1. Alsaindar

    Alsaindar Member

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    To techno babble, or not to techno babble?

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Alsaindar, Jul 24, 2018.

    For me, techno babble has always been one of my favorite things. Sci fi is the best genre (**** you, fight me), but too much can be like a diabetic downing momma’s sweet tea with no insulin in sight. What I mean when I say too much, is that which isn’t grounded in reality. Sci fi should have a healthy amount of SCIENCE along with the fiction.

    As much as I love the adventures of Captain Picard (better than Kirk, again **** you, fight me), but the warps 1-15 going many times the speed of light followed by ship engagements/interaction within line of sight were always irksome. Same thing with Starwars. Awesome space opera, but having exposed bridges and space engagements within human line of sight in space is ridiculous.

    A bit of a digression, but like I said earlier, I’m just curious what people’s opinions on techno babble and it’s quality/quantity are.
     
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  2. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Star Wars and Star Trek are both Space Operas. Both focused more on the interpersonal (or intrapersonal) drama more than anything else, the futuristic stuff is only there to prop that up. Star Wars is a samurai flick / John-Wayne-style western. They've just replaced the swords with light sabres and wild west with Tatooine. If you had to put the plot to Star Wars down in a single sentence, mostly you'd describe the journey of Luke, the space battles are superfluous and flashy.

    That's not the case with other types of scifi. Space operas basically just take current culture and plop it into a more high-tech world. They fail to compensate for the fact that technology can seriously drive culture. Asimov, for example, has much more far out there cultures because he'd considered deeply about the implications of what some advanced technologies would have on a culture. His work seems dated today because we are living with some of the technology that he foresaw already.

    I think technobabble comes down to two different things. There is an educated guess as to what humans will call things that have not been invented yet, but will be quite common in the future. "Video phones" were something I used to see a lot. Such a thing didn't exist yet (or at least wasn't common) and there was no reason to describe it as anything other than that. it'd be impossible to guess that someone in the Marketing department of Apple would call it "Facetime" and it'd just kinda stick. I don't mind this kind of technobabble because it's at least not bullshit, it's no different than a non-native speaker trying to describe something they don't know the word for. Then there is technobabble just for the sake of sounding techy. Things like saying "reinitialize the power couplings," when any real engineer would say "reboot it", "power cycle it", or "turn it off, then on again."
     
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  3. Zerotonin

    Zerotonin Serotonin machine broke

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    Or, the most practical way of saying it, "I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!"
     
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  4. Madman

    Madman Life is Sacred Contributor

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    Sorry to necro, would love to hear more thoughts on this.

    My opinion on technobabble is mixed, mostly because I don't understand it most of the time. Some technobabble describing what an item does and why, which might be necessary for the plot, I am entirely okay with and like. Babble going into the inner workings that may not even be necessary for the plot just leaves me bored. So I try to avoid too many details in my own technobabble.

    EDIT:
    Techno babble > Technobabble
    Thanks @GraceLikePain
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
  5. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

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    ...I'm gonna be that person.

    "Technobabble" is one word. If you're gonna "techno babble" there'd better be some music suggestions. :)

    Anyway, as long as you're not going on about something irrelevant, you're good. After all, I'm pretty sure that the definition of technobabble is when people talk about long, complex fake science that isn't actually based on anything real. If it's real science, you're learning, so it's not babble.
     
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  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Techno, plenty.
    Not so much on the babble though.
     
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  7. Kyle Phoenix

    Kyle Phoenix Active Member

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    It is up to you obviously and every author is entitled to develop a style that reflects their personality and the requirements for the story they are telling. There is a great amount you could say that "it depends" on various factors, circumstances and preferences as well.

    Personally, unless it is absolutely necessary to develop the plot I would be inclined to take an "avoid at all costs" approach and to use technobabble very sparingly, though in the past I would have felt differently. As fun as it is to create concepts for advanced technologies and as tempting it is to include them to show off how creative you are or fill in some part of the back story, in the end you are describing characters who already live in that universe and are acquainted with the technology. They know what it is and how it works. Anything you say is really just to help the reader keep up with the plot and character development which is typically where the reader is going to be most engaged and emotionally involved in the story.

    Technology has profoundly affected our lives and will no doubt continue to do so. But aside from identifying particular devices (e.g. laptop, computer, smart phone) the majority of us don't use technical terminology in casual conversation. In reality, as consumers we are astonishingly ignorant of how these "shiny boxes with lights" actually work. Mass production has meant making these technologies as easy as possible for customers to use so people trust them and accept them as household appliance on which they can rely for entertainment or function. That really limits technology down to giving it a name and describing it's function.

    Imagine introducing a time traveller, say if you are a H.G.Wells fan, from the 19th century and explaining various devices you have in your home. "This is a fridge, or refrigerator; it keeps food and drink cool to store and preserve them to increase their life span so it doesn't spoil and go to waste." "This is a Television; it picks up invisible radio-waves in the atmosphere and transforms them in to a combination of images and sounds on a screen that can inform or entertain." You might then show them how to turn them on and use them, but they are designed to be a little effort as possible so they are "consumer-friendly".

    Even in the most technologically advanced society, we will only know the bare minimum about how to make our gadgets actually work. The scope of our understanding is limited by what requires our immediate attention, so we don't often ask questions that go beyond those initial appearances. A handful of specialists may have the knowledge to take them apart, fix them and put them back together again. But the rest of us will just reach for the hammer when we try to "fix" it and probably make a problem much worse. That will apply probably to the majority of characters within a story and to the readers of a text set in the world you have created.

    Or as the TV series, the IT Crowd, would put it when you need advice on fixing your computer: "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" :D

    Just for the sake of some examples in Film to illustrate:

    One device you might consider using is inserting an advertisement to describe what the technology is and how it works, such as this clip from "The Sixth Day" on human and animal cloning. I wouldn't consider this particularly subtle as a story telling device, but it does the job, helps you understand what is going on and introduces concepts that reoccur throughout the rest of the film; "simchord" for storing memories, "blanks" for cloning based on your "DNA", etc. (I think you only see a small part of the advert in the actual film).



    The film I,Robot also briefly brings up the Issac Asimov's "three law of robotics" to explore logical conflicts between them and develop the plot as Will Smith's character speculates that a robot could be a suspect for a murder-suicide. This isn't very subtle either, but again, this is still only a very small part of the movie. Even if the three laws are revisited periodically, it is very sparingly, so a great deal is left to the imagination about how the robots actually work.



    Again, it is ultimately up to you and it will depend on what story you are trying to write and what your readers will enjoy. But if the aim is a mass market readership, it's worth toning it down. People seem to be very averse to technical details even when it could be really helpful to actually know them. After all, how many of us read the leaflet and check we have all the components like sensible people when we start building flat pack furniture? I think most of us just get stuck in until we are half way through and then realise we have done something in the wrong order after trying to fit a round peg in a square hole for almost half an hour.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2020
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  8. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Contributor Contributor

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    Have you read the Expanse series? It begins with Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. I think it does an excellent job mixing the tech explanations into the exposition without it seeming like too much technobabble.
     
  9. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    When it comes to sci-fi I like space operas but not so much for the heavier stuff. So it should come to no surprise that I think technobabble should be kept to the minimum necessary. And if it comes to a choice between science and story, science should be the one sacrificed for the benefit of the story, so long as it still feels believable.
     
  10. Vandor76

    Vandor76 Senior Member

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    Don't forget that there are readers who really enjoy all the technobabble, and for them the longer the better. Just saying.
    ( see the TV trope "Just Here for Godzilla" )
     
  11. Thomas Larmore

    Thomas Larmore Senior Member

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    If you have a character who knows how technology works, you will have to describe how technology works when you're writing from that character's viewpoint. With other characters, not so much.
     
  12. Stephen1974

    Stephen1974 Active Member

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    There is a great youtube video comparing scenes from ghostbusters and the abomination know as ghostbuster 2016, and the main one it looks at is explaining the Proton packs. The original movie kept it super simple and something that the audiance could relate to. The abomination went in to a load of made up technobable that no one could understand. One scene was epic, once scene was farcical. So i would say keep it simple and with elements people can vaghely relate to.

    Also, dont use a technical term when a normal term would do. En example would be the athour Gav Thorpe who writes 40k books. He has a fetish for writing rockcrete and it drive me mad like you wouldnt believe. Think, how would you describe something yourself. Lets say you were walking down the street in the 40k universe, tripped and you fell on the.... ground?? or rockcrete ?? relate that to our wold, would you say you fell on the... ground?? or tarmac??

    Another example is from the Soldier series (soldier A, Soldier B) etc... The army sometimes refer to food as scran. One other used just that word, scran, and never once used food or some other description. I think all my time in the army I heard scran used maybe 3 times. It certainly wasnt used all the time and it just grates when you see it over and over again.

    So, only get technical when you must, otherwise, be normal.
     
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  13. Thomas Larmore

    Thomas Larmore Senior Member

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    Technobabble on Star Trek is the worst. All of it is complete bullshit and it's irritating to listen to.
     
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  14. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall I drink Scotch and I write things

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    I like to keep it minimal and when I do use something technical, make sure I have at least a cursory understanding of the science behind it and how it would theoretically function. But even in the case of explaining it the KISS principle still applies. No one wants to feel like they need 10 PhDs to understand your universe. There are a few science fiction authors I will leave nameless that like to force technology real or imaginary down their reader's throats like toads with a toilet plunger. For some reason, some people will read it but I am not one of them.
     
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  15. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Senior Member

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    Very little decent sci-fi is actually scientific. Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow muthafuckaaaaaz
     
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  16. Thomas Larmore

    Thomas Larmore Senior Member

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    Heinlein did lots of technobabble but that was OK because it was REAL SCIENCE.

    Before spacesuits were ever used he described how they worked in excruciating detail in Have Spacesuit Will Travel.
     
  17. Some Guy

    Some Guy Manguage Langler Supporter Contributor

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    My favorite way to tech-babble is to twist something possible from its current state to some left-field outta nowhere evolved device or what have you. It's what they do to it and how it affects the characters or fate.

    Write Without Fear!
     
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  18. MetalGrave

    MetalGrave Member

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    I always liked hints of techno babble.

    The kind that draw you in and make you want that explanation.
     
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