SF Sunday: intricately detailed worlds etc

I was having a grand old discussion about space-elevators (originally called sky-hooks) with my DBH last night, in particular how Arthur C. Clarke managed to flub some of the construction-tech in Fountains of Paradise, and how Charles Sheffield’s more accurate construction-tech in his almost simultaneously published space-elevator novel was mocked for not being the same as Clarke’s even after Clarke said “hey, actually he got it right”.

We ended up discussing our different approaches to the so-called “hard” SF novels i.e. novels where a plausible future technology is a major aspect of both the background (the “worldbuilding”) and plays a key part in the development of the narrative as well.

My DBH adores those authors who provide oodles of intricate engineering details of their plausible future technology, whereas while I don’t mind that being there, I do tend to skim those sections to just get a broad picture until it gets to the characters actually doing the next interesting thing. I will however often read the oodles-of-detail sections with greater attention on a second reading of the book (I reread a lot, because I read very quickly and I like to get the extra flavour of the bits I skimmed first time around once I’m not distracted by wanting to know what happens next).

The strange thing is, I find the opposite with fantasy novels that go into oodles of intricate detail about their world-building. Perhaps it’s because the fantasy novels tend to focus more on sociological intricacies than technological intricacies. How do others find they approach different types of detailed background material in SF?

Categories: fun & hobbies, technology

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4 replies

  1. I never really liked hard SF until I read the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Sexy, sexy terraforming.

  2. I find that too much focus on the science/tech to the exclusion of the characters turns me off altogether. It should be there, but alluded to, not explained for paragraphs on end. Show me, don’t tell me.

  3. I tend to skim the engineering exposition, but not the sociological exposition, too. I’m not so interested in how it works, but the impact the new technology has on its society, I think. Even on a second reading (like you tigtog, I read for plot the first time, which is often too fast)
    But I’m happy to skip it. Unless it’s a ridiculous amount, it seems reasonable to have it in there for those who are interested.
    It’s the same with many genres – thrillers often have far too much military detail for me, and detective stories (eg Patricia Cornwell) hav efar too much forensic detail.

  4. QoT, with you on the Mars books. KSR strikes a nice balance with the tech exposition and moving the plot along generally.

    I’m not so interested in how it works, but the impact the new technology has on its society, I think.

    That’s it exactly.

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