Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Aesthetics of Technobabble

I have a confession to make: I love technobabble.  It doesn't much matter what the subject is, I find technical jargon fascinating.  Though I don't really need to understand in order to enjoy it, I can usually follow the gist of what's being talked about.  Sometimes I can even relate it back to other subjects, and by sheer repetition and unconscious cross-referencing, learn something.  Basically, it's fun.

This, naturally, accounts for my taste for science fiction.  In fact, I've been making a point of reading some vintage scifi, partly for fun and partly to gain a sense of the history of the genre.  In particular, and in all honesty the inspiration for this post, I've been reading 'The Complete Venus Equilateral' by George O. Smith.

Due to its publication history, it's not laid out like most novels I've read.  Essentially, it's a compilation of stories, most of which were originally published in the periodical 'Astounding Science Fiction' and each followed their own story arcs.  So each 'chapter', if you will, is a short story which just happens to tie directly into the one before.  What does this have to do with technobabble?  Well, these stories are full of it.  Oh, granted it's laughably out of date by now, seeing as these stories were written mainly in the early 40's and centred around radio tubes, but the whole premise leans heavily on the technical.  The whole thing is really about a bunch of electrical engineers in space.

However, even with my love of technobabble, I'd still probably find the whole thing terribly dry if it weren't for the way Smith wrote the characters.  Just reading the way these fellows interact makes me believe they're real.  Curious, jocular, and continually teasing each other; I could easily imagine myself with these guys, trying to find the next new advancement in technology.

Out of date as it is, and as much as it tests the limits of my suspension of disbelief (for example, the idea of anyone living on Venus), I'm really quite enjoying 'Venus Equilateral'.

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