How much is too much when it comes to trying to justify 'made-up' tech stuff in SciFi. Example; I have a cursory understanding of how a magnetic drive system works (Mag-Train). How deep into the actual technology do I need to go in the story to justify the characters using mag-drive technology to do something not yet invented/discovered.
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No more than your story requires. Remember, if you could actually make one of these fabulous inventions, you'd be out doing so and not writing about one in a story. So you research, you put enough detail into the thing to make it seem possible, you write with the assumption that the damned thing works...and you let someone else sweat out the technical details that good inventions often founder on.
(On "the assumption that the damned thing works," that's only if your story isn't about the characters trying to fix it.)
I agree with Robert. Use as much or as little detail as you feel is necessary for the story. If you're doing hard SF where it's all about the tech more detail might be a good idea. If not, don't sweat the small stuff.
Posts: 238 | Registered: Jul 2009
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Cool action... I totally dig tech-talk, digi-speak, concept-crunches... It comes from years of R&D work. Part of what I have to watch is going too far with it when a smattering would be just right.
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You really only need to show the effect, and include as much knowledge as your people actually know. If you have someone who is not of that society, you will likely have entire passages of explanation of how each thing works.
If they live in it all their lives, describe it as one would a car, truck, air plane, ship, train. Writing a piece about here and now, you are not going to explain the internal combustion engine or the jet engine. One is going to simply describe the effect of its passing or riding in it, and leave it at that.
I have two opposing self-imposed rules for incorporating fantastical technology. Don't explain if it's a tall tale. All that's needed is internally consistent logic that doesn't compromise willing suspension of disbelief and engages on a secondary (imaginary) world level. Faster than light travel, for example, can be taken for granted in most not so hard science fiction milieus.
For externally consistent logic, aggressively avoid expository explanations and summarizations. Portray fantastical technology as an integral prop character so that it complicates the purposes of the characters and doing so enhances participation mystique without compromising willing suspension of disbelief. I have in mind Asimov's psychohistory from the Foundation sagas. At the time of the First Foundation's writing, psychohistory was a going scientific concern and very similar to how Asimov represents it, only turned around and forward looking rather than backward looking. Surprisingly similar to how H.G. Wells' The Time Machine approaches historical perspective.
rstegman and extrinsic - it sounds like the last two comments are very close to each other. in summation: if the characters use the tech stuff like we use common appliances then they would not be standing around admiring it with drawn out discriptions... unless they needed to explain it to someone who needed to know. This is maintaining the suspension of belief for the reader... the mega-thing is no big deal. (The character is the... ahem... character.) ...until it takes out thirteen city blocks in the hands of the bad guy(or the bumbling brother-in-law). Is this close?
I read the Foundation books way back when they were being released. The memory does wane...
I just watched a movie called "Morons from OuterSpace," the title pretty much sums it up. But anyway, they crash their winnabago-like spaceship and are captured by the government, the government asks them how their spaceship works, and this is how he explained it. "Well there are these two pedally things and you push one of them to go and the other one to stop."
It all depends on how relevant it is to the story. There are some people who like to read giant info-dumps that read like college textbooks, but it is a niche.