How some future tech will work part 1

There are certain technologies that are common in science fiction stories, ones television shows almost all depict working in specific ways that make no sense. Now there are good meta reasons for this, but nonetheless the problems exist and you should be aware of them.

Translators
This category is both the universal translators from Star Trek and more mundane ones that have certain languages programmed and can translate them for you (what we are able to sorta make today).

The thing about real life translators is that they almost always have to wait for the end of a sentence before they can translate. Languages are not all structured the same, for example in English you almost always put the noun before the verb “Josh is going to the store”. Whereas in most other languages it works the other way around “To the store Josh is going”. You can’t do a word for word translation because it would come out sounding like you were Yoda.

This means that a conversation between two people with translators would go something like this;

Josh speaks a sentence in English while Aldo waits.
Josh finishes the sentence then waits while Aldo listens to it in Spanish.
Aldo speaks in Spanish, Josh waits.
Aldo finishes speaking then Josh listens to the sentence in English

Everything would take twice as long because everything would be spoken twice, once in each language. And that assumes that things like tone could be gotten across, if not it could take longer and require both sides to speak more clearly then they would otherwise have to do.

Even if we are talking about universal translators that can read your mind (like a babble fish) most people think in the language they are speaking. That is one of the steps to being truly fluent in a language after all, I doubt that would really gain you much speed.

Communicators
I will be the first the admit this is minor, and a pet peeve of mine, primarily from Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) style communicators. However they are not the only ones to make mistakes of this kind.

If you have watched any ST:TNG you know how the comm badge works: you hit the badge and say the name of the person you want to talk to and you can talk to them, the other person hears you ask for them as their badge chirps.

The problem with this is that before you said the person’s name the badge had no idea who you were going to ask to talk to, so how did they hear you ask to talk to them? Does it play a recording of you asking to talk to them? That seams very inefficient.

A better way would be this
*Picard hits his comm badge*
“Commander Data”
*It Chirps to let the Captain know the connection has been made*
“This is the Captain…”

Data would only hear the part after the chirp, so the Captain would have to say who he was twice. Again Star Trek is bad about this but they are not the only ones. If you want your world to be real then you have to think about things like this work, if something is used often enough and its done wrong often enough it will cause you problems.

Voice Recognition
This is something that later Trek did very well and early scifi often did badly oddly enough.

Anyone who has tried to used voice recognition instead of typing has learned that it is not that fast. Most people can type faster then they can talk, particularly when your talking about responding while taking data in.

I can’t listen to one person, while talking to them. However I can read something or watch some dials while using some controls or typing.

Using voice commands as an additional way of inputting data, particularly when your already maxing yourself out using your hands does make sense. Using your voice as a primary way of imputing data is just too slow, and I don’t see it being used that much.

Government structures are reactionary

One thing you will be doing when writing Science Fiction is creating governments, something that I think is not done as well as it could be. Often writers just take current governments, scale them up then transplant them. This I think is a wasted opportunity.

One lesson that history teaches is that when a people are writing a constitution, and deciding what basic shape their society should take it is almost certainly going to be reactionary. People are going to see the problems they had with the previous government and want to avoid them. The entire US Bill of Rights is written in this way, each one is something that the British did that the colonies did not like and did not want to happen ever again.

That in fact was why the US’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave the federal government almost no power. It could not even tax, the only source of income it had was from selling land it owned.

To understand the reasoning for the new government all you have to understand is what the sentiment is for the old one. This is why I say that government structures are reactionary, they almost always reflect what the people don’t want to see again.

The point of the post is this; If a people were starting a colony and were mostly happy where they were from I would expect to see them create a government similar to their home. However the odds are they would not be, you don’t become a colonist if you’re happy and content with life were you were born. If your leaving everything you know you have to have a good reason, it could be anything from too much religious freedom (pilgrims) to wanting more upward mobility (much of the early American immigrants) to almost anything else.

So when your talking about setting up a new government think about what problems the first generation had with its previous government, think about what they disliked and why they left. This is where you can get a lot of drama and some real world building.

Religious colonies are nothing new, all you have to do is open a history book to see examples, I think going in directions that are new would be more interesting. Even within the confines of a representative republic there is a lot of room for new and interesting governments.

Maybe a nation was founded by people who hate large corporations and don’t want them to form. How would they do that? And just as importantly what problems would that cause? How do they deal with colonies from other systems?

Or a colony was founded by the super rich who want a place away from taxes and oversight. They might create a system where bills are voted on by money, or your vote counts for more if your richer.

All government systems are flawed, no matter the one in place a large number of people will dislike it. And never forget your a writer, you want problems, even small ones can be useful.

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (6/10 stars)

First the effects are amazing, both from the technical point of view and the artistic. You really do get the sense of a whole world that is only somewhat like ours.

The best analogy I can think of is Jupiter Rising, except it was done much better.

The basic plot does meander, several times the main characters veer to an area that had no effect on the main plot and does not tell you anything you have to know. This is done because the movie obviously values world building as much as it does plot. Despite this it does not and probably could not explain everything, or even most things.

For example it is never explained how Valerian could be a major with at least nine years of experience. It is implied at one point that they can put you in a box and de-age you but it is never said. The way the main characters are treated also implies this, their age is never remarked upon, they appear to be normal agents from how others interact with them. It could be that age is cosmetic, you are literally as young as you want to be.

The world that the movie builds is very large and complicated with a large amount of technology that is so far above us it might as well be magic. Trying to tell us what they all are and what they all do would not be practical.

Honestly the main problem I have with the movie is with the chemistry between the main characters, or the lack of it. It was established that Valerian does value his partner and would risk anything to save her just because she is his partner. At best it comes as more of a intellectual attraction then anything else.

When all is said and done however I just don’t think the whole romance sub plot was needed. The purpose of romance in such a movie is normally as a driver for the plot, to provide a reason for the characters to be moving in the directions they are moving. In this case it was not needed.

I would recommend that you see the movie if the art and world building look interesting. If you looking for a character piece or a logic puzzle then I would probably wait for it to come to Netflix.

On IMBD

Aliens

Often what writers do when they try and make aliens really alien is to make them incomprehensible, they act is ways that don’t make any sense to the characters. This will often fall flat, there are certain things that even aliens must have if they have a technological civilization (Note that if a race was uplifted these need not apply).

First they must have a survival instinct, if they give up on life too easily they would hardly still exist.

They also must have a sense of community, a need for social contact. You can’t build a civilization working by yourself. They would almost certainly have to raise their kids.

Third and most important they must be curious, if they are not they would never do any science, they might never even get to the fire and wheels stage.

They also have to be both intelligent and rational enough to do the science and engineering needed to get out into space. We may meet aliens that we can’t have a talk about love with, but I doubt we will meet aliens we can’t talk about math with.

The thing is though that your aliens need to be different, but still have the above and still able to interact with humans to some degree (or they would probably not exist in your story).

For my money there are really only two things you need to decide; goals and motives. Everything else will take care of itself.

First give your aliens some goal, something that we can understand, but may not know, something we would not do ourselves. For example the Borg in Star Trek have a simple goal “Multiply” that is really it, everything they do supports that one goal.

Their motive is “To achieve perfection” not that they define perfection like we do, but they don’t have to think like we do.

One of the reasons the borg are so effective as villains is that you know why are doing what they are and that they will never stop. They are a force of nature that you can’t even hope to reason with.

There are any number of motives and goals you could give your aliens but the most important thing is that YOU understand them. You don’t have to tell the reader but if you don’t understand them then they will probably not make any sense to anyone. As a rule simple is best, it should be something that can be expressed in one sentence.

One way to get across this difference when dealing with them on screen is the way they talk. Don’t have them talk like a human, have it clear that whatever is translating is having to work hard. The best example of this I can think of is the Vorlons from Babylon 5. When they speak you hear a set of almost musical notes then something like “The avalanche has already started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote”.

You don’t have to go that far but it should be clear that the person talking is not human even if they are using a translator.