Big and Small
October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
As we’ve progressed in our journey through science fiction, I’ve tried to take careful note of the literary tropes that characterize the genre. It’s fun to pull apart these patterns and recognize them as more stories come down the pipe. Neutron Star, by Larry Niven, featured a number of these: a cocky, devil-may-care male protagonist, in-depth science mixed with elements of fantasy, and an ‘in medias res’ beginning that disorients the reader. My favorite, however, was the contrasting usage of superlative ‘big’s and ‘small’s.
No, I’m not talking about 90s rappers. Instead, I’m observing how Niven, along with many other sci-fi authors, loves to use vastness and minuteness to ‘wow’ his audience. It appeals to our inner child to read about “fifteen-hundred-mile-an-hour-wind” that “blows planets away,” or imagine a spaceship with a hull “three hundred feet long and twenty feet through” that is impenetrable and fully transparent. The science seems so much more credible when faced with the center of the star where “nuclei [are] forced together by pressure and gravity, but held apart my mutual repulsion,” and “electrons would be forced against protons – to make neutrons…a closely packed lump of neutrons: neutronium, theoretically the densest matter possible in this universe.”
We love to read about spaceships that can move at 30 gees with a laser that can punch a hole in the moon. We want to believe that the infinitesimally small is actually the most potent, powerful source of something-or-other in existence. This is all a simplification to not only build rapport but to capture the reader’s imagination; sometimes we aren’t smart enough to grasp a scientific explanation, but it’s easy to envision the largest stars and smallest particles.
I’ve grown to love this about sci-fi. I constantly push the boundaries of what seems possible, or at least what seems to be possibly impossible. I hope to grow as a writer and reader because of it.