Pharyngula

Bad evolution

There have been no science fiction movies that I know of that accurately describe evolution. None. And there have been very few novels that deal with it at all well. I suspect it’s because it makes for very bad drama: it’s so darned slow, and worst of all, the individual is relatively unimportant and all the action takes place incrementally over a lineage of a group, which removes personal immediacy from the script. Lineages just don’t make for coherent, interesting personalities.

io9 takes a moment to list the worst offenders in the SF/evolution genre. There are a couple of obvious choices: all of Star Trek, in all of its incarnations, has been a ghastly abomination in its depiction of anything to do with biology (I think you could say the same about its version of physics). Any episode with any biological theme ought to be unwatchable to anyone with any knowledge of the basics of the field; if you turn it off whenever it talks about alien races or whenever it mentions radiation from a contrived subatomic particle, though, you’d never see a single show. Gene Roddenberry must have been some kind of idiot savant, where the “idiot” half covered all of the sciences.

I’m very pleased to see that Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio gets mentioned for its bad biology. That one has annoyed me for years: Bear does a very good job of throwing around the jargon of molecular genetics and gives the impression of being sciencey and modern, but it’s terrible, a completely nonsensical vision of hopeful monsters directed by viruses and junk DNA. It’s also the SF book most often cited to me as an example of good biology-based science fiction, when it’s nothing of the kind.