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Shape-Shifting in Sci-Fi
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Justinfh



Joined: 30 Sep 2012
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:10 pm    Post subject: Shape-Shifting in Sci-Fi Reply with quote

In my Webcomic, Feeling Moody, some of the characters can shape-shift. Since this Webcomic is science fiction, I'm look for a "scientific" explanation to it.
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Casual Notice
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the goto technobabble answer is that the shapeshifter is actually amorphous but has tight enough cellular control to emulate any three dimensional shape (although the Star Trek guys never explained why Odo would choose to look like Rene Auberjeanois after a Silly Putty fight gone horribly wrong...)
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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Unless you're doing hard sci-fi, there's no need to explain.
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Justinfh



Joined: 30 Sep 2012
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

vulpeslibertas wrote:
Unless you're doing hard sci-fi, there's no need to explain.



So I can take the Doctor Who approach and say, "I'll explain later"/
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mcmasters



Joined: 28 Jun 2012
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Make it a running gag that every time there's about to be an explanation something interrupts it.

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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Justinfh wrote:
So I can take the Doctor Who approach and say, "I'll explain later"/
Sure. Unless you are doing something "real", most people will accept that it's a webcomic and in some kind of alternate world with alternate physics. You can avoid explaining it, "explain later", take mcmasters' route, whatever. Or you can invent your own metachloriens and get into an explanation of how it works. The problem with this approach is that you better have a pretty good explanation or you'll raise some eyebrows. Casual Notice's explanation is pretty a pretty well vetted standard explanation.
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SamuraiTaiga



Joined: 03 Jun 2013
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How much do they shapeshift? Could it be explained with cybernetics? Or you can use the pseudo-magical "nanotech" can do anything approach.
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Justinfh



Joined: 30 Sep 2012
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's a pretty silly explanation. On their homeworld, there's this war going on. A bomb is dropped which causes radiation to spread. Which causes people's cellular structure to weaken and cause their DNA to be unstable. But scientist finds a way to speed up evolution so people can adapt to this change. As a result, these people can shape-shift. It's a silly explanation. On the other hand, my Webcomic is suppose to be a comedy science fiction.
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MindChimera



Joined: 03 Feb 2013
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 5:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Justinfh wrote:
Here's a pretty silly explanation. On their homeworld, there's this war going on. A bomb is dropped which causes radiation to spread. Which causes people's cellular structure to weaken and cause their DNA to be unstable. But scientist finds a way to speed up evolution so people can adapt to this change. As a result, these people can shape-shift. It's a silly explanation. On the other hand, my Webcomic is suppose to be a comedy science fiction.

That explanation doesn't make any sense to me. What do you mean by "speed up evolution"? Are the people who've been affected by the radiation the ones shape-shifting, or is it their descendants?

If you're going to go with radiation, okay, but evolution doesn't seem to really tie in there. Real world evolution isn't Pokemon evolution, it's a change between generations and not a single organism. If you try to pass that in science fiction, you may frustrate and drive away people who understand what evolution is.

Maybe the scientists find a way to stabilize the people's DNA after the radiation, but the whole experience allows them to shape-shift afterward. You may not have to be too descriptive on what the scientists do to fix this problem, but connecting it to an unrelated process isn't the way to go.
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mcmasters



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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MindChimera wrote:
Justinfh wrote:
Here's a pretty silly explanation. On their homeworld, there's this war going on. A bomb is dropped which causes radiation to spread. Which causes people's cellular structure to weaken and cause their DNA to be unstable. But scientist finds a way to speed up evolution so people can adapt to this change. As a result, these people can shape-shift. It's a silly explanation. On the other hand, my Webcomic is suppose to be a comedy science fiction.

That explanation doesn't make any sense to me. What do you mean by "speed up evolution"? Are the people who've been affected by the radiation the ones shape-shifting, or is it their descendants?


They've got this laboratory, see, with 10,000 human (shape-shifter) eggs waiting to be fertilized in vitro. They fertilize 100 with dna from 100 (shape-shifter) guys. Expose the 100 embryos to radiation, when 95 die take dna from the five survivors and mix with next 100 eggs. Repeat until you reach the last 100, the most successful radiation resisters, allow that batch to survive and mature to adults.
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MindChimera



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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 5:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mcmasters wrote:
MindChimera wrote:
Justinfh wrote:
Here's a pretty silly explanation. On their homeworld, there's this war going on. A bomb is dropped which causes radiation to spread. Which causes people's cellular structure to weaken and cause their DNA to be unstable. But scientist finds a way to speed up evolution so people can adapt to this change. As a result, these people can shape-shift. It's a silly explanation. On the other hand, my Webcomic is suppose to be a comedy science fiction.

That explanation doesn't make any sense to me. What do you mean by "speed up evolution"? Are the people who've been affected by the radiation the ones shape-shifting, or is it their descendants?


They've got this laboratory, see, with 10,000 human (shape-shifter) eggs waiting to be fertilized in vitro. They fertilize 100 with dna from 100 (shape-shifter) guys. Expose the 100 embryos to radiation, when 95 die take dna from the five survivors and mix with next 100 eggs. Repeat until you reach the last 100, the most successful radiation resisters, allow that batch to survive and mature to adults.

I specifically asked about which generation was doing the shape-shifting, because Justinfh didn't clarify. I know it will work if the shape-shifters were born post-radiation, but it sounded like we were talking about the ones first affected by radiation.
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Casual Notice
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 7:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually retroviruses similar to the ones used to treat certain cancers would probably work for ameliorating the mutation Justinth described, and on the first generation, not just succeeding ones.
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mcmasters



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PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 11:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Do you all remember the ad for "After Earth" where Will Smith is saying, in his deep Serious voice, that everything on earth had evolved to kill humans? Unless they cleared that concept up in the actual movie, that made no sense. That's a good example of just using the word because it sounds dramatic and heavy. The humans had left the planet however many years ago, so surely they're just evolving to fill whatever niche they can among the other critters and the environment. Any critter with an inclination to "kill humans" would get out-reproduced by those with the inclination to "cuddle humans."

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MindChimera



Joined: 03 Feb 2013
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 1:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Casual Notice wrote:
Actually retroviruses similar to the ones used to treat certain cancers would probably work for ameliorating the mutation Justinth described, and on the first generation, not just succeeding ones.

That's fine. But "speeding up evolution" is incredibly unclear and doesn't necessarily point to that, which is why I asked for clarification. "Speeding up evolution" to me sounds like something completely different.

mcmasters wrote:
Do you all remember the ad for "After Earth" where Will Smith is saying, in his deep Serious voice, that everything on earth had evolved to kill humans? Unless they cleared that concept up in the actual movie, that made no sense. That's a good example of just using the word because it sounds dramatic and heavy. The humans had left the planet however many years ago, so surely they're just evolving to fill whatever niche they can among the other critters and the environment. Any critter with an inclination to "kill humans" would get out-reproduced by those with the inclination to "cuddle humans."

Eh, using words to sound dramatic and heavy when they're wrong drives me away. I hadn't heard about the movie, so I just looked up the trailer. Looks interesting, but that line does bug me; it's not the sort of thing that would keep me from seeing the movie, but I probably won't see it anyway. I'm not a movie person.

I think a big difference is a movie like this is going to have a lot more going for it than some sci-fi webcomic. Most people will overlook bad science for actors/actresses they like, story, and special effects. Building a webcomic on bad science gives you less to fall back on.

But hey, maybe Justinfh is only planning to mention it once and never bring it up again, so the whole thing doesn't matter that much; can't say. If it were something that Justinfh has to build a strong foundation on and is referenced often in the story, it would be more important to get it right.

It's my opinion that if you're looking to give a scientific explanation for something, have it be correct (as best as you can). You can be vague if you're making stuff up, and you don't have to get down to the nitty-gritty details, but referencing something incorrectly just isn't doing your homework.
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Marscaleb



Joined: 28 Aug 2012
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 6:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mcmasters wrote:
Make it a running gag that every time there's about to be an explanation something interrupts it.


I second that idea.

Personally, the only way I can conceive of shape-shifting to be scientifically feasible are the following:

1) A body that is actually designed to change, ie, has special muscles and bones that could stretch a face out, can move joints back, perhaps even special bladders instead of bones so they can stretch, constrict, and reshape, and then become firm and appear to be bone.
The disadvantage of this is that it limits the forms that can be shape-shifted into. It works for a werewolf-type creature, but not a changeling.

2) Ultra-advanced nanotechnology rebuilds the person into any programmable shape.
The disadvantage with this is that you open a pandora's box of "why couldn't you just do this?" because if you have the technology to completely rebuild anything atom-by-atom that there are few situations you couldn't use that technology to save you from.

3) Odo/T-1000. A semi-liquid (probably organic) mass that can change its surface properties. Shape, tensile strength, color, etc. If you cut it in half you'll see its real form, the liquid-like center.
If it were really done right it wouldn't move quite like its form suggests, since doing something like walking is actually re-shaping itself.

4) Direct genetic manipulation with growth acceleration. I think a lot of sci-fis try to do this, but they keep ignoring many required aspects. First of all, it requires energy, and to incite a lot of cells within a body to re-grow themselves into a new form would require a year's worth of food. It could be conceivably mixed into a hyper-concentrated serum, but if you had that technology you can't have people starve to death. You also need to properly account for mass, whether a body is enlarging of shrinking, the pounds need to be accounted for.
And again, this technology opens a lot of doors of "If you have the technology to do this, then why can't you do this?" This technology eliminates all genetic diseases and disorders and even prompts genetic enhancements being available.

5) Psychic manipulation. Basically, convince people that someone has shape-sifted by altering their perception. Note that no actual shape-shifting has occurred.

Beyond any of that, there are no other ways I can think of to explain shape-shifting from a scientific perspective. You'd either have to rely on technology that is so far advanced that it can't be explained because it works on scientific principles yet unknown to us, or it would have to be magic.
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