I need a new word
Or possibly an old one, because I’m sure this issue has been discussed before. Something like “MacGuffin,” but with a different meaning. I want a word for “pseudo-scientific rationale that allows science fiction writers to get past known scientific problems with a story.” You know, like positing wormholes to account for FTL travel?
I blame the First Reader and his penchant for watching episodes of old TV series after dinner. Right now he’s hooked on a truly lousy sf series from some fifteen years ago, and he likes me to watch it with him because it’s entertaining to listen to me yelling at the TV. However, he has now issued a blanket ban on my shouting, “And exactly why do these people conveniently speak English?” because that is an issue with every darned episode, every new contact.
I was particularly impressed by the one where an alien survivor who’d been in suspended animation for ten thousand years woke up, was perfectly at home with the current technology (he pushed buttons real well) and, yes, spoke English – a language that hadn’t even existed until thousands of years after he went into his coma. I thought they couldn’t top that one, but last night we saw the episode where somebody time-travels back ten thousand years for a chat with the legendary “Ancients” (I dunno, maybe 10,000 is the only big number the scriptwriters know?) and yes, the Ancients also speak English.
Look, I’m not asking that every SF book or movie give a serious scientific exploration of the problems inherent in learning alien languages. That’s material for plenty of stories in itself, but if it’s not what your story is about, fine, move on. All I ask is some tiny, tiny fig leaf to cover up the nakedness of the hypothesis, a casual wave of the hand in acknowledgment that people who’ve never been exposed to a language are unlikely to speak it without some kind of crutch. A universal translator: “Major, activate the Babel Reverter.” Telepathic transmission/translation. A magic pill… even a magic apple! Come on, writers, it can’t be that hard!
And while they’re at it, could they maybe do something that reassures me the computers of the future aren’t all running Windows 10?
And given the speed with which interface technology has changed just in my lifetime, how about an excuse for how present-day people get the hang of new/alien tech so fast? I’d think that pushing lighted buttons on a piece of far-future equipment might be about useful as trying to physically turn the pages of a Kindle.
Lots of fig leaves wanted here.
I expect the very knowledgeable readers of this blog will be able to supply the word I need. Until then, I guess I’ll use “Figleaf.”