Info Dumps

29 03 2010

The OldDog made a post over at Never So Few where he talked about explaining technology in the course of a novel in progress. I am only somewhat in agreement with what he said.

One of the joys of reading Heinlein was always the way he explained the future without dwelling on the technology but without omitting it entirely. And yes he made some mistakes. Still it was reading about slide-rules used to make some points about how reaction engines worked in space, done several times in his juveniles, that made me cough up a dollar of my paper route money when I was in the seventh grade and buy my own from my junior high book store. Never used the thing then but it served me well a couple of years later taking chemistry in high school and beyond.

Today most people claim that Heinlein talked about the future as if we all knew the background and he left it out so the story flowed without pause for this background detail. Almost right, is the way I look at it. What he did do was throw in the science in a way that made it seamless to the storyline, that was the true mark of his genius.

In the chapter of A Very Blue Moon I am working on I want to use a tactical ploy that has to do with the way the handwavium FTL drive used in the Cardoman universe works. I have talked about the drive in four books without ever going into great detail. Standard stuff — got to be out of a gravity well to use it and then some constraints on how different classes of ships perform both in and out of this semi-classic “Hyper Space.”

I am looking at the detail info dump I am using the same way I would look at clues in a mystery. Tell just enough that a reader looking at the clues might figure out what you are going to do before it happens. And do it conversationally rather than as a list of rules or an engineering diagram. Keep it too a few paragraphs and then move on. That is how Heinlein did it and that is better than good enough for me. All in all I was enough of a geek that I did kinda’ like the info dump in most of the SF i read so long as it did not violate anything that was too outlandish.

That is my “Mea Culpa” for chapter 6 and now all I need to do is finish writing it. Half way home so real soon now.

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