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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old January 19 2012, 12:49 AM   #1
Sho
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Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technobabble

Star Trek in general and probably TNG in particular is often criticized for an overreliance on technobabble, that is using technology-based means to resolve or drive plots and the often long exposition of technical concepts in dialog this requires.

But I must confess to quite enjoying a good technobabble session . The attraction lies somewhere between being required to think abstractly by a program, the greater suspension of disbelief afforded by having the complexity of circumstances in the fictional world approach that of our own, and satisfaction at a show having the guts to celebrate not just emotion but also intellect. And, since we're not just talking content but also delivery, often the dazzle of a Holmesian quickmindednes or MacGyver's can-do resourcefulness - the joy at competence under pressure. Finally, tech can also make for great mystery if the objective is figuring out how it works.

So what makes good technobabble? The key is, I think, not so much having to be rooted in real science and technology (though it surely doesn't hurt), but first and foremost self-consistency: Set up a compelling framework of rules in which to operate, and then don't be caught violating them. And what's more, be resolute in following through on their implications. Then convince us that your characters, having been afforded the opportunity, have the smarts to use them to their advantage through great dialog.

Who or what in TrekLit do you think has shown to be most adept at this: having technology play a key role in a plot and describing it to beyond MacGuffin levels? Having that plot's dynamic or outcome rely on complex particulars of a technology while staying interesting and fun? Having it all feel convincing, both by itself and the characters' way of dealing with it?
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Old January 19 2012, 02:02 AM   #2
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Anything by Christopher L. Bennett.

End of thread.
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Old January 19 2012, 02:03 AM   #3
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

^ Seconded.
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Old January 19 2012, 02:27 AM   #4
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Agree.
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Old January 19 2012, 02:53 AM   #5
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

KingDaniel wrote: View Post
Anything by Christopher L. Bennett.

End of thread.
That was my first thought when I read the thread title.
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Old January 19 2012, 06:02 AM   #6
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

KingDaniel wrote: View Post
Anything by Christopher L. Bennett.

End of thread.
Yeah, no one does it better.
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Old January 19 2012, 03:59 PM   #7
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Thanks, everyone -- although I don't really think of what I do as "technobabble," since to me that term means technical jargon that doesn't really mean anything (like the archetypal "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow"), whereas I always try to have some scientific grounding for all my exposition.

I think Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens do a really good job with the hard-science stuff in their Trek novels. Ditto Jerry Oltion. And I recall some really good science in SCE: Spin by J. Steven York & Christina F. York.
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Old January 19 2012, 09:37 PM   #8
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Right, I too think there's a difference between hard-sf (which I opened a thread about last year, where Christopher also came highly recommended!) and good technobabble, in that the latter doesn't need to be realistic, just self-consistent and interesting in a systemic sort of way. Thanks all for the responses, though - between those two threads, I think Christopher has his rep as Chief Science Officer of the USS TrekLit down pat .
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Old January 19 2012, 10:05 PM   #9
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Yeah, Christopher is the obvious choice. But I think the Vanguard authors have done some pretty good technobabbly stuff throughout the series.
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Old January 20 2012, 12:03 AM   #10
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Gotta agree with all of the above about Christopher.
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Old January 24 2012, 07:05 AM   #11
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Ditto to all. CLB!

Christopher wrote: View Post
I always try to have some scientific grounding for all my exposition.
He hasn't done any ST in a long time, but I find David Gerrold's SF novels to have very believable tech. For example, I thought the orbital elevator thingie in "Rise" (ST's VOY) was a bit hard to believe when it aired in 1997, even though I knew it was based on current scientific theories/concepts. When David Gerrold featured a similar device in his novel "Jumping off the Planet" (2000), he had me thoroughly convinced.
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Old January 24 2012, 01:57 PM   #12
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Diane Carey in Challenger. Not only does she continue her hard-nosed it's-all-20th-century-USN-except-when-it's-18th-century-and-just-sorta-happens-in-space line, but she manages to bow Okuda and Sternbach to her will as well. It's just that while Scotty keeps giving his usual cut-to-the-chase comments, the guest characters wallow in the TNG style of technobabble...

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Old January 24 2012, 02:26 PM   #13
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

Therin of Andor wrote: View Post
He hasn't done any ST in a long time, but I find David Gerrold's SF novels to have very believable tech. For example, I thought the orbital elevator thingie in "Rise" (ST's VOY) was a bit hard to believe when it aired in 1997, even though I knew it was based on current scientific theories/concepts. When David Gerrold featured a similar device in his novel "Jumping off the Planet" (2000), he had me thoroughly convinced.
The problem with the orbital tether in "Rise" is that it only went up 300-odd kilometers. Assuming a planet with a mass and rotation rate similar to Earth's, that's around one percent of the length it would need to have, since a space elevator's center of mass needs to be in synchronous orbit in order for it to work at all. It's the same problem, kind of, as the Bajoran solar sailship in "Explorers," with sails maybe a thousand times too small to get any appreciable acceleration from sunlight. It's scaling things down too much for the benefit of a TV audience that would have trouble grasping the much vaster reality.

Although I suppose a shorter tether could theoretically work if it upper terminus were in a powered orbit, held in place by some form of thrust (or antigravs, in a Trek context). But it's hard to see the value of building it that way.

And yes, Jumping off the Planet does do an excellent job portraying the functional details of a space elevator. Of course, Arthur C. Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise is the seminal work of SF about space elevators, but it's more about the initial construction of such a device, while Jumping goes more into the nitty-gritty of its regular operation, not to mention its economic and political consequences.
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Old January 24 2012, 02:41 PM   #14
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

That sounds very interesting . *adds to list*
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Old January 24 2012, 03:12 PM   #15
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Re: Authors or stories showing a particularly firm command of technoba

The problem with the orbital tether in "Rise" is that it only went up 300-odd kilometers.. [..] ...a shorter tether could theoretically work if it upper terminus were in a powered orbit
We could also always claim that the lift itself rides for just the lowermost 300 kilometers of a 30,000 km total system.

Clearing the atmosphere might be a worthwhile goal already, and less of a strain on the tether than a full ride to stationary heights. It might also give free-trajectory payloads some initial speed, but through sheer lift acceleration rather than mere height adjustment. One could use the long tether as an energy tap in a variety of ways, and then pump that energy to the lift system in two ways, so that passengers could do the 300 km ride under manageable acceleration, but satellites could be launched to transfer or escape trajectories at 50 gees or something.

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