Fictional worlds that survive close scrutiny

Are there any? Or is reality just too boring? Thread inspired by Fictional worlds that make the least sense.

I suppose certain thinly disguised memoirs might qualify. (Examples welcome). But what I really had in mind were sci fi/fantasy settings, where real world physics isn’t taken as given. But anyone who wants to assess fictional credibility across a range of genres is encouraged.

My understanding is that the internal logic of a story is important up to a point, after which it’s merely tedious. Suspension of disbelief and all that. Am I wrong?

I’ve been impressed by Patrick Rothfuss’s world of “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear” in his yet-to-be-completed trilogy. It’s basically your standard fantasy world with magic and dragons and such, but the distinction is that the magic is actually that world’s science and is carefully explained using a quite plausible logical framework. Shit doesn’t just happen in this world; things are causal–a hurdle most fantasy/sci-fi worlds don’t clear.

Urban Fantasy should always qualify, I suppose, being set in a world that is Like Reality Unless Noted.

Any world created by Hal Clement (if you factor in the technology that existed when he created them). Mesklin was purely based upon scientific principles and accurate calculations (assuming you’re using a slide rule to calculate; a computer does show the numbers are off).

Earth in The Nitogen Fix is almost completely accurate given the conditions.

If you accept the basic suspension-of-disbelief requirements, I think the post-Change world of S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse really is very carefully-thought-out.

The Domination of the Draka – not so much. Even with the added war-stimulus, I just can’t swallow technological progress in that world happening so quickly that there are huge permanent Moon-cities in 1999.

Quite a bit of fiction works if you accept the basic suspension of disbelief requirements. But what happens if you don’t? Personally, I suspend quite readily provided the characters’ actions are plausibly motivated and said motivations are not overly convenient.

Are their any works where fan-wank isn’t only unnecessary thematically, but where the need for it among obsessives doesn’t even arise?

No, doubt, but that’s off the thread topic; we’re talking about fictional world-construction, not character development or plot logic.

I always felt that Earthsea worked quite well, as a collection of essentially bronze age farming, fishing and trading societies: there was a nobility and a monarchy, but nothing beyond what you’d see in Mycenaean Greece or Celtic Britain. There was magic but even that was subdued, since anyone smart enough to use it for anything beyond petty charms was smart enough not to or risk catastrophic consequences: it was explicitly stated that you couldn’t just use magic to make even trivial things, at least not lightly.

I’d say that reality doesn’t survive close scrutiny, if we’re talking about the kind of nitpicking that some people do with fictional worlds. The Plot Holes in WWII thread parodies this, but I have seen threads on here about works of fiction where people complained about “unrealistic” things that only seemed unrealistic because they were outside that poster’s experience.

There was a Glee episode where the plot involved high school teachers hoping to get tenure. This is a show where practically every scene has something bizarre or ridiculous happening, but for some posters the idea of tenured high school teachers was so implausible as to violate their suspension of disbelief. But high school teachers can in fact receive tenure in some parts of the US. A quick Google indicates that this is the case in Ohio, where Glee is set.

In the current “harry potter stuff that bothers you” thread one poster was bothered that Hogwarts doesn’t have a graduation ceremony. It would be easy to fanwank this “error”, and say that Hogwarts probably has a graduation ceremony that’s just never mentioned in the books. Harry wouldn’t have graduated himself (at least not during the period covered by the books) as he spends what would have been his last year at Hogwarts on the run, and the events of that year are so chaotic for Hogwarts and the wizard community as a whole that organizing a graduation ceremony probably wouldn’t have been a high priority anyway. But as was quickly pointed out in the other thread, no explanation is needed beyond the fact that British high schools don’t *have *graduation ceremonies.

It’s not the physical world, but the setup and relationships that really hang together well in the movie Forbidden Planet. The basic setup is that Prof*. Edward Morbius on Altair IV is Duke Prospero on his Fortunate Isle from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as the screenwriters have admitted. He lives there with his daughter Altaira (who is like Miranda) and his robot Robby (The stand-in for the Tempest’s Ariel) Morbius is a philologist, but he lives in a virtual paradise because he’s sitting atop the Krell power plant and has imbibed enough Krell knowledge to build Robby, among other things.

Robby can speak multiple languages and their dialects. Why? Answer – Morbius is a philologist, and he’s been virtually alone since his wife died. While Altairas was growing up, he had to do something. I could see him teaching Robby all those languages, if only to have someone to talk to.

Robby is a robot, not a metal person – not only does he obey Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (something actually used to drive home a point near the end of the film), but he has no emotions. His character makes for humorous moments when his purely mechanical reactions produce a simulation of emotion or humanm response, as when, after pouring the remainder of Cookie’s “Rocket Bourbon”, some of it bubbles up as a “burp”. Ropbby’s occasional lapses into wit can be explained the same way, imagining Morbius to have programmed in a set of broad rules for such occasions. (“Nice planet you’ve got here. High Oxygen content.” “I rarely use it myself, sir. It promotes rust.”)

Robby has an Emergency Override! “Emergency Cancellation Archimedes” Appropriate choice of codeword, too.

Altair IV seems to physically be too deserty, like Arrakis – the terrain we see the spaceship C57D pass over seems to be nothing but desert, and the ship lands in barren territory (although one of the crew remarks that “It’s out there in the desert!”). We only see forested areas around Morbius’ house. But there’s nothing to say that there aren’t other non-barren areas. Morbius’ statements about the wildlife – the deer and birds – seems to indicate that this is the case. And nothing requires that Altair IV, like Arrakis, be a virtually complete desert.

The novelization of Forbidden Planet by “W.J. Stuart” (actually mystery novelist and screenwriter Philip MacDonald) takes liberties with the screenplay and suggests that much of, if not all of, the animal and plant life of Morbius’ world is artificial creation. A monkey run over by the transport has nonsensical anatomy, when Doc Ostrow dissects it. In that case, Morbius has been fooling himself, and the animals weren’t brought to Altair IV by the Krel. This seems a pretty radical departure to me.

For me, it’s very simple. Authors are allowed to establish and sort of premise they desire and suspension of disbelief requires the reader to start by accepting the premise. However, once the premise is established, all actions have to flow as a natural consequence of those premises.

Furthermore, the reader should be maximally charitable and assume unstated premises when necessary to bring the world into consistency.

For example, not showing a graduation scene at Harry Potter does not make the world make any less sense because there are plenty of ways of constructing the world to be consistent.

However, if we are to take the premises that:

  • The rules for Quidditch are as stated
  • The people playing have a strong desire to win
  • The people involved are generally intelligent, common sensical and seek to accomplish their goals

Then how Quidditch is played out in the book makes no fucking sense. There’s no way to square the premise with the action nor introduce additional premises that would keep them aligned.

That point is your problem. Between “hindsight is 20/20” and everything else, consumers of media expect characters to act far more rationally than they actually do in real life. Hell, in the middle of anything, people can make exceptionally shitty decisions in the heat of the moment. You see it all the time in Youtube comments on video game playthroughs, and they’re a pretty good approximation of the judging characters in books get.

If you were to follow Youtube comments, you’d get the impression that someone playing a strategy game on the highest difficulty level and winning with no trouble was fundamentally incapable of feeding himself, let alone curbstomping the best AI. There’s always some action that’s more intelligent or common sensical (at least to an outside observer). I’ve seen this sort of commentary by the peanut gallery on pro e-sports matches.

Now, Quidditch is pretty dumb, IMO, but one of the main complaints I disagree with, for instance, is that I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to think that someone catching the snitch and losing could or never would happen in a real professional game. Hell, in the book itself Harry posits that Krum just wanted to lose on his own terms. I can see a player disheartened at his teams performance, with an opportunity to end the game just taking it before it gets even more embarrassing.

As an inveterate worldbuilder I can say that Mesklin is far to extreme to have any hope of existing in reality. A fast rotating rocky hyperterrestrial like that would pretty soon split into at least two bodies, dividing the angular momentum into more stable amounts.


I would say that the closer a work hews towards “reality”, the more the obsessives are going to inspect it for breaches of fidelity.

This used to drive me crazy until I “realized” that no piece of fiction takes place in this universe. Doesn’t matter if the work is “The Marriage of Figaro”, “War and Peace”, “Pet Semetary”, or “Anal Vixens VII”… it’s all set on some alter-Earth where every element exists to serve the story, and nothing more.

Let’s just say that there’s a lot more peace of mind about things. I was even able to watch Lost without getting pissed off! :smiley:

As first written, no; but once Niven added the attitude control rockets, the Ringworld might survive for an indefinite period without impacting the star. So long as the control systems still work.

Of course scrith is thousands of times stronger than any possible physical material, but we’ll let that none go…

I found the suspension-of-disbelief requirements for the Emberverse series pretty high. In fact it was the many online fanwanking discussions of the physics that introduced me to the term ‘Alien Space Bats’.

That and every possible thing going right for the Draka/wrong for everyone else was pretty hard to swallow.

This is basically how I feel about every sport that actually exists, but for some reason otherwise intelligent, rational people get upset when you tell them that their favorite sport is a stupid waste of time.

That sounds like a good description of the world of Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories – except that’s not a fantasy world with dragons, but a Victorian world with a homicide detective and a forensic magician.

Certainly, since we have to accept the Change in the first place and the higher-power intervention it implies. But, if those requirements are met, doesn’t the resultant world make a lot of sense? Isn’t it well-thought-out?
Which is beside the point, of course. We love the Emberverse because it’s a nerd’s dream! Battles with medieval knights, Celtic archers, Rangers out of Tolkein, cowboys, Indians, and Roman legionaries?! I’m reverting to age ten and loving it!