I'm putting on my reader's cap today to open up a discussion topic. Okay, it's regarding a pet peeve of mine. And this pet peeve is so monumental to this reader that it's causing me to have issues with some SFR books that I'd otherwise rate very
Most of us agree that Science Fiction Romance should have at least a basis in science, with a liberal amount of imagination applied. I'm all for the imagination part, even when it gets a bit beyond liberal. But I have to confess, I have a major issue with "suspension of disbelief" when the story has a non-logical/seemingly impossible setting.
A story set in another galaxy is an instant turn-off for me.
My question is: Why there?
Does setting a SFR in another galaxy make it seem "more" Sci-Fi? Do you think the story feels more exotic? Does it make the technology and the setting somehow more futuristic? Do you just love that line from Star Wars about the story happening "in another galaxy far, far away?"
I so disagree with these lines of thought, so let me present my case.
Here are my biggest problems with suspension of disbelief involving stories set in other galaxies:
First of all, let's take a closer look at our very nearest spiral galaxy neighbor--Andromeda--currently hurtling toward our galaxy on a collision course. Andromeda and The Milky Way are coming together at some 300,000 miles per hour. Even at that speed, the collision won't take place for some 3.75 billion
(with a "b
") years--give or take. That's because Andromeda is so very far away--even as our closest spiral neighbor--it's still going to take eons
to get here.
So when I read a story about a human colony/space station/exploration vessel set in Andromeda in, say 3700 AD, my questioning mind says: "Wait! How can this be?"
Andromeda is about 2.54 million light years away
--that means traveling at the speed of light (which we're not even sure is possible) for 2,540,000 years--longer than the existence of our species if you believe in evolution. Even if we could travel 10 times
the speed of light, it would take 254,000 years to arrive. At one hundred times
the speed of light it would take 25,400
years to reach Andromeda. So you can see my problems with having a colony/space station/exploration ship in Andromeda in the next 3,000-5,000 years. Sorry, we wouldn't even make it anywhere near the outer edge of the Milky Way in that amount of time.
Let's put some perspective on our current state of space travel. Voyager 1 and 2 are traveling at about 17,000 miles per hour, and have been traveling outbound for some 38 years. Yet Voyager 1--the farthest manmade object from Earth--is only about 17 light HOURS
(not light years
) away from our planet, and finally entering the region of interstellar space between our home solar system and the very nearest star. To reach that nearest
star traveling at its current speed would require about 19,400 years, and it would take 130,877,700 years to reach the edge of the Milky Way! Even if we could somehow boost the Voyagers to light speed, it would still take approximately 29,000 light
years to reach the edge of our galaxy. And even reaching the edge of our own galaxy, we haven't even made a minor dent in spanning the 2.54 million light years
So why set a story outside the Milky Way? Our own galaxy is incredibly, inconceivably vast. If you use Newton's version of Keplar's Third Law of Planetary Motion
, there are an estimated 200 billion
(with a "b") suns in the Milky Way Galaxy. Other estimates put the total closer to 400 billion
stars. It's about 26,000 light years to the Galactic core and, as mentioned, another 29,000 light years to the edge of the galaxy. Some estimates say there could be billions
(with a "b") of Earth-like planets in our own galaxy.
That's a whole lot of real estate for a story setting!
In fact, when we look up at all those myriad stars in the night sky, we're actually only seeing about 2,500 to 5,000 stars on a clear, moonless night. If you could see all the stars in both the southern and northern hemispheres, the max would be about 9,000-10,000. Binoculars might allow you to see up to 200,000 stars. A good telescope, maybe 15 million. That sounds like a lot, but it's only about .000075 of the lower
estimate (200 billion) of stars in our own galaxy.
What we call "The Milky Way
"--that great band of stars and gas stretched out across the heavens we can see on very dark nights is actually only a very small part of our galaxy--the Sagittarius Arm. There are four main arms
called the Norma and Cygnus, Sagittarius, Scutum-Crux, and Perseus. Our sun is located on what's called the "Orion Spur" or the "Local Arm." The galactic disk itself is some 100,000 light years across. It's not even possible to see the center of the Milky Way because of all the gas and dust. So when we look at "the Milky Way" we're actually only seeing a tiny fraction of one arm--which is just a percentage of all that our galaxy encompasses.
In other words, the Milky Way is freakin' huge!
What's that, you say? You still want to set your story in another galaxy because...well, it just sounds cool
Okay, really stretch my "suspension of disbelief" and say you've developed some sort of Galactic Skip Drive--which you at least touch on in your story--and that it lets your characters span these impossible distances to get to another galaxy in the next 3,000-5,000 years.
I'm still not convinced.
Let's put aside the basic questions of why they'd even want to go there
when there's so much to see, explore, discover, puzzle over and colonize right here
. There are even more potential problems...
We don't even know for sure if the astrophysical mechanics work the same way in other galaxies that they do as we understand them here in the Milky Way. Andromeda is roughly double the size of the Milky Way but has about the same mass. Why is that? Because we don't think it has as much dark matter. Dark matter affects our galactic dynamics in ways we don't even fully understand yet, much less have the ability understand the implications for Andromeda or any other galaxy. In spite of the lower mass and less dark matter, Andromeda is believed to have a higher stellar density. Andromeda also has black holes (35 identified so far) that cluster differently
than black holes in the Milky Way.
Though galaxies may look somewhat alike, that doesn't mean they are
alike or even have close to the same properties or mechanics. The differences could be as far apart as the atmospheres of Earth and Jupiter. Assuming Jupiter is a planet so it's similar enough to Earth that you can set a story about a colony there would be a huge mistake. (Okay, touche'.
I made this mistake once--but it was 40 years ago and I've educated myself since then.)
So there's my argument for not setting a SFR in another galaxy.
Now, I'd love to hear from you. Do you have or have you read a SFR set in another galaxy? Why did you choose or enjoy that setting? Did the setting affect the dynamics of the story? How did your characters get there? And why did they go there?
Video of Milky Way-Andromeda collision simulation: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/seuforum/animations/animations/galaxycollision.mpg