Monday, January 01, 2007

When Technology Fails... (BTDT)

Some of you may have noticed my absence from the blog the twice in December. It was not, I assure you, planned but rather an issue of circumstances that (in the first instance) involved disgustingly slow and disgustingly pricey internet access on board a cruise ship and (in the second) a short in the telephone wires in my kitchen which knocked out all DSL in my house for four days.

What all that has to do with writing SFR is that it reminded me of a notation made by a reviewer of my Finders Keepers:

“Not for Linnea Sinclair the spiffy, cutting edge man-machine futures of Ken MacLeod, Greg Egan or Charles Stross…” but rather “…this novel is classic space opera, the sort of story in which rough-hewn pilots of either gender chug along space lanes in rickety old ships held together with duct tape…”

Well, yeah. Looked around your house lately? Do you have anything mechanical or electrical that doesn’t work one hundred percent perfectly?

I’m not sure where or why the notion arose that “future tech” means perfect tech. If anything, that kind of environment, to me, smacks of a world building Mary-Sue-ism (and if you don’t know what Mary Sue is in writing, then hop on over to my Yahoo Group where the topic comes up about once a month). Since setting is such an integral part of an SF novel (and an SFR novel), it then, too, should have flaws. A personality. Problems.

Fantasy writers will tell you that magic comes with a price. That is, you can’t have an all powerful magic source or system that does everything for everyone, everywhere. You pay your electric bill monthly to keep your television and toaster functioning. In fantasy, you have to have a magic bill. If a wizard can wave his wand and manifest a castle in a blink of an eye, then he also has to suffer huge migraines after doing so. Or perhaps be required to sacrifice his only child in order to do so. Or bumble through a series of magical missteps as he tries to refine the spell. Magic has a price.

So does technology and part of that price is it doesn’t work—at least, not in my books. Starfreighters are cobbled together with duct tape (quite literally, in Finders Keepers). Lifts break down with alarming regularity on Cirrus One Station in An Accidental Goddess. Weapons jam and plans fail in all my books.

Hey, and your cell phone has never dropped a call?

Failing and funky technology gives your characters a chance to test their mettle, be creative, be resourceful. It also gives your readers a very real point of identification. If you’re reading this then you have a computer, and if you have a computer then I’m 99.9% sure you’ve experienced the Blue Screen of Death (“We Apologize But The Operating System Has Experienced A Fatal Error And Must Shut Down Now—All Your Unsaved Work Will Be Lost…”). So when Trilby Elliot or Chaz Bergren or Jace Serafino suffer the same frustration, you can nod sagely and say, “BTDT. Been There, Done That.” And hopefully, that draws you more into the story.

Neither writing science fiction nor writing romance should mean everything’s perfect—not the protagonists, not the world, not the technology. Kitchen telephone wires short out. Hyperspace drives fail. A mega-million dollar cruise ship with state-of-the-art everything has sucky internet access.

Welcome to my world and my books.

and speaking of technology, let's hope this works:

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

Add to My Profile | More Videos


  1. Anonymous2:10 PM EST

    Sorry to hear about your techno-troubles. Like I always say, "Slaying dragons is nice, but it takes a real hero to make a lady's computer work for her!"

    I did miss your contributions to this blog!

    I also agree that perfectly working technology is lame and boring. Some of the most fun episodes in Star Trek have been the ones in which the holodeck broke down. And who could forget the primativeEnterprise crew defeating the vastly superior Borg in the episode voted the best of all time? That was 'The Best of Both Worlds,' in case any of you non-Trekkies are wondering.

  2. That's always why I liked FIREFLY, Kimber. And BTW I never saw an episode until a few months back when I bought the DVDs. Oh and remember the scene in STAR WARS where the Falcon starts to go to hyperspace and dies? Perfect. ;-) ~Linnea

  3. Anonymous10:46 PM EST

    "It's not my fault!" Han Solo was such a studmuffin.