An Open Letter to the Sci Scoffer of INTERSTELLAR

Dear everyone attempting vainly to find some scientific errors in the recent science fiction masterpiece INTERSTELLAR, I have two words: go pound sand.

Now, technically speaking, that is three words, not two, but the accuracy of my count is about the same as the average scientific accuracy in such critiques.

But, first, before I tell you to go pound sand, let me thank you for the compliment you pay the film. No one critiques the scientific accuracy of a film unless it is an honest-to-goodness and serious attempt to write serious John W Campbell Jr style Hard SF.

With that out of the way:

It is perfectly fine to tell a muggle that the science in a science fiction film is bad, but I am a science fiction writer. I do this for a living.

If you make the story so accurate to modern and known science that there is no deviation from current technology, that is not science fiction. One overly critical critic told me that the solar powered aircraft seen in the opening scene of the film had wings that were too small to support the amount of solar cells needed to power a craft, made up of, um, unknown materials, with an unspecified power and propulsion source, based on technology not yet developed in the current day, etc.

No science fiction book whatsoever, not even a diamond-hard Hard SF book like the wonderful THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir, no, nor FALL OF MOONDUST by Arthur C Clarke, indeed not even a Tom Clancy novel could satisfy that level of skepticism and scrutiny.

We are not talking about a gaff where a space pilot says he can make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, or even a fantasy where ships can fly faster than light or robots can think and talk like people. These are two examples of things routinely accepted as believable (or, technically, suspension-of-disbelief believable) in the hardest of hard science fiction, works by Clarke and Heinlein and Asimov. We are talking about someone’s opinion about engineering details on a technology which is not only not speculative, we have it today.

So to anyone making criticism on that level, all I can say is that science fiction is not the genre for you. Go read a newspaper.

The other allegedly scientific criticisms I have read or seen so far are based on assuming facts not established in the film.

An example: It would take longer than two years to go from Earth to Saturn.

Two years is indeed to short a time for a modernday spacecraft of modernday design to match course and speed with Saturn. But the film does not show that.

The Endurance is depicted as passing by Saturn, not stopping, and the speed with which she encounters the mouth of the wormhole could have been anything: the ship may well have been accelerating continuously, without any midpoint screwturn and without any deceleration.

The film does not establish the relative speed of the ship to Saturn during the flyby into the wormhole mouth, so the criticisms based on that assumption are based on the critic’s inventing from nothing a flaw not in the film.

Another example: a large Saturn V rocket is shown lifting the astronauts from Earth to orbit, but a small aerospace plane is used to take off from a world with a higher gravity than that. Why not use an aerospace plane for their initial liftoff?

But the film does not show the altitudes reached for the two different take offs, nor the velocity reached, nor the fuel consumed, nor the differences in mass of the payload, nor what NASA had in its budget and in its warehouses.

There is also a difference between escape velocity and orbital velocity: orbital velocity for Earth is about 18,000 mph. This is what is needed to reach NEO. The speed needed during Apollo missions to break out of orbit was about 25,000 mph.

Also, the initial boost toward Saturn would have been as high as possible, a consideration that does not apply for a plane trying to lift off and make rendezvous with an orbiting spacecraft.

Another example: one critic says a planet could not form near a Black Hole.

The planet could have been captured as modern science thinks the the moons of Neptune were captured, or the singularly formed after the planet did, not before.

Or, for that matter, it could have been formed out of turbulence in the accretion disk as the outermost edges cooled.

Or anything: we do not have a scientific consensus on the theory of how planets form. It has changed twice just in my lifetime.

Where there is no firm scientific fact, science fiction has the liberty to speculate. That is what the genre is for. That is the definition. That is why we call it science fiction.



The other matters touching black holes, giant waves, wormholes, and so on, to the best of my extensive knowledge of my own ever-loving field are accurate, but involve nuances of astronomy which the average viewer cannot be expected to know but which I happen to know — one of my novels has the black hole at Cygnus X-1 as setting, so I’ve done my homework on them.

I even used the time dilation effect of near-singularity orbits as the plot point.

Such nuances, nooks and crannies of scientific curios lead me to believe that the singularity in the film has to be a supermassive black hole, like one found in the core of our galaxy, or otherwise the tidal effects would be to great for a planet to exist in its vicinity, or for Cooper to enter the event horizon without being killed instantly.

I suspect from clues in the film that it is a rotating black hole and I assume that the accretion disk is probably cooling after some recent collision with an incoming body or cloud of matter, etc., because otherwise it would be a plane of x-rays which would have sterilized any planets passing through it.

So, crows and scoffers, go peddle your snake oil of skepticism elsewhere. This guy ain’t buyin’.