Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Revolution...worst sci-fi ever.

I've been watching a few episodes of a new science fiction series that has come out this year called Revolution.  Now, I am used to a certain amount of difficult to believe stuff in science fiction.  We all suspend disbelief to a certain extent when we watch it, but I have rarely run into anything in sci-fi so completely contrary to basic science as the plot of this show.

For those who have not watched here is the basic premise of the show.  "Something" happened one night and caused all electrical devices to stop working permanently at the same time.  The show then flashes forward about twenty years or so and the power is still off and people are living at a technological level similar to the early 19th century.  Nothing that requires electrical power works at all.

Now, ignoring anything else in the show this is the most nonsensical plot device I have ever seen, the person that wrote this could really have benefited from setting in on a physics class for jr. high children.

To explain, lets start with some basic education on how electricity is produced, for those who might not know. Let's start with this item on the right.  This is an alternator for a car. (cars also stop working in the show) Alternator's produce electricity to power your car and charge the battery so that the battery can be used to start your car.  How exactly do these work?  They aren't magic, hell they aren't even very complicated.  If you look at this one you will see copper wires bunched together on the outer edge of the device.  This bunch of wires runs around the outer edge of the alternator in a circle. A fan belt runs around the pulley on the end and down to another pulley attached to the drive shaft.  This causes the pulley on the alternator to turn while the engine is on, which in turn causes a magnet located in the middle of the wires to spin.  And....that's it.  It's called a dynamo and this is the primary way we have been producing electricity since the principal was discovered in the early 19th century.

But surely this is a simple device right?  Power plants produce electricity using a far more complex system right?  Nope, power plants use dynamos too, the only real differences are the size of the dynamo and what they use to power it's rotation.  Power plans typicality use steam instead of a drive shaft.  That's right steam, perhaps our world is closer to steam punk that any of us realized.  The steam is of course created by heating water with a variety of fuel sources oil/coal/nuclear/solar etc. but the technology of the dynamo has changed very little in nearly two centuries.

Batteries work a bit differently since they effectively store electricity using chemicals, it is still being produced using the same basic fundamental force.

What causes this to function is a force in physics called electromagnetism.   The magnetic field causes the electrons in the copper atoms to excite and move between atoms, and this is what generates the electricity.  The important thing here is that electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces in physics that make our universe work.  These are strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity and electromagnetism.

So here is where we get to what makes the plot of this show horrible.  What killed the electricity?  It couldn't have been some form of EMP, because that would only kill electrical devices that are on at the moment of the EMP, and would have no permanent effect on older cars or machinery that were not dependent on computer systems to work.  Also even if it killed all power plants people still know how to build a dynamo.  A twelve year old could build one out of some copper wire and a magnet in his dad's garage, so it would be bad, but in a few years people would rebuild power plants and move on.  In the show, however, everything stops working all at once, even battery powered devices all within seconds of each other.  No one rebuilt anything because, the show tells us, electricity simply doesn't work anymore.

In order for this plot to work the "something" that caused all electrical devices to stop working would have to interrupt electromagnetism at a fundamental level to prevent dynamo's from producing electricity.  Electromagnetism is not just some neat trick that lets us power computers, it is one of the most fundamental forces in nature, and without we could not continue to live, even our bodies depend on it, it turns out that there are lots of electrical reactions in our body.  Ever heard of a neuron?  These are the cells in the brain that produce thought, and they do so through an electro-chemical reaction.  So if a device that could interrupt electromagnetic force were turned on we would all die almost instantly, since your brain would no longer be able to tell you to breath, your heart would stop beating, etc etc.  It makes the entire plot one of the most laughably unbelievable things I've ever seen.

For this reason alone Revolution gets my vote as one of the worst pieces of sci-fi to come out since Plan 9 from outer space.

So THAT'S who wrote the pilot for revolution.

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