We’ve all read it. We’ve all seen it. And I’m guessing a lot of us have written it, probably not on purpose.
“Oh, Professor, how does this reticulating infundibulator work?”
“Well, I’m glad you asked, Little Timmy. You see, the wave manifold interface is tangential to the antiprotonic Q-stream, which as you know is what runs our stardrive, but in this case…”
…and garble garble garble, ten pages of reticulating infundibulators and science that would make any follower of the discipline in question weep quietly into their coffee.
Because I write fantasy, I don’t add so much in the way of technobabble, but I do have quite a bit of arcanababble: the myths that I’ve used to underpin the story and that need to be understood for the story to make any sense. Which means if I’m not careful, I end up with something along the lines of:
“Oh, Great Sage, how may we use this Crepuscular Artifact of Vorpallitation?”
“Well, I’m glad you asked, Little Grignr. You see, the Artifact’s power draws from the deposed Demon Lord Khar’tryuse, who as you know was friend to all living things before the Woven Corruption…”
…and garble garble garble, ten pages of Demon Lords and lost weapons and theomachies to shake the heavens. Now, some people read for the technobabble, and I confess I like reading for the arcanababble, particularly when it’s based on actual myth. Heck, I’ll sit through several pages of tenuous connections between obscure philosophers and alchemical symbols and ancient cults, if I have the sense there’s something to it (which, frankly, depends more on the writer than on the theory in question). If it turns out to match what I know, then I’m likely to love the book even more.
But a lot of readers don’t like techno/arcanababble, and for good reason: it’s exposition, and like all exposition can become an indigestible lump if handled poorly. Even when the myths are well-researched and accurate (inasmuch as myth can approach accuracy) or when the science is spot-on and peer-reviewed, if it’s presented as a lump of exposition then the technobabble filter will kick in for a lot of readers, and they’ll skim past it like a freshman English student skipping the whaling chapters of Moby Dick.
Leave it out entirely, though, and you’re missing the vital information that your story is built around, the scientific key or mythic reference that holds the whole thing together. And, very possibly, you’ll have left out the Cool Idea that got this story started in the first place. And, let’s face it, technobabble and arcanababble can be such fun to write.
So what are some ways technobabble can be more than just a lump of exposition? Continue reading ‘Technobabble can be your friend’