause blood to be green, it makes it blue. It's not uncommon for copper compounds to be blue in color. In fact the only land animal that has green blood is the green-blooded skink, and the color is not caused by hemocyanin, but is caused instead by a chemical associated with bile.

Another issues is everyone looks human! Realistically, this is highly unlikely. Even though in theory, due to the size of the universe, there is probably other life out there, the likelihood of it looking at all like humans is basically nill. I would find giant intelligent squid more plausible.

In relation to my previous point, everyone has DNA. Again, I find it highly unlikely that this would remain true in other lifeforms. If the compounds were similar at all, I would suspect that there would be enough differences to make them quite distinct. For example, the base pairs could be quite different, or the sugars in the backbone.

Also, cross-species reproduction is possible. It's seen in Spock, and also implied have occurred in numerous other species. In all probability, alien species wouldn't even have the right anatomy to be compatible with humans. Thinking that it would be possible with dozens of species is quite absurd.

Romulan bird of prey also cause me issues. They are painted to look like Earth birds. Again, the likelihood of the animals that are found on other planets resembling those seen here is quite low. It would make much more sense if the humans called the ships "birds of prey" because of their resemblance in shape to the avians.

All in all, that is just the tip of the iceberg,

Regardless, I do enjoy Star Trek. It's a classic and, though now it's often viewed as absurd and silly, quite enjoyable viewing. By the way, I think that Lieutenant Sulu is my favorite character. And tribbles are adorable and quite amusing little things.

Image is from Wikipedia and is copyright to the makers of Star Trek.


  1. To be honest, Star Trek is more revolutionary in embracing the concept of cosmopolitan citizen. Pavel Chekov would had never been displayed in a positive light on any other television show due to the disdain for the Soviets.

    Scott Ripley's Aliens make more biological sense than Star Trek; but Star Trek makes more sense for study of popular culture.

  2. Original Trek is a more 'allegorical' SF, in that most of it was written as commentary on society and various issues at the time (like racism) that would've been impossible for a show to tackle directly. Kind of like Twilight Zone.

    The reason why almost all the intelligent aliens are humanoid and 'compatible' is actually explained in an episode of TNG. I think the Tholians are the only non-humanoid sentients ever shown in Original Trek, though I may be wrong as it's been years since I've watched it.

  3. If you like interesting aliens, Larry Niven's Known Space series has my favorite SF race, the Pierson's Puppeteers, which resemble two-headed tripod cyclops deer who manipulate objects with fingerlike-nodules on their lips and have their brains are in their chest, not their 'heads'. Apparently, though they're very secretive about their biology, they are thought to reproduce similarly to wasps (with a third non-sentient 'female' gender that carries the implanted embryo of a mated pair). Their whole culture is based on abject cowardice, and they're one of the most cunning and technologically-advanced species in Known Space.

    I agree though, that it's very hard to find truly creative aliens in most sci-fi, in terms of having a non-humanoid culture as well as biology.

    Have you read Wayne Barlow's book 'Expedition'? Some rather creative aliens there. Another really well-known alien speculative biology project was Snaiad, which is semi-gone now but you can still find bits of it around if you Google. Interesting concepts.

  4. Oh, I very much agree. Star Trek is great social commentary, with lovable characters and it did have many revolutionary ideas. Such as the communicator, which is likely to have been what inspired the flip-phone. It was rather remarkable for the time since the cast had so much cultural diversity, and it did involve the first interracial kiss aired on TV. However, in certain ways it's very easy to find issues with it, especially in a scientific sense.

    I've heard about their explanation for the ubiquitous nature of humanoids, and I'm not fond of that sort of explanation. I've only seen maybe two episodes of TNG, but I will be watching that serious too once I'm finished with TOS. By the way, I'm watching "The Tholian Web" right now, so I just saw the Tholians for the first time. I think you are right. Basically all of the other aliens are humans with differently colored skin or hair, face bumps, or pointy ears. What really irks me is when they didn't even make an attempt at that. There are several incidences that clearly show actors with no changes to their appearance, which are refereed to as "alien."

    Goodness. I haven't seen Aliens in years, and yes, the alien species there is quite biologically fascinating. It has traits of a reptile, insect, and even an eel. I do enjoy any instance where someone gets creative with their alien species. I do agree, though, that Aliens is more of a "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" film than a representation of society in any form.

    I thank you, Pai, for your suggestion of authors. I will surely be looking into reading their works. I also really need to watch the Twilight Zone. I've only ever seen two episodes. There is so much that I have missed out on, lol.

  5. Even as a kid it bugged me that a lot of 'intelligent' extraterrestrial lifeform resembles humans or approximations of humans. I'd have sooner watched a series with intelligent squid. It still bothers me that protagonists supposedly have to be human (psychologically if not physically) to be relatable, and I've found a lot more deviations from that in literature than tv/movies. I hope to change this in the future with stories I create.

    also, ♥ ALIENS :) and hello, I follows you now! High five for combining art and biology.

  6. There was an interesting Animal Planet special several years ago that theorized what would happen to Earth if humans left the planet and then sent a probe to check out what was happening. They came up with a chimp-like land squid that they said "could become the dominant life form." I do like the idea of hyper-intelligent cephalopods since they're already so very intelligent for invertebrates.

    I think I need to follow yous sketch blog, especially if you continue the Friday Beasts. I loved the fiddler crab, by the way.

  7. I'll also be happy to give you book/tv series/movie recommendations that made the nature-nerd in me very happy, when I can think of them. None off the top of my head but I'm pretty sure there have been in the past...

    I totally plan to continue the Friday Beasts when I can sit still long enough to get inspired. I had an idea I was talking to KC about though - since we're all on blogger right now and enjoy posting about interesting animals, maybe every month we could take turns to pick a different 'theme' of animal to make a post about? Eg: habitats, diet, phyla, etc. It could tie in to both yours and my regular posts as well. Just a thought though!

  8. I would love that. I always like that sort of fiction (though I do still have a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy).

    That might be fun. We should chat about that soon. :)