The secret of science fiction, said H. G. Wells, one of the founders of the genre, is the suspension of disbelief. The writer must introduce something incredible into the real world, but after that, everything flows logically from it. If the whole story is fantastic, it will not be accepted. But if just one item is, then readers are capable of suspending their disbelief.
Unfortunately, I have a harder task than most, because my degrees were in zoology. Most science fiction writers and, for that matter, readers have a general, popular knowledge of physics. They know what is plausible and what isn't. Also, our knowledge of physics is still incomplete, so it is theoretically possible to introduce such concepts as faster-than-light travel or teleportation and they will be accepted, provided they are introduced with a modicum of techno-babble, but not enough to get the reader thinking too deeply.
However, the physics of living flesh are not likely to change radically from one planet or one era to another. Therefore, although we are likely to be amazed at the variety of lifeforms on other planets, once they are discovered, there are some things which are extremely unlikely, if not impossible.
So don't read any further if you don't want your reading of sci-fi to be spoiled.
There are 16 posts, or chapters on this blog. Each one ends with a link to the following one, as well as back to this index. Alternatively, you can click on the "Home" button on the top left hand corner, or the "Older Posts" on the right hand column.
King Kong, Dragons, and the Tyranny of Size. The most common biological mistake of science fiction writers is to ignore the square-cube rule.
Tom Thumb and the Traits of Tininess. What the square-cube rule does to all those stories about shrunken people and tiny humanoids.
Eating for Your Size, or the Secret of the Dinosaurs. Why very big and very small animals have to be constantly eating, and how the dinosaurs got around it.
Geological and Historical Time. The second most common mistake in sci fi. Why the extraterrestrial civilisations most generally depicted will almost certainly not be discovered when we move out into space.
Interplanetary Hybrids. Why they're not possible.
Two Intelligent Species. They can't evolve on the same planet either.
Teeth, Brains, and the Elixir of Youth. These are two things writers usually ignore when describing extreme longevity.
The Trouble with Bionics is that everything is connected to everything else.
No, Mr. Wells, Germs Would Not Stop the Martians because they are adapted solely to terrestrial life.
Four-Armed Bipeds. Artists seem to have great difficulty drawing them. This article explains how it is done.
Evolutionary Anomalies. Evolution can work with only those things it already has - which is why certain combinations are unlikely to occur.
Man-Eating Plants. Why they don't exist, and probably can't exist.
The Trouble With Spock. Even as a boy I could see that a completely logical being such as Spock could not exist.
I now move out of strictly zoological topics to that of cybernetics, in:
Machines Cannot Think or Feel, because the only thing sillier than an intelligent being without emotions is a machine with emotions.
The Future of Robotics does not involve machines in human form.
Finally, I leave zoological issues completely, to remind writers:
Don't Forget the Human Factor. All too often they forget the way human nature works.