Grappling with sci-fi jargon

A friend and I were discussing the phenomena of sci-fi jargon that so many books and stories use. Personally, I find that it can tedious when it’s overdone. My guess is that it started somewhere around the time of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s deemed to be something of a classic. It certainly has the accolades. Wikipedia gives this description, “Neuromancer is a 1984 novel by William Gibson, a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre and the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.[1] It was Gibson’s debut novel and the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy. The novel tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack.” That’s a good synopsis. As I recall, the book is set far into the future but no exact date is given. Neuromancer is one of those sci-fi books that are fraught with pseudo jargon. Check out this passage,

“The gate blurred past. He laughed. The Sense/Net ice had accepted his entry as a routine transfer from the consortium’s Los Angeles complex. He was inside. Behind him, viral sub-programs peeled off, meshing with the gate’s code fabric, ready to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it arrived.”

That’s actually a mild example, and you find yourself wishing you had a glossary to help you figure out what he’s talking about. But it is highly imaginative stuff and was clearly the seed for a lot of science fiction that followed, including The Matrix.

When you are creating a work of future fiction a certain amount of new lingo is an imperative. Look how language alone has change in just the last ten years. Twenty years ago, terminology like GPS, GSM, and iTunes were unheard of, and street slang was a completely different animal. So, to some degree, newspeak is required. Don’t look for my graphic novel to contain a Gibsonian level of verbal texturing however. It’s too much work for the reader and me. While I’ve invented a few words, some slang and such, most of them have some conjunctive grounding in present tense origins, so the reader can figure it out without a glossary.

I welcome more examples of sci-fi speak. Send them along.


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