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Shape-Shifting in Sci-Fi
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wendyw
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Joined: 10 Jul 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A combination of either 1 or 3 with 5 would be interesting.

The shape shifter (either through muscle and bone manipulation or liquid shifting) can take the correct shape, but not the right appearance and feel, so if your type one shapeshifter has blue skin in their 'resting' form they'll still have it when they mimic a human and your type 3 would still look vaguely like a human (or animal or whatever) shape blob, but using psychic manipulation they can fill in the gaps, which would get round the whole issue of how someone relying on psychic manipulation could physically interact with people without them noticing they're the wrong shape.
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vulpeslibertas
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Joined: 19 Dec 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 10:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

On 3 (Liquid-metal/T-1000) you actually can make things move properly. If the liquid can adjust its cohesiveness and strength (which it would need in order to change shape), then it can do this selectively i.e. it can form dense cores (bones), and elastic contracting ligaments (muscles). So by mimicking the interior structure of things, it can mimick their movements.

Justin, I have some questions here: What is the nature of the shape shifting? Is it a person who can morph into other people? A single animal? Multiple animals? Can they morph into non-biological objects? Complex non-biological objects with moving parts like axles or hinges? Is the change at-will, or in response to some environmental stimulus?

I think the liquid-metal is the most viable candidate for building a shapeshifter from scratch in a laboratory. Its the easiest way to attain the greatest performance and variety of transformation. A distributed computing system could manage the transformation and adjust various properties of the liquid to get the desired hardness, density, electrical conductivity, etc.

If the shapeshifter is an existing biological organism which has been modified to transform, then the choices become more limited. DNA I think is a limited, since it requires so much time and energy to grow into another form. You also have to worry about incompatibility between forms. For instance, if your blood was instantly replaced with a different blood type, it would probably kill you. You also have to worry about mass conservation, etc.

How about a parasitic/symbiotic liquid which is injected between cells? The symbiont could function like the liquid-metal shapeshifter, except that it would manipulate the host's cells along with its own structure. It could tap into the host's nervous system so that the host could think "turn into a X" and the symbiont could carry out the thought. Basically, image T-1000 inserted into your body and conducting micro-surgery on you. Of course, there are massive medical implications you'd have to account for - every shapeshifter would be a walking Emergency Room.
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minki



Joined: 23 Jun 2013
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 1:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just supporting what everyone said here! There's no reason that you have to explain it right when it pops up. If the ability to shapeshift comes as a revelation in the world and none of the characters quite know how that's possible, it's best to explain later when appropriate.

If it's a little more common of a power, but it's super complex, then likely you should reveal it sooner than later. But there's no reason to reveal then and there.

Here's a caveat: you as the author should know how shapeshifting is possible. Knowing how it's done lets you better hide it till it's right to reveal. That's all I can say since sci-fi isn't exactly my field of expertise. Yet.
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Marscaleb



Joined: 28 Aug 2012
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 2:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

vulpeslibertas wrote:
On 3 (Liquid-metal/T-1000) you actually can make things move properly. If the liquid can adjust its cohesiveness and strength (which it would need in order to change shape), then it can do this selectively i.e. it can form dense cores (bones), and elastic contracting ligaments (muscles). So by mimicking the interior structure of things, it can mimick their movements.


Hmm, that's a good point.
The biggest issue I can see with the whole thing is complexity. The more complex something is, the harder it would be to mimic it, regardless of exactly how the mimicking is done. Starting with some sludge material that can change its properties makes it very hard to properly extend new shapes to begin with, and then adding internal structure just adds to the complexity.

It wouldn't be outright impossible, but you'd need the mental capacity (or the processing power) to grasp the complete musculature of a human while simultaneously holding a specific face. I suppose you could easily argue that retaining a shape requires almost no effort, and thus while shaping one could easily work to build the muscle and bone structure and then work on the outward appearance.

So yeah, I guess that could be done.
I just like the idea of these changelings having tell-tale signs in their movement that a trained eye can pick up; it potentially makes for some interesting stories.
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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 3:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Marscaleb wrote:
I just like the idea of these changelings having tell-tale signs in their movement
For storytelling, I think its usually best to start with a perfect solution and work backwards. Once you have your super-technology, you can always weaken it by saying that the computers aren't fast enough, or the genetic re-sequencers need time to recharge, or the time machine needs to go 88mph before it can work. That also gives you plausible ground in the story to suddenly improve things "Oh, evil Professor Soandso just upgraded the hard drive, so now the final badguy doesn't have that problem anymore."

I think this is especially true for technological imitations of supernatural powers. Sure, vampirism may be caused by computers, but keep your microchips backstage.
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Justinfh



Joined: 30 Sep 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think I'm gonna bother to give an explanation. I mean, in Doctor Who, a regeneration is explained by every cell in a Time Lord's body changing. That doesn't explain much. And basically, I'm turning my Webcomic into a science fantasy.
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