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Mortal Engines > ME: Other books with completely implausible premises

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Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments I finally started the book last night. I'm actually enjoying it okay but have to really try hard to suspend my disbelief enough to keep going. But we do this all the time, don't we? I thought it would be fun to talk about other books we have enjoyed despite the fact that they are completely impossible.


message 2: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3911 comments Well...we do read...science fiction and fantasy, right? Nothing real life about hobbits, aliens, warp drive, wizards, dragons, pretty much the whole feline and kaboodle.

But for completely preposterous I'm going to go with Pern. Telepathic dragons fighting spores from space in an otherwise medieval society, with the planet saved by a 400 year time jump. Yeeaaahhh. I loved it, but yeah.


Phil | 1137 comments My choice is the Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer. Everyone who has ever lived up to 1984 is resurrected in their hairless 27 year old body along the banks of a world spanning river. Ridiculous premise but I loved the first 2 books in particular.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments Phil wrote: "My choice is the Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer. Everyone who has ever lived up to 1984 is resurrected in their hairless 27 year old body along the banks of a world spanning river. Ridicul..."

Oh my!!


message 5: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments ^ Within the first thirty pages, Richard Burton (19th Century explorer guy, not Liz Taylor's husband) gets stoned and rapes Alice in Wonderland, then tells her it wasn't rape because she enjoyed it. Which is pretty much where I threw the book across the room and vowed to never read Farmer again.


message 6: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2782 comments I'm going in a different direction here since as Taloni pointed out our entire genre relies on the willing suspension of disbelief. For me, that makes things like aliens, FTL, etc just the price of entry - no one who has a hard time accepting those would last in SFF.

Instead, I'm taking this in the direction of 'this is our world but... weird." After all, cities on tractors racing around Europe (or Eurasia) is our world but... not.

With that in mind, I'l toss out Dave Hutchinson's Fractured Europe trilogy - https://www.goodreads.com/series/1790.... It's Europe but BOY has the EU fallen apart. Individual buildings declare sovereignty. Borders are... malleable. And a cook becomes a spy in a Europe that has a really weird secret.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Any SF book that bases any of its core ideas on an understanding of history that predates the mid-1970s or so (generally with an appeal to now contentious approaches like Whig history or the conflict thesis) usually has me looking at it side-eyed, e.g. Foundation, Starship Troopers. I can still enjoy these books, but the whole time I'm thinking "this castle is built on some pretty shaky ground".


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Any SF book that bases a core idea on say a pre-1970s understanding of history (often invoking now-contentious approaches like Whig history or the conflict thesis), e.g. Starship Troopers, Foundation, usually has me looking at it side-eyed. I can still enjoy it, but the whole time I'll be thinking "this castle's built on some seriously shaky ground".


message 9: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3911 comments An interesting (perhaps off topic) discussion from that. I hadn't heard of Whig history or Conflict thesis before, but looking them up, I would agree with you. However, I don't see how they affect either book more than passing. Foundation is based on Gibson's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"; the book is 240 years old and the events 1500. Starship Troopers is about a society built on a foundation of military service, with the bravest considered the best citizens. How do you associate those books with the theories above?


Trike | 8299 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "An interesting (perhaps off topic) discussion from that. I hadn't heard of Whig history or Conflict thesis before, but looking them up, I would agree with you."

Off-topic, but I find that “conflict theory” infected a lot of science for a very long time, even when it had nothing to do with religion. I suspect this is part of colonialism and the way various European cultures invaded and subdued indigenous cultures around the world, going back to the Romans and Greeks. They just viewed the world through that violent lens of subjugation and genocide.

When I was a kid reading about Native American civilization, the starting point has long been Clovis culture (so named due to an ancient burial site in Clovis, New Mexico) and how that culture was overthrown by, um... [googling] the Folsom culture. So I was like, okay, if that’s what you say.

But then a younger, more modern archeologist pointed out a few years ago that just because people in the Americas stopped using the Clovis style of arrowhead technology and adopted the Folsom style of arrowhead tech doesn’t mean there was some violent revolution of conquerors. They just adopted improved tech. He remarked — and this is best analogy I’ve ever heard for this sort of thing — “That’s like saying cassette tape culture was subjugated by compact disc culture.” It’s a good point.


message 11: by Trike (last edited Jul 20, 2018 12:54PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Trike | 8299 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "I finally started the book last night. I'm actually enjoying it okay but have to really try hard to suspend my disbelief enough to keep going. But we do this all the time, don't we? I thought it wo..."

It’s always interesting to me what things will break someone’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

As you note, this is part-and-parcel of SFF literature. I completely agree with John Taloni about Pern. It’s utterly ridiculous. But when you get right down to it, it’s no more ridiculous than Ringworld by Larry Niven, which is a giant hoop around a star built by Pak Protectors, who are actually protohumans who evolved nearer the center of our galaxy. Niven has to invent an impossibly strong material (scrith) to make the Ringworld work, and the fundamental idea that humans originally evolved on an entirely different planet is ludicrous.

But I don’t care. I love Pern and I love Known Space.


message 12: by Iain (new) - rated it 3 stars

Iain Bertram (iain_bertram) | 1307 comments I kept wondering how far London would sink into the mud...

mumble .... Star Wars .... mumble


Trike | 8299 comments Iain wrote: "I kept wondering how far London would sink into the mud...

mumble .... Star Wars .... mumble"


That was one thing I didn’t have an issue with, since tank treads distribute the weight evenly and exert less downforce per square inch than the average person. Assuming you could make treads that big (heh), everything should just scale up. It would make a mess, but probably not sink outright.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2471 comments Another S&L book that comes to mind in terms being implausible
was Updraft.


message 15: by Phil (new) - rated it 2 stars

Phil | 1137 comments The mention of Updraft made me remember The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.


Trike | 8299 comments AndrewP wrote: "Another S&L book that comes to mind in terms being implausible
was Updraft."


Oh man, I’d totally forgotten about that. Yeah, that one annoyed me to no end. For me that book was broken on a fundamental level, compounded by the fact that the world was inconsistent. Are the towers right next to each other or far apart? Make up your mind!

Another one in that vein was the Samaria series by Sharon Shinn. (Archangel) It’s essentially Pern except the people and dragons are merged into winged humans. At one point a character basically invents a satellite phone, but they live in a medieval society without any of the prerequisite tech and science for that.


message 17: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "An interesting (perhaps off topic) discussion from that. I hadn't heard of Whig history or Conflict thesis before, but looking them up, I would agree with you. However, I don't see how they affect ..."

Decline and Fall is the basis for the grand-scale events in Foundation, but the idea of historical directionality at the heart of the series is Whiggish in a broad sense (though Asimov was playing more with a cyclical history, a la Toynbee and Spengler).


message 18: by Brendan (last edited Jul 21, 2018 09:36AM) (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "I can still enjoy it, but the whole time I'll be thinking "this castle's built on some seriously shaky ground". "

Similarly, any of the dozens if not hundreds of SF books written based on the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which seemed to be all the rage a few decades ago. I can still enjoy them but they're distinctly dated now.

Sean wrote: "^ Within the first thirty pages, Richard Burton (19th Century explorer guy, not Liz Taylor's husband) gets stoned and rapes Alice in Wonderland, then tells her it wasn't rape because she enjoyed it..."

That was also my experience with that book. Couldn't believe it was considered an SF classic.

Trike wrote: "Pak Protectors, who are actually protohumans who evolved nearer the center of our galaxy."

I love it when "hard sci-fi" writers fail elementary school level science.


message 19: by Phil (new) - rated it 2 stars

Phil | 1137 comments It's been a long time since I read the Riverworld books so I just went back and reread that part. They both get accidently high. She approaches him and then says no and runs away. He follows, calling her name. Cut to several hours later when they sober up. She thinks "... it had made them behave as lovers whose passion knew no limits. She had certainly cooperated as enthusiastically as any experienced woman in a Turkish harem."
He tells her not to feel bad because she was possessed by the drug. She says "I did it! I wanted to!"
So no, he didn't rape her.
I only say all this because I wouldn't want people to be put off reading the book because of what Sean or Brendan said.


message 20: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Phil wrote: "It's been a long time since I read the Riverworld books so I just went back and reread that part. They both get accidently high. She approaches him and then says no and runs away. He follows, calli..."

If she was drugged, she didn't consent.


message 21: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3507 comments Mod
Sean wrote: "Phil wrote: "It's been a long time since I read the Riverworld books so I just went back and reread that part. They both get accidently high. She approaches him and then says no and runs away. He follows, calli..."

If she was drugged, she didn't consent. "


Everyone was drugged without their knowledge. Everyone acts without inhibition. Men and women.

Alice is ashamed because she did what she as a Victorian raised married woman would normally not think of doing. The fact that she enjoyed it makes her even more ashamed.

I have read the Riverworld series several times since first reading it in the lates 70s early 80s and rate it as one of my favourite series from that time period.

Phillip Jose Farmer has been accused of misogyny in his writing of women in the Riverworld series, but I have never read before of this being a rape scene :-?


Trike | 8299 comments Sean wrote: "If she was drugged, she didn't consent. "

Neither did he, then. Goose, gander.


message 23: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "Alice is ashamed because she did what she as a Victorian raised married woman would normally not think of doing. "

Yes, I've read the book. I know how Farmer explains it. But here's the thing -- it doesn't matter. That explanation is classic rape apologia -- "Oh, she secretly wanted it, but was too repressed to say so. Luckily as a manly-man, I know what she really wanted."

Trike wrote: "Neither did he, then. Goose, gander."

He's the one who chased her after she told him no. That puts the responsiblity for what happened on him.


message 24: by Phil (last edited Jul 22, 2018 07:42AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Phil | 1137 comments How do you know what happened in those hours? It basically fades to black and comes back with them putting on their clothes. Is it not possible that she changed her mind back to yes? That seems to be what's implied by what she says.
Anyway we seem to have hijacked this thread which should return to it's original purpose.


message 25: by Jenny (Reading Envy) (last edited Jul 22, 2018 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments AndrewP wrote: "Another S&L book that comes to mind in terms being implausible
was Updraft."


Yes! And I struggled with that one too. I guess it feels like if the laws of physics don't apply and people are living despite crazy destruction, hunger, or injury, how high do the stakes need to be to create a story? It's hard to root for characters that already feel miraculous just by surviving.

(ETA: I'm less likely to be mad about physics if it's not on earth.)


message 26: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Phil wrote: "How do you know what happened in those hours? It basically fades to black and comes back with them putting on their clothes. Is it not possible that she changed her mind back to yes? That seems to ..."

This is the next scene:

She looked up at him as lightning lit their features, and she screamed and pushed him violently. He fell on the grass, but reached out a hand and grabbed her ankle as she scrambled away from him on all fours.

"What's the matter with you?" he shouted.

Alice quit struggling. She sat down, hid her face against her knees, and her body shook with sobs.


That doesn't sound like the aftermath of happy, consensual sex to me. True, Burton does then describe her as having "cooperated as enthusiastically as any experienced woman in a Turkish harem," but that's exactly the sort of thing real rapists say to justify themselves.

Now sure, a couple lines later she says, "I did it! ... I ... I! I wanted to!" but wanting to do it is not the same as consenting. Everyone at some point in their life has wanted to do something that they've refrained from because they know it's a bad idea, and nobody has the right to force it upon us and tell us it's no big deal.

But the worst part comes at the end of the scene:

"Drugs don't generate desires or actions; they merely allow them to be released. Our normal inhibitions were dissolved, and neither one of us can blame ourself or the other. However, I'd be a liar if I said I didn't enjoy it, and you'd be a liar if you claimed you didn't. So, why gash yourself with the knives of conscience?"

"I'm not a beast like you! I'm a good Christian God-fearing virtuous woman!"

"No doubt," Burton said dryly. "However, let me stress again one thing. I doubt if you would have done what you did if you had not wished in your heart to do so. The drug suppressed your inhibitions, but it certainly did not put in your mind the idea of what to do. The idea was already there. Any actions that resulted from taking the drug came from you, from what you wanted to do."


This is gaslighting. She's telling him she didn't want it, and he's telling her that she doesn't know her own mind; that she enjoyed it, so she should shut up and quit complaining.

I have no doubt that Farmer intended the scene to be read the way you're reading it, but that's because he believed it himself -- he bought into the bullshit idea that a man can tell when a woman wants it even when she tells him no. That's not how it works in real life. The scene in the book is rape written by a man who doesn't understand how consent works.


Trike | 8299 comments You’ve convinced me. That’s super wrong, even for the era.


message 28: by Rick (last edited Jul 22, 2018 11:24AM) (new)

Rick | 2782 comments If lack of consent bothers you then the mating scene in the first Pern book is also rape. The female character obviously doesn't know what will happen when the dragons mate and her reaction afterward is very much that of a woman assaulted.


message 29: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3507 comments Mod
Trike wrote: "You’ve convinced me. That’s super wrong, even for the era."

But which era. The 70s (when it was written) or the era from which Alice and Burton are from. Both lived most of their lives in the 19th century.

The scene is written as an "after sex regret" scene from Alice's point of view. She feels she has cheated on her husband, the only man she has had sex with. She says several times that Richard didn't force her and she did it willingly.

Remember they are both drugged out of their minds and not capable of rational decision making. It is consensual sex between 2 people who would not have acted this way if clear headed.

Yes Burton is a cad and treats Alice appallingly after they wake up from their drug induced sexual encounter. Which is totally in character for the real life man the character is drawn from. He was and continues to be an arsehole for the rest of the book.

If anyone is guilty of an offence in this scene it is the builders of Riverworld for tricking the entire population to get stoned without their knowledge.


Trike | 8299 comments I think you can do that scene well, but this wasn’t that. I get what you’re saying, but that reads as a ham-handed way for Farmer to take Burton’s side, because he sees women as second-class.

By comparison, look at how McCaffrey treats a similar scene in Dragonflight, where both F’lar and Lessa are overcome by their psychic link to their dragons who are mating. Afterward F’lar is filled with regret despite the fact that it’s not his fault. However, he is able to get past it because he knows this is part of their life. His regret is over the fact that she was blindsided by it. McCaffrey doesn’t take anyone’s side, she merely reports what happened.

I haven’t read Riverworld, so I don’t know if there are any characters which give an alternate viewpoint that might moderate that scene. If that was merely one scenario among many and different characters had different reactions — even if Burton never changes his views on it — that would bring me back over to the non-creepy view, but that scene as described definitely feels like the author’s thumb is on the scale.


message 31: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2782 comments Trike wrote: "By comparison, look at how McCaffrey treats a similar scene in Dragonflight, where both F’lar and Lessa are overcome by their psychic link to their dragons who are mating. Afterward F’lar is filled with regret despite the fact that it’s not his fault. However, he is able to get past it because he knows this is part of their life. His regret is over the fact that she was blindsided by it. McCaffrey doesn’t take anyone’s side, she merely reports what happened.
..."




Which does not make the encounter any less of a rape. If it's a rape in the Riverworld case because she could not/did not consent, it's also rape there because Lessa could not/did not consent.


Trike | 8299 comments Yes. And F’lar calls it exactly that and tries to make amends.


message 33: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (last edited Jul 23, 2018 12:16AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3507 comments Mod
Trike wrote: "I think you can do that scene well, but this wasn’t that. I get what you’re saying, but that reads as a ham-handed way for Farmer to take Burton’s side, because he sees women as second-class. "

I agree. It is a creepy scene and is meant to be. Richard Burton (in real life) was a womaniser, a misogynist, a racist, xenophobe, drunkard, drug user and everything else that was bad in a 19th century British explorer.

But to describe the scene as a rape when the author never meant it to be and the characters don't think of it as a rape scene, is reading more into the scene than there was meant to be.

We don't know what happens in between Alice running off and Burton following and them waking up together post-coitus.
Only that sometime in between there was consensual sex.

There are many scenarios that would make it a rape, but with the evidence given and Alice's own defence of Burton we have to assume it wasn't.

This thread has got way off topic. I will end by saying this is a series that enjoyed immensely, mostly.
It is a 5 book series that is 2 books too long.


Trike | 8299 comments It’s problematic in and of itself, but made doubly so by what’s going on in the culture right now. I will add that we’re seeing an extreme over-correction in the current environment, where even the slightest impropriety is met with condemnation and zero tolerance, but that’s how these things work.

I’ve always said that culture is a pendulum that swings from one extreme to another before settling somewhere in the middle. We’re witnessing that right now as part of the culture wars between conservatives and progressives.

On the right you have conservatives hysterically claiming that their way of life is under attack (“War on Christmas!” “The gay agenda!” “Multiculturalism!”) with the liberals over-reacting to missteps and mild wrong-doing in an effort to atone for generations of looking the other way when monsters got their way without punishment (Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, half the politicians ever).

But now is not the time to have those nuanced discussions, because the outrage is justified, based on actual, horrifying and systemic transgressions over many decades.

When I consider the wrongs perpetrated upon any group, I am amazed by their restraint. Whether it’s PoC being targeted by police or women being mistreated by men, I think about how my Italian relatives would react. In short, if that half of my family were treated the way these other groups have been, there would not be an intact city on the eastern seaboard. That’s not hyperbole. So I totally get the anger.


message 35: by Alan (new)

Alan Denham (alandenham) | 137 comments Trike wrote: "we’re seeing an extreme over-correction in the current environment..."
Agreed!
The problem is finding a way forward, where one side feel the weight of getting the nasty end of the stick for decades (and at the very least are going to demand formal apologies, again, and again, and again . . .) and the other won't face up to their own history, and will defend themselves by resisting attacks on their culture, and won't apologise for anything they weren't personally and individually responsible for . . .

From my side of the pond, the closest analogy is probably the Northern Irish problem, where (for Americans not familiar with Irish history) the Catholics really have had the poor end of things at least for the last century & a half, but the loyalists won't give an inch while their blood is hot from all the bombings and beatings etc etc.
And memories on both sides seem to be able to carry grudges for at least 6 generations, maybe 12 or more.

Solution, if there is one, has to be along the lines of "OK, draw a line under it NOW. From now, everyone is equal, there will be no grudges, no vendettas, it OVER!". Northern Ireland tried this (Good Friday Agreement) and it is holding SO FAR - but politics (Brexit) and criminality are dragging things down again, and I am not optimistic"


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments Okay so this is not the topic I started!


message 37: by Sean Lookielook (new)

Sean Lookielook Sandulak (seansandulak) | 431 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Okay so this is not the topic I started!"

*derail.gif*
Yeah, I've seen some wild tangents, but this has gone from ridiculous worldbuilding premises to rape culture and is rapidly heading into politics. Let's have a little respect for the original poster and try to stay on topic. If you want to have these other debates, you should start a different thread.


Trike | 8299 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Okay so this is not the topic I started!"

I’m sorry. I apologize for my part in it. It’s been bothering me lately.


message 39: by Alan (new)

Alan Denham (alandenham) | 137 comments Trike wrote: "Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Okay so this is not the topic I started!"

I’m sorry. I apologize for my part in it. It’s been bothering me lately."

Ditto - I didn't look at the header, just at the most recent post. Sorry.


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