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Worst epic science fail you have seen in sci-fi?
Warning: rant

So this isn't really a science fail but it's something I think a lot of SF does badly: Large numbers in economics. I've noticed in a few different franchises that economics is largely ignored and often when it is commented upon it's contradictory or senseless. Lately I've been re-reading the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F Hamilton and it's guilty of this to the point I have to vent some frustration (very minor spoilers ahead):

The books take place in a future human society spread across ~600 worlds. Each world is in a different system and is linked by a network of wormholes. The Commonwealth is very much western liberal democracy in spaaace (this is a feature with mankind's stagnancy and maintenance of the oligarchical status quo being a minor theme). Governments are representative democracies overseeing some form of mixed market economy. The Commonwealth is continually shown and stated to be quite prosperous, whilst there is poverty still a large majority of people are comfortably middle class in the classic American dream style (house, car, kids, pool etc.). Money is frequently mentioned in the books giving an insight to the value of currency. Different worlds have different currencies but Earth Dollars seem to be the standard things are described as and in scenes where people use them their value seems comparable to American dollars IRL (i.e. coffee costs a couple of dollars, cars cost a few thousand etc.)

So far so good. Except when it comes to the meat of the story and the need for the Commonwealth to suddenly construct starships. They form a Civil Starflight Agency and begin funding the construction of FTL ships using a variant of their wormhole technology (which is good but of limited range). In many scenes politicians and plutocrats discuss the project and its cost. Figures are constantly bandied around like "This new ship will cost $20 billion alone! How are we going to justify this to the tax payers?", in one scene the head of the Agency talks about a "Trillion dollar fleet" which makes the Commonwealth President balk at the suggestion. Little scenes like this are littered throughout the books.

The issue? The numbers just don't add up. Sure £20 billion is a lot in today's money for a single project, and a trillion dollars is something you spend over decades if it's going on one big thing (like infrastructure). But we know the Commonwealth is wealthy, we know their dollars are comparable to US dollars and we can make a good guess at how many of them there are as in one scene were given figures suggesting an average population per planet of 500 million making 300 billion people total. With a little BOTE we can guestimate the wealth of the Commonwealth: assuming a GDP per capita on par with the US's $56k the GDP of the Commonwealth is a staggering $16.8 quadrillion. The Commonwealth is a loose federation somewhere between the political union of the EU and the combined states of the US. It is also rife with plutarchy. So even if we assume the Federal Government has a budget of just 25% of GDP (most western countries are 40-50 IRL) that gives it a budget of $4.2 quadrillion a year. A trillion dollar fleet wouldn't be a blip on its accounts, let alone the cost of a single ship that has the politicians wary.

Ok I realise this is a niche annoyance that's flared up from a recent example but the overall point stands; people often don't understand large numbers or put any effort into working out how large they should be. But they use them anyway in their franchises. /rant.
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RE: Worst epic science fail you have seen in sci-fi? - by Rynn - 07-11-2017, 08:26 PM

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