Teching the Tech
Charlie Stross does a little venting over a comment of former Star Trek: The Next Generation writer (and later Battlestar Galactica producer) Ron Moore, in which Moore reveals that the writers on ST:TNG didn’t bother to actually insert any science into their fiction:
He described how the writers would just insert “tech” into the scripts whenever they needed to resolve a story or plot line, then they’d have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.
“It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories,” Moore said. “It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we’d just write ‘tech’ in the script. You know, Picard would say ‘Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.’ I’m serious. If you look at those scripts, you’ll see that…
“It’s a rhythm and it’s a structure, and the words are meaningless. It’s not about anything except just sort of going through this dance of how they tech their way out of it.”
Charlie’s vent is worth the price of admission, so I won’t summarize it here and will instead encourage you to click through and read it on your own. My own thoughts on this are:
1. I think it was already pretty obvious that ST:TNG was “teching the tech” quite a bit, since the solution to almost any major problem was to discover a new type of particle that, if it were reversed through the deflector, just might get the Enterprise out of that time loop/gravitational funnel/the event horizon of the writer’s lack of technical imagination. In other words, it was clear the science was pretty inorganic relative to the rest of what went on in the show.
2. At this point in my life (and, really, for the last quarter century at least), I simply make the assumption that film and television science fiction is going to hump the bunk on the “plausible extrapolation” aspect of their science, and factor that in before I start watching. This allows me to both not want to murder the writers when the bad science shows up, and to be pleasantly surprised when it’s not bad. But, yes, when you admit that Star Trek has as much to do with plausibly extrapolated science as The A-Team has to do with a realistic look at the lives of military veterans, life gets easier. This is particularly the case with the new Star Trek film, which is a “teching the tech” exercise if there ever was one.
Meta to this is the discussion of why we have to accept that film/tv SF is riding the shortbus — there’s no actual reason it has to be that way — but let’s not get into that right at the moment.
3. All of that said, and to move into my own personal experience in televised science fiction, one of the things I can say about Stargate: Universe is that its writers aren’t “teching the tech” — when the scripts get to me as the consultant, the parts with the science are already written in and part of the plot. I tweak those parts to make them more plausible when necessary; what I don’t do is just spew some jargon into the script because the writer couldn’t be arsed to do it him or herself.
I’m not going to say every bit of science or tech in SG:U is brilliant — I’ve mentioned before that the goal is to get the audience through the episode, not to rigorously test scientific hypotheses — or that we’re going to get it right in every case. What I am going to say is that when we do get it wrong, we fail honestly, and not because we just teched the tech. It’s not that difficult to make an effort in that direction.