No Free Lunch In Space

To my knowledge this has never been tested, but I wonder whether the irritation of many ordinary people with SF and fantasy does them credit, insofar as it is based on a probably instinctive comprehension of the law of conservation of energy that is lacking in many authors. You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate that everything comes with a price-tag. The genre contains altogether too many machines and creatures with no energy budget, and always has done, since the days of Jules Verne if not before. What are the economics of the Nautilus? Hand-waving about new forms of electricity that apparently permit vast consumption without any comprehensible generation. A century and a half later, people are still at it, as for example Star Trek phasers; fans seem to have amassed details of everything except where the energy comes from.

Were this mentality only applicable to fiction, it would not be so bad. But I am old enough to remember when nuclear energy was supposed to be “clean, safe and too cheap to meter”. They will say the same of fusion power when the time comes. The indifference to the energy budgets that permeate all things may have started with magical tales and been superficially updated into the abracadabras of bullshit science in SF, but it ends only in the real world, with actual policy influenced or made by dreamers about infinite output with no input.

Posted on July 19, 2009 at 07:21 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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