Computer Archaeology

Eldron, his head thumping as he ran out of ox, pumped furiously at the manual override to close the emergency hatch. As he felt it go limp, he let himself slip into the briefest of blackouts. Minutes later, his suit started to recharge as the slowly turning hulk presented the airlock window sunnyside. As the shielding was no longer needed, the purifiers could work, and Eldron rose unsteadily back into consciousness. He remembered catching sight of the red and black markings of the Keeble class hulk and thinking it was time to use up the last of his luck. The damn things lasted a long time, but it didn't seem all that likely that he could get it running. The computers used BLANE... if his aching memory remembered right. He could remember about BLANE. It was good stuff, they said, but it was ancient history even when he had been back at school. Time, thought Eldron, for some archaeology.

I have this idea for some old school scifi. I was thinking about the way that age is used as proof of authenticity, and the way that in science-fiction and fantasy, authenticity is the rarest of all commodities. Authors achieve authenticity when their readers know the worlds in which their stories are set as well as they do. Eventually, authenticity gives way to authority - such as in the Diskworld series - where the author hardly needs to work on the setting at all.

So how can you go about creating authenticity? In fantasy it isn't too hard to use age as a source. Tolkien is the absolute archetype of this, creating a world with thousands of years of history, language, culture and mythology which acts as a backdrop for and a source of the events in LOTR. But what if you want to set your story in the far future? George Lucas famously cheats, with the famous opening crawl of Star Wars telling us that the futuristic events we are about to see take place a long time ago. Instant authenticity, in a jar.

Way to go Mr Lucas, ya wimp.

The snippet above is a teaser for an idea I have to combine two things - one is my affection for the shaky science of old school scifi, and the other is the idea that if your future setting talks about lots of old stuff, you give it authenticity. In the example above, BLANE is a disk operating system. Eldron is the sort of astronaut you get in old school; he isn't a square jawed test pilot, he's an engineer. He is about to realize that his survival may depend on his ability to understand old tech - rather like an engineer from Toshiba who discovers that his survival depends on his understanding of steam locomotives.

No comments: