Science Friction, by Dennis O’Neil

Dennis O'Neil

Dennis O'Neil was born in 1939, the same year that Batman first appeared in Detective Comics. It was thus perhaps fated that he would be so closely associated with the character, writing and editing the Dark Knight for more than 30 years. He's been an editor at Marvel and DC Comics. In addition to Batman, he's worked on Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the Question, The Shadow and more. O'Neil has won every major award in the industry. His prose novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Denny lives in Rockland County with his wife, Marifran.

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5 Responses

  1. Van Jensen says:

    There has to be a balance between the smack-your-forehead pseudo-science in some comics and the overly pontificated theories in others (I'm looking at you, Warren Ellis).Another good book on science (hope I'm not stealing next week's column!) is The Structure of Scientific Revolution, which traces the history of scientific progress and shows that it hasn't been as clean of a development as we believe.

  2. John Ostrander says:

    One of the more interesting conferences I've attended in my professional life was in Northern Ireland, sponsored by the ARDS Council, that paired scientists and creative artists. I was invited as a writer ( a long and separate story but thank you, Jim Murdoch). The theme was how art influences science and vice versa. I was the opening speaker. GAH! All the scientists were there as well. GAAAAH!!! I THINK I managed not to sound like a complete idiot. As I recall, my theme was how the arts can fire the imagination and inspire scientists, sometimes even to BECOME scientists. Some astronauts credit STAR TREK with their desire to go into space, for example.For me, part of the problem when we just "make up the science" is that we do the same with human behavior. All fantasy needs to have one foot firmly set in reality if its going to reflect our human lives at all (and it needs to do so). In fact, I think you taught me that when you were my editor, Denny.

    • Mike Gold says:

      "Some astronauts credit STAR TREK with their desire to go into space, for example." Yep. And the first generation of NASA people credited Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. I gotta tell you, the most inspirational stuff I've seen in years are those pictures from Mars. I still sit there amazed and awestruck. And that's the true value of the space program. That, and Tang.When it comes to "making up the science," I recall the words of my former office-mate (and yes, I was damn lucky here). He said "Well, it might be phony science, but it's OUR phony science." In other words, create your own rules and then stick to them.Oh, yeah. The guy who uttered that axiom? Dennis O'Neil.

  3. Tarkas says:

    Quote: "Well, it might be phony science, but it's OUR phony science." In other words, create your own rules and then stick to them.I think that advice summarises the best way to deal with "phoney" or pseudo-science. Okay, so you're dealing with stuff that doesn't agree with the current scientific paradigm, but provided it follows a set of reasonable rules, suspension of disbelief can be maintained and the story enjoyed on its own merits with the PSB as (hopefully entertaining) colour in the background. The important thing is to keep it consistent: don't have your hero able to fly through the sun one issue/week and then have him taken out by a guy with a flame-thrower the next — not unless that's one heck of an uber-powered flamer, and is specified to be so, so that the audience can appreciate that the hero is in deep kimchee when facing it.It's when the "rules" — powers, laws of PSB physics/magic/whatever, etc. — are inconsistent, so that it's never really certain what will happen next — and not from a dramatic stand-point, but from a point of expectation of how the fictional universe works — that the whole thing breaks down and it becomes tedious. The only person who can reasonably get away with such big changes is John Ostrander when writing GrimJack, because he's already specified that the laws of reality can change when someone crosses the street, and that has been used to good comic effect by both John and other authors when playing in Cynosure. Everyone else needs to choose a set of rules and stick with them; they may not be the laws of science as we know them, but provided they're consistent, they can be used to make the story work.

  4. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    Um…oops? Remind me not to discuss your triumphant return to writing Batman, so there'll be no excuse for you to skip it…I've always been a proponent of comic book (or science fiction) science. After all, once you accept the concept of the man from another planet who can fly and use heat vision, arguing the physical feasibility of how the heat vision works is a little disingenuous. It does; move on. But my pet peeve is that once a writer chooses to mention actual, proper science, he should get it right. Much like my standard overreaction for the misuse of "it's" and "its", when I see a writer use "Light year" as a measurement of time, I get jolted right of the story like Christopher Reeve seeing the shiny penny. Now, I was willing to accept that Long, Long Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away, the "Parsec" could be a unit of time, so the Kessel Run could be done in under twelve of them, but if it's in this universe, getting stuff like that wrong just…rankles.Kurt Vonnegut once wrote an essay (Creatively titled "Science Fiction", collected in _Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons_) in which he bemoaned the fact that he was often pigeonholed as a science fiction writer BECAUSE he knew a little about science. His complaint was that just because you understand how a refrigerator works, critics and the people who do such classifications assume you must be a science fiction writer. He blamed the colleges for encouraging English majors to eschew the physical sciences in favor of the freedom of pure thought.