Amused Authors

The Flux Capacitor by Grayson Cole
March 8, 2009, 3:15 pm
Filed under: fiction | Tags: , , ,

Design by Kat Haeske

Design by Kat Haeske

So I read “How Scientifically Accurate Is Watchmen?” an article by Katherine Harmon that discussed scientist Jim Kakalios who advised on Watchmen and has written books about the physics of Superheroes. The article spent a lot of time with Kakalios discussing concepts from the movie. He mentioned that teleportation wasn’t real–of course–but how it might be interpreted into real physics.

I’ll confess to being 100% enamored with science concepts but 100% clumsy with understanding their application. When I was very little, six or seven, I was obsessed with knowing how TV worked. My mother (who didn’t seem to realize there were channels besides PBS) took me down to the public library where she found a children’s book written about TV. We read it together and I was awed. But I was also unhappy. i still didn’t know how it worked. I couldn’t go out and build a TV based on the concepts I learned in the book.

That’s the story of my life with science. I’ve always been successful with the whys but never the hows. It’s sad. Really. Feel bad for me. πŸ˜€

So, because of my personal battle with science, I didn’t set out to write a book with any science in it whatsoever, but that’s what I ended up with. It was right for the book and right for what I wanted to create. So, because the science is there (actual science), I pressed my disclaimer that Bright Star was dark fantasy nearing horror, not to be read as science fiction. Which is trying to manipulate the system–I know–but never fear, it didn’t work.

Reviews came in and that’s what reviewers called it, Science Fiction… reviewers who are *also* not physicians (lol… why do I have to call them physicists?) . So, I feared *real* scientists getting a hold of my book and tearing it apart. It’s happened with shorts where I’m thinking in fantasy mode, posting onine, and lone reader insists that a story is tripe because known science doesn’t support it… I say, known science didn’t support a flux capacitor, but I enjoyed Back to the Future.

So, armed with my positive attitude, I’ve decided to let go my anxiety. Besides, I am unlike Warner Brothers in that I don’t have the wherewithall to retain the world’s leader in superhero physics, and I’m not nearly known enough to spark intense forum debate, lol. I’m just happy to hold my gorgeous book in hand and be proud of what it is whether the science is spot on or not.

Now… I have also been told my attitude is an immense cop out. πŸ™‚ Don’t get me wrong, I commend an author who goes out and gets a degree or certification in a subject in order to write about it. That level of authenticity can’t be beat. But, in the end, my story isn’t about science, it’s about three messed up people. Or two messed up people and a third normal person who they subsequently mess up. I’m hoping that means I’m safe from the ghost of Newton.

So here’s my question… Did you question the flux capacitor? When Dr. Emmitt Brown decided to install one in a Delorean and power it with Plutonium did you care?

Grayson Reyes-Cole
Bright Star
When evil is done for the greater good, a price must always be paid…
In Print April 6, 2009


19 Comments so far
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I know what you mean. I love to write and read Science Fiction Romance and have also copped out — accepting that some people will have a problem with my science. But I love Back to the Future and always accepted the flux capacitor because it was explained just enough to seem real and not so much as to be annoying. And, “Great Scot!” the characters are lovable. πŸ™‚

Karin Shah
Available now!
Samhain Publishing

Comment by Karin Shah

Thanks for stopping in Karin! LOL at Great Scot! I agree with you whole heartedly.

I did get one comment today from a reader/watcher who said he got frustrated when there wasn’t enough explanation of these super-intriguing scientific tidbits. But, I ask, if you could completely explain them, would they be fiction… or should you be working for NASA??? LOL I know what he means though!


Comment by graysonreyescole

Hi, Grayson,
You ask a good question. I have to preface this by saying that Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite movies (even though it’s not horror, which everyone knows I’m addicted to). I thought it absolutely brilliant, as was Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of the eccentric Dr. Emmett Brown.

On to the flux capacitator. I absolutely did not question the flux capacitator while enjoying the movie. Why? Because I was so engrossed in the time travel story that the “how” of it became unimportant. What was important was finding out how the characters would undo the havoc created by Marty travelling back in time.

I think Albert Einstein already answered your question when he said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”.


Comment by Rita Vetere

You know, Rita, I’ve never (can you believe) heard that quote by Albert Eintstein! Thanks for sharing. It definitely embodies not just what I feel about the subject but how I feel about life.

I do also think, though, that you hit the nail on the head. Sometimes you have to make sure the entertainment value is high enough for a consumer to suspend his or her disbelief.


Comment by graysonreyescole

Yep, that Einstein was a clever feller, wasn’t he?

I should also say that, while reading Bright Star, I was totally enthralled and, while I read the scientific parts with interest, I was too involved in the characters’ plight to conduct an analysis of the science. Mission accomplished!

Comment by Rita Vetere

YES! YES!!! YES!!! I muddled you brain to goo (loike they say in the hulu commercials!) Awesome. No better compliment can be paid I don’t think πŸ˜€


Comment by graysonreyescole

My brain’s been goo for a while now, but the compliment is nevertheless well-deserved, Grayson. I’m so looking forward to getting my print copy of Bright Star!

Comment by Rita Vetere

HA! Gooey brains unite! I’m eagerly awaiting my Ancient Inheritance!!!

Thanks for your feedback. I struggle with genres every day of my literary life… And I don’t know why. In the end, I always write whatever the hell comes to mind without really worrying about criticism. One day I’m gonna grow up to be a little less self-centric (notice I did *not* say self-centered, lol)

On another note… I am SOOOOOOOO happy about print!


Comment by graysonreyescole

I know what you mean. I’m eagerly awaiting my print copy of Ancient Inheritance–takes a while to ship to the Great White North, but am itching to hold my firstborn in my hands. Congrats (and Cheers) on Bright Star’s print release!

Comment by Rita Vetere

Thank you!

(wondering how long the process of getting my copy signed is going to take)

Comment by graysonreyescole

lol, I could be years in the grave by then, the way the postal system works, but we’ll get it done–provided you do me the same honor with Bright Star. πŸ™‚

Comment by Rita Vetere

πŸ™‚ Will do!


Comment by graysonreyescole

You got me scratching my head with your opening, because only Dr Manhatten actually had super-hero powers in Watchmen. Now I’m going to have to re-read the novel.

I like actual science in the stories. It makes it more enjoyable for me. If it is not science call it a fantasy. If the author says it is SF then they should do the research to find a theory to base that world in.

Back to the Future had science in it. The flux capacitor wasn’t the problem it was being able to pin point an exact landing site. And I’d bet money I’m not the only one who spent time standing in line for the ride at Hollywood studio who spent time checking the equation they have on the wall.

Comment by Katie H

As a physicist, I do like it when the author gets the science right. Not every SF author has to be a scientist, but if you’re going to write about stars and planets, or spaceships and aliens, you should at least do enough research not to get basic stuff wrong. It does destroy suspension of disbelief for me when something that purports to be hard SF says something obviously stupid about the science.

There are books that handle this stuff. I wrote one myself — “Astronomy for Science Fiction Writers” — but could never get anyone to publish it. But books like “The Physics of Star Trek” and so on are in libraries by now. For anyone talking about stars and planets, I highly recommend Stephen H. Dole’s “Habitable Planets for Man,” obsolete as it is (1964), because it covers a wide range of basic concepts. Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” is great fun as well as enlightening. And it can’t hurt to subscribe to something like Science News or Discover, at least if you plan to write SF regularly.

There are writers who are good enough at writing that the bad science doesn’t matter. Ray Bradbury is the obvious example; he rarely got the science even close to right, but who cares? His stories are lovely anyway. But in general I’d say that if you want to write SF you should do a minimal amount of research, or at least ask somebody who knows this stuff. A critique group can help. Mine was highly unusual in that most of the people in it have had science or engineering degrees (Mary Soon Lee in math and space engineering, Ken Chiacchia in biochemistry, and of course, me in physics).

I have a short piece called “Get Your Stars Right” which I’ve been wondering what to do with — maybe I’ll give it to the Lyriodical.

Comment by Barton Paul Levenson

Thank you very much for stopping in to chat about this, Katie.

You know it’s funny. One of the things Kakalios talks about advising on is the ever-present blackboard with equations written on it. His beef is that they are probably put there by art directors who don’t realize the equations don’t go together or that, in the dire situation, there should only be one occasion. He didn’t only examine superheroes, he examined all of the science in the story. So I don’t think a re-read is in order πŸ™‚ . I do agree with you that the importance is that science is there and that it is plausible, based in reality, even if the “product” of the science is improbable.

The ability to pinpoint where you land with radio dials! Ha, now that *and* the flux capacitor will have me questioning my sanity for the rest of the day.


Comment by graysonreyescole

Hey BPL! Thank you for stopping by as well and adding to the discussion. Ahem… I’m trying to *avoid* writing sci-fi! ROFL! In short, I need to train with Ray Bradbury. Unless you would like to be the physicist on duty and advise me on my follow up novel (which will drive you to drink if you don’t already), I’m probably going to do something very similar to what I did in the first novel and not only will I make physicists mad, I will also drive physicians mad with some crazy but beautifully stylized medical procedures. πŸ˜€


PS… My humble opinion is that you should sub away with whatever you got!

Comment by graysonreyescole

A great post, Grayson – there’s a big difference between writing something that’s really meant to be science fiction and writing something that’s just meant to be fun. I mean, I wince every time I watch Star Wars and Han claims to have done the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, but it doesn’t stop me loving the film.

I’ve always liked throwing bits and pieces of scientific theory into fantasy (M physics is great for that) without really understanding it. My argument is that, if scientists are allowed to appreciate the maths in music and the geometry in art, why shouldn’t I appreciate a scientific theory because it’s beautiful?


Comment by Nyki Blatchley

Oh Nyki… that is stellar! I love it! You are right! It’s only fair.

I, too, appreciate the beauty of scientific theory… despite my apparent inability to apply it. Although, I don’t want to cut myself too short… As I mentioned, I understand the theories just fine it’s how it make my vacuum cleaner suck that’s the question.

I actually find it almost mystical, you know. Mechanical engineering makes all the sense in the world to me. It’s mudane: push this, it’s pushes that, it’s paperclipped to that, so pushing this button makes my doorbell ring or a cassette deck pop out… When we graduate to electrical engineering, I–frankly–am screwed! That’s when I hold up my white flag and marvel at the beauty of what I don’t understand.


Comment by graysonreyescole

You know, the bottom line is, characters come first. If you stay true to your characters and where they go, if you can keep the reader sucked into your characters and their story, as long as you don’t do something totally jarring like make Paris, France in the middle of the Sahara Desert (without good explanation as to why) then they’ll probably not even notice. They’ll be pulled in.

Don’t sweat the big stuff.

I look at it like this, watch the original Star Trek series (and by that I don’t mean “The Next Generation” either *LOL*). The technology was there, yes, and part of the story. But the characters were primary. We allowed Gene Roddenberry to pull us in and keep us there because of the characters. If you wanted to go back and pick apart the technology, in retrospect you could in some areas. But I mean, really, I had a Motorola phone I realized after getting it that it really looked like an old-style communicator. *LOL* How cool is that?

In one of my books, it’s sci-fi and I basically used the “Star Trek” methodology to build my world. I didn’t get too detailed. I named things that needed naming, explained basics where I had to and couched them in the explanation by one character to another to keep it simple, and it worked.

The technology, unless it’s key to the story, should be kept in the background. Michael Crichton was a fantastic writer, but I’ll be honest that when he started getting too detailed in books like “Jurassic Park,” my eyes (and attention) started glazing over and I started skimming pages to get back to the plot.

If the Doc had sat there and explained to Marty in detail how the flux capacitor worked, we’d all have fallen asleep. *LOL* (Or begged Marty to play his guitar again. *LOL*)

Lesli. (aka Tymber)

Comment by Lesli Richardson

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