What is impossible now may one day become possible.


“Imaginary science is extremely common in sf; it is not at all the same thing as Pseudoscience. The difference is that the adherents of the pseudosciences believe them to be true, whereas the sf writer who uses imaginary science knows perfectly well that it is untrue. Sf has often been criticized for scientific illiteracy, sometimes unfairly, for, while it does produce many simple Scientific Errors, it commonly uses presently impossible science for two good reasons, neither of them ignorant: (a) what is impossible now may one day become possible; (b) imaginary science may be essential for plot purposes.

“Sf writers have been inventive in creating imaginary scientific devices – such as the Slow Glass of Bob Shaw’s poignant “Light of Other Days” (August 1966 Analog) and others, which allows us to view the past because light takes so long to penetrate a sheet of the material – and occasionally even new sciences. An early example of the latter, and still one of the best, is Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions. Isaac Asimov was especially prolific in creating new sciences, such as Positronics and Psychohistory, though in these cases he was somewhat evasive about the details of how they worked; he also used such old imaginary-science favourites as Miniaturization, in Fantastic Voyage (1966), and in The Gods Themselves (1972) he came up with an “electron pump” that provides us with a limitless supply of electricity (electrons) in return for positrons supplied to an alternate universe. His most absurd coup in the imaginary-science line was “thiotimoline”, described in “The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline” (March 1948 Astounding), which parodies the dusty style of a scientific report, and in its several sequels. Thiotimoline is, in effect, a time-travelling chemical which effortlessly reverses cause and effect. Ursula K Le Guin likewise came up with a new science in a spoof-scientific paper, “The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” (in Fellowship of the Stars, anth 1974, ed Terry Carr); therolinguistics is the study of animal language and literature.”

Text: Imaginary Science, The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.


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