Writing Technology: Keepin’ it Real

Do you remember watching those early SCI/FI TV shows where a boxy robot would tap it’s bulky metal hand on a Lite Brite? Then the ship would move or a door would open into another dimension.  Now do you remember Star Trek the Next Generation? Captain Picard had a tablet that foreshadowed the iPad. Mmmm. Captain Picard. Anyway. What’s my point? If you’re going to make technology a major part of your story, it needs to be right and it needs to be plausible.

If you’re writing Science Fiction or a thriller about computer security specialists trying to stop cyber attacks, Technology almost has to become one of your characters. I’ll use Maialen Tate, a bio-integrator from my Urban Fantasy series The Mutant Casebook as an example. Maialen is an empath with technological implants in her body. These implants allow her to bond with technology and manipulate it. I used my familiarity with Information Technology to really bring Maialen to life. I also made her plausible by using existing technology and exploring it’s as of yet undiscovered potential.

I started off as a computer programmer and used to earn a living writing code in seven different programming languages. I’ve designed database systems and…wait. Are you still awake? Why am I giving you my resume? I’m trying to illustrate a point. I no longer write code or design software systems for a living. My computer skills are obsolete and so are most computer books you purchase to do research. Or at least they will be in about a year.  If you are going to make your technology credible, it’s best to talk with an expert. Most techies will help you out for a Red Bull and free food (You know I love ya, my Techie brethren!).  I won’t guarantee that you will understand every word they say. It might pay to have someone who speaks Techie and can translate for you like a Business Analyst or IT Project Manager. You’ve probably run into these folks as they trawl the break room for chocolate and ibuprofen. 

A final thought. If you are writing a Science Fiction Novel about Androids and cyber worlds, but you can’t find the “Any Key” on your laptop, maybe reconsider leaning heavily on technology in your novel. If possible, allude to it rather than focus on the technical details. Let readers enjoy the story without getting hung up on the potential mistakes in your research.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Technology: Keepin’ it Real

  1. I think you are out of date… In a nice way. Now, in Palo Alto, it’s designer coffees and perfectly pulled espresso rather than red bull. Which is a good trend in my opinion, but it’ll set you back a little more than a red bull or a Monster.

    Arizona Tea is still around though…

    I was also interested in the tablet from Next Gen when rewatching it. They also had flat screens as opposed to the monstrous CRTs in the original run (and tape… so much tape… oh how I miss my 300mb tape backup disks).

    If I were to suggest a place to look for inspiration, I would suggest MAKE magazine and their website. It’s amateur but it’s also cutting edge in a lot of ways. In some ways, I think it’s more cutting edge (and realistic) than a lot of the shows and magazines about the future of technology that promise things that never come about. I can’t help but laugh at what those magazines in the 90s and 80s thought we would be driving. It sure as hell isn’t my Dodge Neon sedan. And they wouldn’t have DARPA challenge radar technology involved in crash detection built into the console of a Toyota.

    So I guess I would suggest homebrew websites, hacker groups (like Sector 67 here in Madison where you can go and ask direct questions to tech savvy nerds that know how to TIG weld), DARPA and other military research.

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