The Science Fiction “Hardness” Chronicles Part Two: Sunshine

Claustrophobia is a pretty powerful tool for storytelling. By isolating a small cast, their interactions can be made to have far more impact on each other than they might when the parties in conflict can just go home and cool off for the night. Place the isolated environment in a larger world and experiment with the exposure the isolated group has to the non-isolated world, and a solid ground for dramatic conflict is created.

Combine that with the most powerful, beautiful and dangerous life-giving force in the Earth’s immediate vicinity, a very big bomb and the fate of the human race and the result is today’s entry in the Science Fiction Hardness Chronicles. Today’s entry is a bit on the shorter side, since the film in question has several very big revelations over its course that are best experienced with fresh eyes. One big tone change is discussed, though so a spoiler warning for that.

Without further ado, let’s dive into part two of the continuing Science Fiction Hardness Chronicles.

Did you miss the first part of the series? If so, check it out: The Science Fiction “Hardness” Chronicles Part One: Star Wars

Today’s Film: Sunshine

What type of science fiction is it?

Fairly hard.


Sunshine’s director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland worked with particle physicist Brian Cox on the science of saving the sun with a giant bomb. As understood by a film major, Sunshine’s science is generally accurate. The sun is not running out of fuel on its own, it is being killed by a large chunk of particles that are causing it to burn up its fuel at an accelerated rate, and thus die much sooner than it should. The purpose of the bomb is to destroy the particle chunk, allowing the sun to resume its nuclear process as normal.

Life aboard the Icarus II is shown to be fairly realistic; the crew grow their own food in a large oxygen garden, artificial gravity is generated by a combination of the ship’s rotation and the bomb itself being big enough to generate its own field of gravity.

Barring their individual areas of specialization (computer maintenance, the physics of operating the vastly big bomb etc,) the crew are all trained in a wide variety of  tasks. Every member of the crew takes a turn cooking, they can all safely operate space suits, they all know enough about the ship’s communications system to use it comfortably and so on.

Where the science gets a bit dodgy is the presentation of the world outside of the Icarus II. Stars are visible and the sun appears as a big fiery ball. In the case of the crew, this is explained via the high grade filters present on their cameras and view ports. In the case of the audience, it was an artistic decision made by Boyle with Cox’s blessing. Stars might not actually by visible as distinct objects in space, but they are an iconic part of any depiction of it, and so were preserved. In general, the big picture science of Sunshine is quite good, but the more detailed science may raise eyebrows amongst those members of the audience familiar with it, particularly when it comes to the nature of the bomb’s construction and function.

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