I hope I'm not missing it again but what I was trying to say was that the concept of merging two people into ones isn't necessarily a scientific one.
That's not the point! Again, it's not about whether something can really happen. That's irrelevant to what I'm talking about here. What I mean is that the story depends on the speculative element -- that it tells a story exploring themes of character and emotion and philosophy that could never be told without
the speculative premise of two people being combined into one. Whether that premise is plausible or not is a separate issue, a matter of stylistic preference. Some science fiction is grounded in plausible science, some is based in far more fanciful science. But either way, the point is that if you take away the speculative element, the story can't be told at all.
What matters is what the Captain & crew do once they are. The science doesn't enter into it, at least from my perspective. And really, a plant causes the transporter to merge two people? It may work for some people and that's fine but I just accepted it as being the same class of storytelling shorthand as the magnetic ore from The Enemy Within. It's not important how it happened but what happens afterwards.
But my point is that it's thinking too narrowly to assume it has to be a choice between focusing on a speculative premise and focusing on a character story. My point is that the speculative premise is what makes the character story possible
in the first place. That SF is not merely a distraction from exploring characters and ideas and philosophy and emotion, but can enhance
the exploration of those things by creating new possibilities, opportunities to put characters in situations they could never face in a more conventional story and explore what those novel situations reveal about human nature, beliefs, emotions, etc. So it's a fallacy to treat it as some kind of zero-sum game where you have to avoid getting into deep, involved concepts in order to tell a story about people. What's interesting about the concepts in the first place is the way they let you tell new stories about people. That's how science fiction ideally works. It's not just about positing hypothetical advances or discoveries, it's about exploring their impact on human nature.
It's true that in the past, hard SF has often been weak on character and more character-oriented SF has been weak on science, but it doesn't have
to be that way. Over the past few decades there's been an increasing number of writers who serve both science and character equally, and I strive to be one of them.
But, how much can you actually fix the science of a ship travelling faster than light? There's highly theoretical ideas about how it might possibly work but we're nowhere near being able to run any sort of meaningful experiment to test even the smallest part of it.
Well, that's kind of a contradictory statement, because if we're just talking about ideas
, about exploring the concept in entirely conjectural stories, then experiment is irrelevant. Fiction is entirely about the ideas. What's cool about it is that you don't have to be limited by having to make things happen for real, so you can freely explore any possibility. SF stories are literary thought experiments, positing a "what if" question and extrapolating a possible answer.
On a purely conceptual level, which is the only level that makes sense to talk about concerning fiction, the science of FTL travel has been worked out in considerable detail by physicists, particularly since 1994 when Dr. Miguel Alcubierre published his famous "warp drive" metric. This is real theoretical physics research -- that was directly inspired by Star Trek
. You may dismiss ST's science as irrelevant because it isn't exactly true, but plenty of actual working physicists disagree. Because exactness doesn't matter; what matters is inspiration, directing minds toward new possibilities.
The goal in hard SF is not to limit yourself to what's provably real -- hell, it's not SF at all without some conjecture beyond current experimental knowledge. The goal is to minimize the number of impossibilities -- like I said before, to make suspension of disbelief as easy as possible by minimizing the number of things that provoke disbelief. And the research of Alcubierre and others does a lot to reduce the number of things we have to suspend disbelief about in order to accept the premise of FTL travel as plausible.