Science Fiction & details

Back in a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about what elements are included in Science Fiction, from lots of tech details to a more general sense of world-building. This was especially brought home to me this week as I read Song of ScarabaeusSong of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy (which I enjoyed immensely and have already pre-ordered Children of Scarabaeus). These books dig deep into concepts of eco-systems, bioengineering, terraforming, DNA, and all sorts of wet-tech/bio-tech. This type of world-building give me little tingles. I love it!

Here’s an example, early in the book so as not to give anything away:

She withdrew and set about de-merging the layers instead. This wasn’t something a regular op-teck might try, because it could go horribly wrong if the tiers started recombining at random. But she had tools at her disposal that a regular teck didn’t–the wet-teck in her cerebral cortex created a smooth interface and she could keep the tiers separated but aligned, like melodies playing in counterpoint. She teased them apart one by one and imprinted a decoder glyph at each encryption point so the layers would be easy to find later

The visceral feeling this gives to something many of us can only imagine, the innerworkings of a technology that is integrated into the mind, and the comparison to layers of music in a symphony on top of the idea of cracking into computer code gives us a foundation to understand this tech that doesn’t exist. There are passages with more technical details, some less. But my main point here is that a reader never loses the sense that he or she is in another world. Things are different here, though as always, the same when dealing with humanity and emotions. This is a story that isn’t afraid of giving us the technical elements and does so in a way that makes sense.

There’s no way I couldn’t read this book, this week, and not compare tech elements to Jaq’s Harp, my story releasing on Monday from Carina Press. In it, key elements of the world-building directly play into the conflict. The one that’s most visual and apparent, is the beanstalk. After all, this is a re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk. The beans aren’t magic. They’re a form of biotech:

The cold little stones shone brightly in the dark room, a room as murky as they all seemed to be here at Mother. It was as if the secrecy of the agency forbid them to install good lighting.

She closed her fingers and the pale green sparkle winked out. “They’re alive?”

“Don’t sound so surprised.” Bovine’s eyebrows arched. “Machines aren’t the only technology I dabble in.”

That’s the extent of description of the biotech beans. Not quite as detailed as the tech described in Song of Scarabaeus. Where in Song, how the technology works is crucial to the story, that it works is all that is important in Jaq’s Harp. But still, I’m left wondering how much description is good for the reader. Where’s the balance? Like in Song, does the reader need a more in-depth look at the workings of the little beans in Jaq’s Harp?

I have no answers. Only questions. Tell me, do you have good–or dare I ask for bad–examples of details in Science Fiction tech?

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10 comments

  1. Yay! Jaq’s Harp will certainly be living on one of my e-readers come Monday!

    As far as details in sci-fi go, it’s a hard balance to hit. Too little, and you risk confusing readers. Too much, and you end up becoming Michael Bay — making your story about special effects rather than, you know, *story.*

    Frank Herbert used to do a good job of explaining the technology *just enough* — so that you could then be confused by the politics in the book. (I kid because I love.)

    1. Thanks, Shawn! And I love the “one of my e-readers”. I’m the same!

      You brought up a good point, though, politics and political structure is definitely something that I think goes in the details column. Sometimes politics is really as techy as it can get!

  2. The biotech beans sound great, Ella. To be honest, I’m not sure I want a detailed explanation of SF tech unless it’s important (story-wise) that I know how it works. So long as the author makes it work in context–and aims for verisimilitude–I’ll buy it.

    I think I’ll give Song of Scarabaeus a try. It sounds original. Also looking forward to Jaq’s Harp.

    1. Thanks!
      & I do recommend Song of Scarabaeus. You won’t be disappointed.

  3. Sarah M · · Reply

    I’d much rather have a too-brief description that a long one that bogs down the story 🙂 SF Tech should enhance the story and help the reader understand the world-building but not detract/distract from the main plot. Looking forward to Jaq’s Harp!

    smaccall @ comcast.net

  4. That is some awesome world building! I’ll have to check out Song of Scarabaeus… and Jaq’s Harp 🙂 And I know I’ve read something that had BAAAAAAD details in Sci-Fi, but it wasn’t the tech. I don’t know if I should go in to detail here… mostly because I think it might make a decent blog post… but let me tell you, it scarred me.

    1. If it scarred you, I want to hear about it! Definitely blog it. Maybe change the names to protect the innocent? Or, if not so innocent, name away!

  5. Glad to hear you liked Song of Scarabaeus since it’s on my TBR list too!

    1. I know you’ll enjoy it!

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