107. Codger’s Law

There are laws which govern human behavior. No matter how chaotic things become, somebody will take what he sees and codify it. Science fiction is no different.

Asimov gave us the three laws of robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Asimov himself worked those laws to death, and provided countless plot ideas for other authors.

Since so many science fiction authors are scientists or engineers, laws from the “real” world permeate writings in the field. We frequently see references to the three laws of thermodynamics, the three laws of motion, and the three laws of planetary motion. Three is a happy number for codifiers, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. Both robotics and and thermodynamics needed to add a zeroth (but not a fourth) law.

Arthur C. Clarke also committed three laws:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Asimov’s laws were for fictional robots; Clarke’s laws are more about how the real world works.

Everybody knows Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. It is a favorite of engineers, but it works equally well in almost any human situation. It has variants and corollaries. Sod’s and Finagle’s variants add, “. . . at the worst possible time” or “. . . with the worst possible outcome.” Some even say that “Murphy was an optimist,” but that may be stretching things a bit.

Related, and not a law but a test, is the matter of the half-glass. Optimists say the glass is half full; pessimists say the glass is half empty. At my house, given a 50% glass, my wife will say it’s nearly full and I’ll say it’s almost empty, but that could be an extreme case.

Of all the “laws”, Sturgeon’s is my favorite. Wearying of critics of science fiction who claimed that ninety percent of science fiction is crap, Sturgeon replied, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” I’ve never heard anyone disagree, expect those who would have a higher percentage, or who substitute an even more disreputable excremental material.

Finally, not to be outdone, I want to add my own bit of codification. I came to this idea when comparing Dorsai! and The Final Encyclopedia, two of my favorite science fictions novels. They come from early and late in Gordon Dickson’s career and are so different in style that, brilliant as they both are, they could have been written by two different authors. I have seen the same phenomenon in the work of other writers. Possibly even in my own.

Codger’s Law: “The older the writer, the longer the manuscript.”

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