Another Earth

Recently this caught my eye

It’s a trailer for an upcoming movie called Another Earth. It’s a sorta Sci-Fi movie about a duplicate Earth appearing in the sky. The hook is that the duplicate Earth is apparently inhabited by duplicates of the people on the original earth. It seems like the movie focues very much on the emotional implications of a woman traveling to the second Earth to meet her lost lover… or something along those lines.

There is something I admire about the way the movie feels like. There is also something that worries me.

The thing I admire is how the movie seems to focus so much human, emotional part of the story. It’s something so few Sci-Fi movies manage to achieve. Most Sci-Fi stories tend up being completely about some horribly anal, geeky things. And I’m not even talking about science. Most of them end up being about shooting things or humanity surviving or aliens or space zombies or dimension portals or something. I think what many old-school Sci-Fi writers understood much better than today is that the fantastic scenarios they come up with would have profound impact on the people experiencing them. They understood that focusing on the people alone was enough. That you wouldn’t need to add anything to make it even more exciting. But then came Lucas and everything went downhill. Well, to be fair, it went downhill even before Lucas, but you catch my drift.

While I admire this return to a more emotional and human Sci-Fi, I’m worried that something might got lost in the process. You see, the whole idea of Earth appearing in the sky would be actually very difficult to explain scientifically. In the trailer you even see the second Earth being quite large in the sky. Earth is actually quite large and massive. At such a close distance, it exerts a tremendous gravitational pull. Having another one so close would be quite disastrous to our oceans and possibly our entire climate. In fact, it could cause tides and earthquakes of apocalyptic proportions. There are also a lot of difficulties with coming up with an orbit that would even allow a second Earth to stay with us. Conditions would need to be JUST RIGHT or they would either crash or fling each other out into space.

On the IMDB forums some said that in the movie, the second Earth was hiding behind the Sun all along. If that was the actual explanation, it would be bullshit of considerable magnitude. First of all, we already checked on the other side of the Sun and there is nothing there. If we hadn’t checked there, we would still be able to tell by the perturbations in the orbits of other planets. Finally, even if there was a second Earth on the other side, the chances that it would have exact duplicates of us all are pretty much zero. That explanation is also uncomfortably close to this whole Vulcan / Planet X / Niburu Believers movement. Conspiracy theorists, who think there is a planet hiding behind or very close to the Sun that will eventually collide with us. Alternatively it may also not collide with us but there are aliens living on it, who want to have hot alien mind sex with us. Either way, the bad government is hiding everything. Luckily, they have photographic evidence.

This may not be the explanation in the movie at all. We shall wait and see. But the closeness to wacky conspiracy theorists is symptomatic of what I’m worried about. It seems to be an approach to Sci-Fi that doesn’t really take the science into account. I think that when talking about things many people have little experience with – like orbital mechanics – storytellers have some obligation to make sure their story at least aligns roughly with the facts. It’s the same as when a movie take place in a foreign country. One should make sure to do some basic research about the actual country before portraying it in a story. Many people might use the story to form an opinion about that country.

Sci-Fi is the genre of exploring potential realities and what they may mean to us. But by exploring realities that can’t happen, the insights we gain may very well turn out to be hollow and meaningless. Instead of opening our eyes to different possibilities, these kind of stories may be fostering false beliefs and ignorance.

The upside to this is that the amount of plausible stories is still infinite and Another Earth may be actually part of them. I’m curious to see the movie. I hope my worries are unfounded.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Another Earth”

  1. Robin Saunders

    I think science fiction doesn’t have to be scientifically plausible. The problem boils down to the age-old debate over what the difference is between sci-fi and fantasy fiction. I think at the end of the day the difference is semantic: fantasy uses magical terminology to describe how the world is different from our own, whereas sci-fi uses technical-sounding terminology. There is merit in writing sci-fi which is scientifically plausible: that’s what “hard sci-fi” is about. But not all sci-fi has to be hard in order to be entertaining; as you’ve pointed out the emphasis on the human side of the story is what makes things interesting, and as for the details in the background we can suspend our disbelief, just as we do when reading fantasy.

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Yeah, I think Sci-Fi and Fantasy have been uncomfortably close to each other for quite some time now. And I think many people see it just as you do: it’s just a small semantic difference whether you explain it with magical terms or scientific terms. The problem I see there is that the two are not symmetrical. Magic doesn’t exist anyway so you can’t really misrepresent it. But science and technology do exist. When you continue misrepresenting them you are creating breeding grounds for superstition and false beliefs.

    Perhaps it’s just the tone that irks me. I have less problems with things like “Back to the Future” because the entire movie is bonkers anyway. But this movie looks has a very authentic feel to it.

  3. sinjun

    A lot of fantasy does have some basis in myth and religion. You can see the basis in stories such as the Lord of the Rings, which borrows a lot from British myth. You can see it in the Wheel of Time which borrows a number of ideas from eastern religions including the idea that time itself is circular as opposed to linear. You can see it in Star Wars as well which is every bit as much Fantasy as it is Science Fiction as it borrows as much if not more from the book “hero with a thousand faces” by Joseph Campbell as it does with technology. In fact I would argue that Star Wars isn’t really Science Fiction at all, but rather Fantasy with some Science Fiction elements.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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