Oct 042021
 
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Even in a fantasy setting, we may need an information system. It just won’t be technological like SF. Where do people get their news and other intel?

Sci-fi

We can modify any real-world technologies in SF. This includes radios, telephones, postal systems, and of course, the internet. But we can also invent new systems. The challenge of doing so is producing a result that’s different from what we have. This was easier decades ago than today, when audiences may expect the equivalent of what we have – instant transfer of voice, video, and data across distances as vast as the Earth. There’s still a delay across even interplanetary distances, with the speed of light being the upper limit on this. However, we’ve already seen depictions of seemingly real-time communication in film and TV franchises.

There’s a distinction between the end result (the instant transfer mentioned previously) and the mechanism by which that is achieved. The modern mechanism is the internet, which is comprised of numerous technologies that most of us neither know nor care about. It’s possible that our audience has limited interest in any replacements we devise unless their use (and breakdown) impact the story. But do we need to understand how a device works to show the reader that it’s failed? Failure can take various forms, such as a battery or connection issues, both of which audiences accept without explanation because it happens now.

If we’re inventing an information system and the tech by which is operates, we can approach this similarly to how we’d create items (chapter 7). We’ll want new names for the components that comprise our system, basing these on current analogues. Phone systems require a phone, a contact number, and either land lines, towers, or even satellites and other data systems to carry signals, plus the companies that charge us for the privilege. Answering machines, voice dialing, and even fax transmissions are other elements. We can do this same exercise with IT systems, which may need a keyboard, mouse/touch pad, screen, and a computer with ports and wires, etc. When devising our new setup, just replace such elements. When it comes to data storage, we must also decide how much info can be taken with us in portable devices and sources of new and updated contents.

In SF, we should have characters react to the quality and availability of tech at their disposal, because that’s what we’d do when confronted with something far better or worse than we’re used to. This is when those terms enter our dialogue or narrating. Show them having difficulty controlling the tech by name, jiggling it, giving it a whack, and then asking if anyone has another, then show how they plug it in, turn it on, or synch it. This is how to use this without dumping exposition. All computerized tech lends itself to hacking and other compromises, so be sure to take this into account; people may have to use biometric means to access systems or otherwise be inconvenienced in ways that they gripe about, and this adds realism (and audience empathy).

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