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Worst epic science fail you have seen in sci-fi?
#31
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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#32
It's all about perception. My rationalization was that even though it probably would have no significant impact on their GDP, the numbers were large enough individually to cause emotional reactions in a society which hadn't had any experience with them.

On the other hand, have you ever looked at the costs of current military systems? I suspect that Hamilton didn't, or maybe he only looked at what the UK has been spending. It seems to me that the costs mentioned in his books are, well, much too small.
Selden
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#33
(07-11-2017, 09:37 PM)selden Wrote: It's all about perception. My rationalization was that even though it probably would have no significant impact on their GDP, the numbers were large enough individually to cause emotional reactions in a society which hadn't had any experience with them.

Maybe but it really should have experience with that. It should be quite common for the Commonwealth government and media to talk of budgetary expenditures in terms of trillions (in double and triple digits too). The headcannon I try and maintain is that the value of their currency isn't comparable...but it's hard when they then show it being used.

(07-11-2017, 09:37 PM)selden Wrote: On the other hand, have you ever looked at the costs of current military systems?  I suspect that Hamilton didn't, or maybe he only looked at what the UK has been spending. It seems to me that the costs mentioned in his books are, well, much too small.

They definitely are. Even assuming the technological, administrative and financial efficiency of the Commonwealth they go from no FTL starships to building dozens of them a week with new shipyards opened weekly. It would be like if the US navy (all 400+ ships of it) didn't exist and the government tried to create it as quickly as possible. A significant percentage of the government budget would have to go into it (much more than the 16% its at now). The Commonwealth should be talking in terms of hundreds of trillions.
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  3. A dormbot, because domestic chores suck!
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#34
i like TV tropes. And this page is funny: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Ma...nseOfScale Smile
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#35
Alphadon complained about humans in Star Wars, and they speak English. It's the same excuse Simpsons used in a Halloween episode: "Actually, I'm speaking Rigellian, but by an amazing coincidence, it's identical to English".

My favorite you haven't mentioned is in the 70s Buck Rogers series, they have a planet of clones who are going crazy because they are identical, and they don't like being identical.

Nobody suggests doing anything about their having the same diet, clothes, hair, clean-shaven faces, exercise regimen...
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