This delightful word was originally coined in the fifties to describe deliberately confusing bureaucratic jargon. Since then, science fiction writers have co-opted the term for the scientific background you feed your readers to explain the ways in which your world differs from reality. It’s the bafflegab that persuades your readers to suspend disbelief.
It’s most often used in science fiction, of course, but other genres use bafflegab as well. Fantasy novels require a magic that behaves according to rules – what might be called metaphysical bafflegab. Some romance novels now require an explanation of where vampires come from and how they live. Even historical novels rely on something similar. People who lived in the middle ages would probably find the world of many medieval mysteries unfamiliar, if only for the shortage of lice. But that’s not a problem as long as the world is convincing enough to satisfy modern readers. After all, in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare had Cassius say, “The clock hath stricken three,” twelve centuries before the mechanical clock was invented.
How much bafflegab you need depends on your audience. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy needed much less in the way of explanation than, say, Jennifer Wells’ Fluency. Being lighthearted lets Douglas Adams deal with alien languages by having his characters stick a small fish in their ear rather than bringing in a linguistic expert, as Wells does. If your readers are into your romance for the dark, dangerous love interests, you don’t really have to go into detail on the biology or ecology of your vampires.
Bear in mind, too, that you can often cut down on the bafflegab by using IJD technology. (How does the spaceship travel faster than light? It Just Does.) We don’t think about the details of internal combustion engines when we’re driving to work. In fact, I’m told most people never think about the details of internal combustion engines at all, though I have trouble believing that. In the same way, people in the future won’t think about how the warp drive works every time they fire it up. So a lot of your background technology can simply remain in the background. [Read more…]