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Weird Science

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"Magic and technology
Voodoo dolls and chants, electricity
We're makin' weird science
Fantasy and microchips
Shooting from the hip, something different
We're making weird science, ooh"

Weird Science is the name for the style of storytelling made famous by the Science Fiction "pulp" (named after the poor quality paper on which they got printed) magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1950s, sales fell off, probably because of the advent of television. A few of these magazines had covers far trashier than the contents, while others reveled in cheese with the writers entertaining no delusions that they created great art.

Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), Unknown (also known as Unknown Worlds), and Galaxy published generally high-quality fiction. Amazing Stories, Weird Tales and Startling Stories and others occupied the middle strata while Captain Future, Planet Stories and many, many others published the more shamelessly trashy material. (Unknown and Weird Tales actually published mostly fantasy and horror, though individual Science Fiction stories and elements would get incorporated in the stories too.) They specialized in imaginative stories of Science Fiction, with the less highbrow magazines in particular having a good deal more "Boys Own Adventure" flair. The actual name Weird Science comes from EC Comics Comic Books, which tended to use the Karmic Twist Ending or, more rarely, the Cruel Twist Ending. (EC also published Weird Fantasy, actually another Science Fiction comic, and merged the two titles later.)

The stories featured exotic worlds, buxom space babes, two-fisted heroes and, most importantly, the gee-whiz gadgetry that defines Weird Science. Many of the most notable names in science fiction and fantasy got their start writing in these magazines, and, as the century progressed, the standards both for storytelling and scientific plausibility increased, although an exciting story was always more important than a realistic one.

Their influence is still widely felt: any Science Fiction that involves derring-do with robots, rocketships and rayguns and doesn't worry about technical realism can be said to use Weird Science, but it is especially likely to be found in Planetary Romance.

Note also that Weird Science is not the same as Hollywood Science; the former throws realism to the wind in order to create spectacle whereas the latter comes from not bothering to get things right that could have been. They often have similar effects, but different causes; Weird Science springs from Rule of Cool, whereas Hollywood Science grows from poor research. (The extreme case, most often found in comedy, is It Runs on Nonsensoleum.)

Not to be confused with the movie, series or song of the same name, though the premise certainly is.

Weird Science tropes:

Settings where Weird Science is likely to be found:


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    Comic Books 

  • The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, and subsequent television or film remakes, are archetypal.
  • Star Wars famously draws from a tremendous range of influences, many not even from Speculative Fiction, but all held together by a distinct Weird Science sensibility.
  • Mom and Dad Save the World somewhat parodies this, but in an affectionate way.
  • Stargate: the movie had a lot to do with this trope, as does the series.
  • The Core: the idea of taking a giant drill vehicle into the depths of the planet is this trope; unfortunately, everything else in the movie is particularly bad Hollywood Science.
  • The Godzilla films (and the entire tokusatsu genre, for that matter) tend to be full of this. In Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, the humans have developed a hilarious new weapon to deal with Godzilla: The "Dimension Tide" is a gun that will generate a small black hole and launch it at Godzilla. The hole will suck up Godzilla, sending him into a parallel dimension, and then vanish. (In the real world, in addition to being monstrously heavy and difficult to create, black holes are also fucking dangerous. Possibly more so than a giant lizard loose in your city. And they don't just vanish into thin air... at least not peacefully.) At one point, Godzilla tries to defend himself against the Dimension Tide by shooting the hole with his energy beam breath.
  • With the creation of "Lisa" being the cornerstone, Weird Science is naturally about this trope (which in turn named the film, in an inverted twist on Trope Namer parameters).

  • As mentioned above this was a staple of the 30s and 40s pulps. Doc Savage lived off this in particular.
    • Odd example, Conan the Barbarian encounters a lost civilization in "Shadows of Xuthal" which has radium lighting and an elixir that both prolonged life and healed just about any wound or injury that wasn't immediately fatal.
  • Tarzan sometimes encountered lost civilizations that used this.
  • The Lensman stories, originally published in Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories.
    • Careful with this one... while it certainly applies to the Lens itself and the principles it uses, the straightforward physics is harder than it looks. Most of the basic concepts, although taken to spectacular extremes, are pretty sound according to the general understanding of physics and cosmology at the time the books were written. It's mainly a combination of the scale and spectacle, the way many of the ideas have been hit hard by Science Marches On, and certain persistent and oft-repeated misconceptions among the insufficiently-careful readership, which makes things look like this trope. Smith was a scientist himself, and in most of his works did mostly try to stick to what was more or less plausible at the time (with the exception of the Skylark series, where he did explicitly abandon realism in the cause of spectacle).
  • Empire City in A. Lee Martinez' The Automatic Detective runs on this.
  • The Chinatown Death Cloud and its sequel The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown by Paul Malmont pay homage to this era with a couple of yarns in which Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard and other pulp writers investigate (and sometimes create) Stock Unsolved Mysteries — despite their very real flaws in comparison to the perfect straight-jawed heroes they churn out for a living.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Bally's Dr. Dude, which uses a Molecular Mixmaster and an EXcellent Ray to turn nerds into winners.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000.
  • GURPS:
    • GURPS Illuminati University has the skill Science!, as does Spirit of the Century, a celebration of the 20s pulp era. Weird Science and Mad Science are playable advantages in the game — the former allows you to make advanced gadgets that would be possible by modern technology while the latter covers pretty much anything you can come up with (although the GM can make a Game-Breaker prohibitively expensive...).
    • GURPS 4e actually has a skill called "Weird Science" which lets you invent ridiculous devices. Whether you are believed or they work is entirely dependent on the setting. GURPS 4e also has "Science!" as a Wildcard skill, which can be substituted for ANY science skill but costs a ton to buy.
  • Gnomes in many Dungeons & Dragons settings, including Dragonlance and Spelljammer. The Eberron setting takes influence from this, in contrast to the High Fantasy style of most D&D settings.
  • Deadlands has this as one of the sets of player skills. This being an explicitly Faustian setting, the knowledge to make the gadgets comes from less than heavenly sources, and every new gadget you invent makes you a little more insane.
  • Genius: The Transgression has both Weird Science and a sort of deconstructed take on Hollywood Science; Geniuses are capable of building Wonders, devices that should not work by the principles of proper science, but do anyway. Until a mortal touches them, anyway...
  • In Mage: The Ascension, the Sons of Ether run on this trope.
  • Adventure!, being another celebration of 20s pulp, allows any Inspired character to try their hand at super-science. Daredevils can create Advancements, devices a generation or two ahead of their time; Stalwarts and Mesmerists can also create Innovations, devices that mimic the Inspired's extraordinary abilities.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the blue/red Izzet League from the guild-dominated plane Ravnica run on this. Impossible is literally just a suggestion at best for them, and the things they create are weird indeed.
  • Rocket Age has Weird Science coming out of its ears, from insane scientists inserting control chips into monsters, to killer robots and matter-energy converters.
  • A fixture of TORG, specifically its Nile Empire setting, which mimics the setting of pulp adventures. The world has a technology level roughly equivalent to Earth's during World War II, but it includes an element specifically called "Weird Science" to allow things like jetpacks and superhero gadgets to work, because those are genre-appropriate.

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    Western Animation 
  • In The Venture Bros., a distinction is made between real-world everyday science and "Super-Science", the kind of science that can be acquitted to superheroes, supervillains and other speculative science fiction-based parts of the world (advanced robotic technologies, superpower bestowal, mind-control gas, etc.).
  • Futurama combines this with tropes from more realistic influences.
  • Danny Phantom is pretty weird with its science... well, more silly than weird, but still.

Alternative Title(s): Super Science