Home > Rants, TV > On Starfury Speed and other stories

On Starfury Speed and other stories

One of the things about spending a chunk of your life writing about other people’s fictional tales is you think a lot about how stories get put together. And if you’re me, you then get kind of annoyed when other people miss the point and try and pull a good tale apart for all the wrong reasons.

I love good criticism. A well written review is an art in itself. And I adore it when someone takes a great story and takes it apart skilfully. What I can’t stand is when a work gets taken apart because the critic decides that the story itself is wrong. For example, someone complaining that a vampire movie is bad because the vampires can walk in sunlight without exploding1, ignoring the fact that it’s a story and the storyteller can do whatever the hell they like with the tale.

The Starfury Speed trope is a modern example of favouring story over accuracy. It comes from the 90’s TV show Babylon 5. The show featured small fighter craft that happened to be very quick and agile2. Various parts of the story had the ships turning up in the nick of time, or just too late. So obviously fans corner the show’s creator JMS and ask “How fast do Starfuries travel? Or for that matter, any of the show’s many cool spaceships?”

starfury

How does it work? Unless the story is about the science, or that engineering is part of the creators message, then rule of cool applies. And Starfuries are really cool. (Image via TMC-Deluxe )

 

His reply? “At the speed of plot.” It’s a perfect answer from someone whose job it is to tell stories. Expanding on this though, it should be taken as read that if, say, the tabletop miniatures game states that the SA-32A Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury travels at a certain speed, that doesn’t make it a rule that applies to all other media. It’s just a thing they’ve done to make the game work.

Looking for details that aren’t relevant to the story in order to criticise a story is not productive. If your argument that Superman is a bad movie because in the real world people don’t fly, you’ve missed an important step somewhere.

There are lots of examples available. My personal favourite comes from the UK LARP scene, were myself and friends happened to be playing Samurai Badger people in a fantasy setting. Various geeks wanted to impress upon us their knowledge of Feudal Japan by asking us stupid out of character questions and lecturing us at length about how ‘Samurai don’t work that way’. We had to patiently point out to people that we weren’t aware giant badger people existed in the real world.

All of this ties into another frustrating trope, called The Thermian Argument.3 You see, just because a thing works in a story, and you can justify it in the context of the story, doesn’t make you immune from real world criticism. Claiming its okay to overtly mock a whole section of real-world society because you’ve made up this thing that says it’s okay, doesn’t make it okay.

Good criticism is an art in its own right, and it’s healthy to bring stories into their real world context. It is not a contradiction to enjoy a story in its context and then pull it to bits when your pop it on the workbench that is a the real world, or even the context of another genre with different conventions. But deciding that one made-up thing is more valuable than another made up thing because they contradict each other misses the point of stories.

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1: Vampiric allergy to sunlight of course, being something that’s toggled from story to story, and a clue that all vampire stories don’t share the same universe. You’d think this was obvious, but no.
2: The design was so simple that apparently NASA drew inspiration from it during their research into smaller space vehicles. I understand it was a ‘Why didn’t we think of that’ moment.
3: Coined by Folding Ideas here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxV8gAGmbtk. To be clear, The Thermian Argument is where you use a made up thing to defend yourself from criticism about problems wih the stories real world context. You justify something awful by saying ‘It makes sense in the story’.

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Categories: Rants, TV
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