I like my sci-fi, really I do, and having been inducted at the age of eight into this genre, I am more than familiar with the essentials of pseudo-scientific terminology. Heck, I write it myself and I appreciate both the value and the pitfalls of inventing tech-speak to describe something that isn’t yet in existence.
For me, the best tech-speak conveys a sense of familiarity so that, on reading it, I have a feeling I know what this is even though that has to be impossible. The worst offers a stream of multi-hyphenated guff and tells me this is ‘normal’, as in ‘Kraark clicked into the usual teleo-spectro-binswanger protrusion and disappeared in a cloud of pre-insular tachyons‘. Come on, gimme a break!
Sadly, this sort of neologismical nightmare is often the product of minds that either are, or believe themselves to be, superior to the mundane equipment the rest of us possess. People who seem perfectly able to write a half way decent letter or report, go into paroxysms of verbiage when asked to write for entertainment. I know, I’ve done it (give or take the superior mind bit). Fancy footwork that packs in vocabulaic (see what I mean?) excess and delights the author, showy sentences that have so little redundancy of language that you need a scalpel to dissect out the meaning, and purple paragraphs that lilt, roll, undulate, and titillate with the lightness of gossamer made of fine steel, and – where exactly is the verb here? Subject or object anyone?
Well, I’ve done quite a lot of work on myself to expunge this kind of self indulgence and write so that the writing itself is not the message. I’ve learned about ‘show, not tell’, although not always to best effect when it comes to the practical, and I’ve pretty much got my clever-cleverness under control most of the time. I’ve let it off the leash a bit in this post for the purposes of illustration (so just imagine what I can do if I really mean it!) and because I believe I’ve been out garbaged by a Hugo Award nominee.
Yes. Up for a major prize. That sort of Hugo Award nominee.
Admittedly this was an audio podcast and so keeping track was more difficult as the presentation has its own pace and narrator delivery style. But even so, it was, to me, a turgid, self important, blind-em-with-science agglutination of made-up verbiage that lectured and postured its way to a blindingly obvious conclusion. But it got some good reviews, people who liked the style, people who thought it was smart and intricate. And it’s up for an award.
So what do I make of this? Emporer’s New Clothes or am I missing something maybe? I think not. I think the people who liked it have the same apparent need to show superiority as the author (this man claims to have a PhD in cognitive sciences and linguistics and to be a university academic) so their appreciation is based on a kind of intellectual snobbery. Some years ago, a one-off study showed that academics at a conference rated most highly a deliberately incomprehensible lecture, thereby illustrating what we all know to be true – no-one likes to be thought an idiot. I suspect the same may be true in this situation, pseudo-scientific twaddle being accepted on the basis of the apparent credentials of the author and rated accordingly.
So, where do I go from here then? Clever-clever comes easy, been doing it for years, and since I’ve also got a PhD handy, I reckon I might be able to knot up enough punters to get myself a reasonable, if perpetually bemused, following. But that’s not what it’s about is it? Since getting to grips with my florid and verbally dense passages, making a conscious effort at dialogue, and at least nodding towards the ‘show’ imperative, I’ve been much more satisfied with my writing and happier with the product so I’ll not be going back other than in momentary lapses and happy indulgences such as today.
I won’t half be narked though if that undeconstructible, hyper-formal, word-saladic, pomposificatory, faux techno baffle-babble wins!
21 thoughts on “Hugo Nominee – are we suckered by techno-twaddle?”
Love this post! I’ve had similar scenarios involving different genres and understand your annoyance. Just think how much better your book will be? I’ll read it. 🙂
Thank you, I reckon I’m in good company then! I’m still gonna spit feathers if that pile of congealed conceit gets past any sort of judge at all!
I’m glad to hear this opinion from someone else. Escape Pod’s been nice enough to produce as many Hugo nominees each year as they can get rights for but I’ve been left unimpressed by almost all of them most years. I mean, they’re friggin HUGO nominees, so my expectations are raised very high! Usually there’s one that I think is amazing and 4 that range from merely average down to pure drivel. Luckily the amazing one has generally been the one that wins so my faith is somewhat restored by that.
It’s hard to really find anyone to blame. I mean, it’s easy to bitch about the Oscars because the people judging them are a select few who on your average year apparently live under rocks, unaware of what is happening around them. But the Hugo voters are huge amounts of average people who either attend or donate to Worldcon. Which is another topic in itself–I think it’s a little rude to say “Anyone can vote for the winners–as long as you pony up the dough.” I’ve never voted because I don’t really feel like chipping in the money just to have my vote drowned out by the masses.
Hey, nice to see you here! Hope the unveiling wasn’t too much of a shock, revealing as it does the quantities of ‘fi’ with rather less ‘sci’ than might have been anticipated! As to the HUGOs, the only one that gets my vote, and it really would if I felt like stumping up any ponies, is ‘Spar’ which most people seemd to find quite repulsive. I wonder if any views would change were the MC male rather than female, had it been read by a male and not a female narrator, or had there been any indication of the gender of the alien. The question is psychologically fascinating.
Now that’s very interesting, because Spar isn’t my pick–Bridesicle is. Spar could have been great but the author didn’t know where to quit. As a piece of flash fiction, a few hundred words, it could’ve been amazing, pow here’s the premise, pow here’s the implications, pow it’s over before you have time to recover from the initial shock. Instead, it hit with the premise, and the implications, and then repeated itself dozens of times, irritating me with its unceasing repititiveness. For me that’s a case where less would most definitely have been more.
But flash fiction generally seems to be looked down upon by the community at large ( a real shame because that seems to be the only thing I write lately), so I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have gotten the popular vote if it had been a flash piece.
That would have been my next but it just felt a little too convenient somehow and not unsettling enough to keep my attention. ‘Spar’ did what none of the others did in that it used its repetition and desolation to emphasise the dehumanisation of the apparent victim. Rather like ‘Waiting for Godot’, the whole point is the draining introspection and lack of resolution which I’m pleased did not get tidied up at the end. I’m not impressed by deliberately vague plots or those that seek to go nowhere just because it’s somehow clever to leave an audience guessing, but I was unusually impressed by the psychological depth of this tale. Whatever it was grabbed me, it clearly turned everyone else off though so, again, I have cause to wonder about my own inner workings!
“Hope the unveiling wasn’t too much of a shock, revealing as it does the quantities of ‘fi’ with rather less ‘sci’ than might have been anticipated!”
Btw, I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that you write other fiction besides SF? Well, good. For me, contemporary fantasy is the majority of my stuff, with a few SF, a few mainstream. 😀
Yep, there’s all sorts of stuff on the ‘Mostly Harmless’ page. Pretty much all of it is 500 words or fewer and prompted by exercises for the OU short course in writing fiction which I really enjoyed and benefited from. Quite fancy a Master’s at some point but a little too over-subscribed just now which means I’ll have to sit on my hands if I see anything while I’m on leave or I’ll be signed up, paid up, and monumentally stuffed for the next two years!
If you like writing exercises you might like Liberty Hall Writer’s Forum. Of particular interest is their weekly Flash Challenge. You are given a prompt and then you have 90 minutes to write a story from scratch. I’ve found it very useful to get the creative side going–that time limit keeps you from overthinking everything which is my usual problem. 🙂
Thanks for that. Might keep me out of trouble for a while 🙂
This isn’t really relevant to the Hugo discussion, but since I can’t yet tell you which of the Escape Pod flash stories are mine I thought I’d share a link to a published flash story of mine. 🙂
Oof! I’m with the flaccid alien, the humans have got it coming I think. You’d have to hope that if any of us, from whichever direction, encountered an alien species, we’d be a little mature about how we conduct our enquiries. I’d especially hope that if I turned out to be the alien.
Actually, I side more with the alien as well. Most readers seem to sympathize more with the scientist, for some reason.
I just saw which story was yours over on Escape Pod. Condolences, but I’m glad you submitted. Twas good to meet you. 🙂
No condolences necessary, I got far more votes than I’d expected so it was a real triumph! Good to meet you too, I’m sure our paths will cross pseudopodically in the future:)
Well, good to see you’re not too broken up about it. Did you have another EP entry? If so, good luck!
Btw, one of the Pseudopod finalists is my story, though of course I can’t tell you which one yet. 🙂
I’ll go right over there and take a look. Congratulations on getting into the final batch – nail biting!
No, I don’t have any others this time round but next year (if it is next year), watch out, I’m coming in locked and loaded!
Ach, the final Pseudopod tally is complete, and I got voted off.
Aw, bum! Well you got heck-ovva-far so good onya!
“I think the people who liked it have the same apparent need to show superiority as the author (this man claims to have a PhD in cognitive sciences and linguistics and to be a university academic) so their appreciation is based on a kind of intellectual snobbery.”
I, too, have seen this in action far too many times, and not just with SF.
Just seen I’ve mis-spelled Emperor. There’s come-uppance for you! It’s a bit concenring though that this sort of florid nonsense gets the following it does. Still, if I fail at the genuine articles, I probably have a career in writing DIY manuals!