Welcome back, pagerinos! Jeremy here, with this week’s blog post! This week, we’re talking technobabble.
Technobabble is a “beloved” trope of science fiction and fantasy. It’s the tedious stringing together of sciencey-sounding gobbledegook. You know: “Reverse the polarity of the forward deflector array to create an inverse tachyon pulse!” In fantasy, it often takes the form of made-up fantasy words for people, places and things, and/or deliberately archaic grammar or diction. Bonus points if they’re needlessly long and full of apostrophes. For example: “Ho, Walaxtatet! We near the great Castle of No’wurbolobaz, seat of the Kings of Smfyakj.”
Used well, technical jargon can create a sense of verisimilitude. You get the sense characters really know what they’re talking about. If the writer’s done their research, using specific language and doling it out sparingly can make technical terms make sense, by giving them context. (Even in the above Star Trek example, I have some idea that they’re messing with the force fields that protect the ship, to protect them from a new danger, maybe something to do with time since they mention “tachyons”.)
When used poorly, technobabble is a comically meaningless jumble of word-salad that makes even fans of the genre roll their eyes (if they haven’t already glazed over.) This is a real problem if the reader has to understand your technobabble to understand your story.
So what does this have to do with The Kingkiller Chronicle podcast?
Knowing exactly what the Second Catalytic Chemical Binding is, and what it does, isn’t really important for the story we’re being told. But it is useful worldbuilding for us to know that there are numerous technical terms for sympathy techniques, and useful character building for us to know that Kvothe has memorized them. Rothfuss makes sure we understand the basic mechanics of sympathy, and uses the technobabble to add flavour, and make it distinct from naming.
When it comes to made up fantasy words, Rothfuss usually keeps his short, and familiar sounding. Even when they get weird and hard to pronounce, like Telwyth Mael, they resemble somewhat familiar languages. (I mention it in one of our episodes, but Telwyth Mael and other related fae-words have a very Welsh sound, to me.)
Rothfuss also never throws unfamiliar words at us all a-jumble – that’s stopped me from reading more than one highly recommended fantasy series, and he’s clever about giving us context to help understand what the words mean without having to literally explain them. (It’s clear that the Telwyth Mael are either a people or a place, but also it’s not crucial that we know exactly what the deal is.)
Uh oh. Nick and Jordana are coming for me with the vaudeville hook. Care to weigh in, listen/readers, before I’m hauled offstage?