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 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?