Judge John Hodgman Episode 148: Science Friction

Jane Espenson

A sci-fi fan brings the case against her sister. Christine says her sister Carrie shuns science fiction, and she's missing out big-time as a result. Should Carrie give sci-fi a chance?

This week, we're joined by a special expert witness, the esteemed television writer and producer, Jane Espenson!

You can watch Husbands, the show Jane co-created with Brad Bell online -- anytime! The new season of Once Upon a Time premieres Sunday, March 9th on ABC.

Jane will be joining us at our creative conference, Make Your Thing, this October - but we need your participation to make it happen. If you're an independent creator (or just want to support them), help Kickstart Make Your Thing now - our campaign ends Wednesday, February 26th!

If you want to join our conversation about this episode, please click on the Forum link below.

Thanks to Eli Dennewitz and Robin Fogelson for suggesting this week's case name! To suggest a title for a future episode, like us on Facebook at Judge John Hodgman. We regularly put a call for submissions.



What about H2G2!

A great introductory book would have been Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy for humorous less discomforting science fiction or even District 9 for realistic science fiction.

Ungrounded: LOST Me At Ep1 & Simpsons Fail

I smelled a rat in the opening of LOST's first episode, when an engine from the crashed airliner sat FUNCTIONING in the sand. Oh, brother. Following episodes revealed themselves to be mere shit made up as they went along, with the final episode copping out J.R./Dallas dream-style. PU.

Also, when it comes to ungrounded events, 'The Simpsons' jumped the shark when an episode depicted a multitude of Springfieldians gathered up into a giant rolling ball of humanity that wound up floating half submerged in a body of water, clearly killing hundreds if not thousands of those trapped below. Ha Ha. I felt a little ridiculous calling out a cartoon, but they crossed the line into "anything can happen" and I crossed the line into "I don't care to watch your show". That was fifteen years ago. 'The Simpsons Movie' (aka original 'Under The Dome' pilot) was, I suppose, inevitable.


If you want to get someone to like science fiction and especially robots, make them watch Futurama.

this show is magic (or it was a coincidence, you decide)

Within a week after listening to this show, who did I happen to see in the lobby of a fairly budget hotel in my tiny middle-of-the-desert town? Oh, that's right, Sam Rockwell. Except that I did not recognize him as Sam Rockwell (due in part to my own momentary cluelessness, but also to a plot point which I am assuming will become clear when the movie is released)and ended up pointing(yes, with a finger) and asking (in an overly loud voice) "Are those guys famous or something?" Which I'm sure celebrities enjoy immensely. Anyway,this show brought a little magic into my life. That is all.

Missing the Big Reason

Hi John, you missed one of the largest reasons that scifi is viable as a genre: space. Not the final frontier, but distance from moral issues. It allows us to examine the human condition and moral dilemmas with enough perspective to see the right thing to do. That is why the Twilight Zone was so effective. They could talk about issues like segregation or communism on TV, but it was scifi so they got away with it.

Phantom Menace

I WAS a twelve year old boy, as was everyone in my class in school. I can tell you when the movie came out that we were pretty well disappointed with it.

The reason for Science Fiction is SCIENCE!

That was a frustrating episode. After criticizing Crista for not identifying something unique about SF, the Judge and the expert say it's because it can put current issues in a removed setting, uh, like Gulliver's Travels, or MASH or etc etc?

The reason science fiction is different is it uses actual POSSIBLE scientific facts and logic to generate a fictional world. Just abut every scientist working in advanced fields can name a piece of SF that inspired him.

"Wall-E" SHOULD disturb the viewer, it's showing kids (in a lovable, cool way) what is going to happen to our planet if we keep doing what we're doing. Ironically, the fat people riding around in scooters with their mega-big gulps are how you end up if you keep consuming garbage because it's "comforting" and not challenging. No wonder it bothered her, it should, but for most that doesn't mean you don't watch it because it has unpleasant implications. The same would apply to just about any masterpiece of film or literature.

Real science fiction (and much of what nerds love is fantasy in the guise of SF) cannot do what Carrie complained about - having "anything" happen like on "Lost". It is to science what Deepcrap Chopra is to science. In real SF everything has to adhere to the laws of physics, biology and when it imagines something new, must adhere to it with logical consistency. It teaches you to think, seriously, not sloppily.

Science is full of real facts and ideas that are stranger and more awesome than fiction. Meanwhile "reality" TV is a completely fake edited to brain-death lowest common denominator freeway car wreck some people just can't look away from.

Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy" is not my favorite and certainly not the most enjoyable SF I have ever read. But it did really shape my views as a teenager with a new perspective on human nature and the scale of history much more than something more "fun".

Also, you can't consume garbage TV shows ironically any more than you can eat a Big Mac, Slim Jims, Pop Tarts and Twinkies ironically. You're still putting garbage into your mind/body instead of something good for you (and society). And worse, every time you consume garbage, you promote the production of more garbage. Every hour of TV featuring some "real" idiot being hilariously disgusting is an hour that talented writers, actors and musicians will not be making a living.

It was an entertaining episode, but if you were at all serious about the issue, you should have had Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye as an additional expert. What? A scientist to talk about science fiction? It just goes to show, even self-proclaimed nerds still think real scientists are TOO weird, boring and unimportant.

(I just realized this could have been written by Martin Starr's character on "Party Down")

"The Star Wars Chamber" =

Mashup of the Star Chamber court featured in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and some space opera from the 70's

Minor correction

Sega released Seaman onto Dreamcast consoles, not Saturn.

Galaxy Quest

When I get the urge to watch Galaxy Quest I always precede it or follow it with The Three Amigos :)

red letter media

For those who haven't seen the highly recommended critiques/dissection of the Star Wars Prequels:

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review (Part 1 of 7)

(Or http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-wars/)

Westphall Universe

Of course Star Trek, in each of its iterations (save Enterprise) does not exist in the Westphall Universe. As anyone who knows anything knows, the Star Trek "episodes" -- in all of their variations (save Enterprise) -- are historical documents of the first order. Historical documents cannot document things in the Westphall Universe (unless, of course, Westphall is forging them, as he may be want to do). Ergo (who drives a Yugo), Star Trek is quintessentially anti-Westphallian.

Further proof: Abraham Lincoln appeared in one Star Trek episode. Lincoln was a real life character. The cross-over matrix thus fails.


You're welcome.

But actual, historical

But actual, historical figures appear in works of fiction all the time. You don't want to say that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure purports to be the *real world,* even though it has Socrates and Napoleon &c. (And speaking of Napoleon, consider Jonathan Strange, which *definitely* isn't the real world). Nor do we even need to resort to think as fancy as historical characters; any time a work of fiction references a real life place (like San Francisco), we needn't conclude that they mean *our* San Francisco. The natural thing to say is that, when this occurs, it is merely counterparts of the real life characters or objects that appear in fiction.

I suspect you can make the same argument, mutatis mutandis, for your "historical documents" claim...

Don't force this poor girl

Don't force this poor girl to do something she doesn't, and don't start with Reamde, try the Borogue Cycle first. So cruel. So Cruel.

Listen to the pod first

While you the court generally sides with you can't force people to do things they don't like, there is also merit sampling the things enjoyed by your loved ones. Her sister had to sit through Ancient Aliens, so it seems fair to me.

I'm 700 pages into Reamde and loving it. It's my first Stephenson too and it also took me ages to get around to it.

Man, I'm really at the point where I wish my girlfriend and I could find something to argue about so I could force her onto this show. Thoroughly enjoyable.


I like REAMDE a lot, but I'm surprised the Judge made it his main suggestion for a Stephenson novel... unless he was specifically trying to avoid sci-fi works. It's a good book, but I don't think it's the most accessible, or the best, work of Stephenson. Personally, while it's not my favorite book, Snow Crash would be my first recommendation, unless it's someone who just wouldn't be able to tolerate the sci-fi/cyberpunk trappings.