Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story!
H is for History
There are two different aspects of “history” that I’d like to mention when it comes to writing technobabble and sci-fi gadgetry:
First, there’s the history of technological development itself in the real world. Certain levels of advancement came about during the Industrial Revolution; the World Wars led to further tech developments. The history of humanity is the history of scientific discovery and technological advancement, ever since we started using simple tools and invented the wheel.
Second, there’s the history of technological development in the fictional world of your story. One will probably matter more for your story than the other. It’s up to you as the writer, and the sort of story you’re telling, to decide which sort of history has a greater impact on what you’re writing. And of course no “history” of any kind may actually make it into your book—it may be just part of that research and development that you as the author spends hours doing but never writes about. And that’s okay, too.
The history of technological advancement in the real world can apply to any sort of sci-fi, even futuristic stories. If you’re inventing advanced tech for your 25th century Mars colony, then it’s still useful to know what the current level of technology is as far as space exploration goes, and what’s currently being researched and developed. This can help add a level of believability to your story. (Granted, your story may seem cheesy and dated by the time the 25th century actually rolls around, but that’s why it’s called science fiction.)
The history of science and technology is especially important if you’re writing any sort of retro-futurism, such as steampunk or dieselpunk. Even if your story takes place on a completely fictional planet, if you want the retro feel, then having an understanding of real “retro” technology can give you a great base for developing your own tech.
For example, I’m currently working on a dieselpunk series set in the 1920s. I have some advanced tech in the story that of course didn’t exist at the time, but to help lend credibility to these fantastically “futuristic” devices, I did some research about what actually did exist at that time. I’ve Googled such topics as: “Were night-vision goggles used in World War I?”, “when did Einstein develop his theory of relativity?” and “when was the air conditioner invented?”
And so now what about the history of the tech in your world? Does it matter? Depending on the story, it may not matter—especially if the tech is not the main point of story. If the history of how or why certain things were invented does matter, those are great details that can add richness and depth to your story world.
But be careful of too much explanation! As cool as a ten-page treatise on the development of cybernetics and genetic engineering might be, if it’s inserted into your novel it might slow down the story too much. Appendices or a companion technical manual book might be better options if you want to share the detailed history and explanations of all your tech.
The history of scientific pursuits provide rich fodder for us sci-fi writers. So go enjoy your research, your inventing, and your writing!