Writing science fiction is enormously difficult. If you cut corners, it gets easier. Cutting corners is always a temptation, because (a) if you don’t, your whole story may collapse, and (b) your readers or viewers probably won’t notice or care.
Quick example: Last week I watched an episode of Dr. Who called “Daleks in New York.” It’s the 1930s, and the Daleks are doing something to the spire atop the Empire State Building in order to capture the energy of what is clearly described in the dialog as an impending “solar flare.” Solar flares can’t be predicted, and not much of their energy reaches the surface of the Earth (for which we can all be thankful), but never mind that. As the climax of the story nears, the “solar flare” has transmuted into a simple bolt of lightning emanating from a thunderstorm.
I’ll bet not one viewer in ten even noticed the switch.
A reader named Conrad Cook has been grilling me about my unflattering view of Riverworld, by Philip Jose Farmer. I was critical, among other things, of the biology of the manufactured world. Cook asked what SF novels I felt have well-developed ecosystems. That’s both a fair and an intriguing question. So I went and stared at my bookshelves for a few minutes … and I couldn’t think of a single one.
My reading has been extremely spotty, of course. I’m anything but a diehard SF fan. But it seems to me that SF writers almost always cut corners when it comes to designing planetary ecosystems.
Our knowledge of planetary ecosystems is quite limited, but it’s also incredibly detailed. The only planet whose ecosystem we’ve been able to study offers an extraordinary variety of habitats and zones. So writing a novel about “a desert planet” (you know the one I’m talking about) or “a jungle planet” should be a red flag. But readers seem to accept this type of thing with nary a qualm.
What about it, folks? Can any of my five or six irregular readers recommend any SF novels that have truly well-developed ecosystems?