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Or are they?

You know the ones I mean.  Those little throw-away details which don’t actually contribute to the plot.  Like this one, from the article I was talking about yesterday:

The experts assembled by the Hansard Society, in a windowless conference room in an obscure corner of the Parliamentary estate, were divided on this one.

Does it matter that the conference room had no windows?  I can’t think of any reason for it to affect anything that follows.  Likewise it doesn’t really matter that the conference room was in an obscure corner.  What matters is that experts were assembled to discuss the issue, and that they were divided.

Except that the little details contribute to the overall feel of the piece.  We know, from those few words, that the meeting was not the most important that went on that day.  It has the feel of being slightly hidden, slightly shunned by most normal folk.  The idea they were discussing is not taken seriously by parliamentarians.

What little details have you included in your work lately, to build atmosphere, or give background information to your readers?

The New Scientist’s Feedback page gives a slightly humourous look at the science world.  This is what they have to say about digital TV:

The UK’s last analogue TV transmitter, in Northern Ireland, is to be turned off on 24 October, rendering a whole range of metaphors outmoded. Tim points to the opening sentence of William Gibson’s Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the colour of a television, tuned to a dead channel.” Once a cloudy grey, that will now be deep blue.

It made me wonder, what other metaphors are there which won’t make sense in the future?

My husband’s favourite example is from Homer, who refers to the sea as “wine-dark” and the sky “bronze”.  This, it is theorised, has something to do with ancient Greeks having a slightly different colour perception, rather than differences in technology, but the principle is the same.  Once a common perception, it now makes no sense.

Can you think of any metaphors or other phrases which won’t make sense once technology (or human evolution) progresses further?

Putting Children Off

Teachers are concerned that children in primary schools (that’s age 5 to 11 for those from foreign parts) are being put off reading for pleasure by the time they reach the top end of their school.  74% of teachers polled said that children did not spend enough time reading outside of the classroom.

The article also gives some guidance on what types of stories those readers are likely to enjoy – action, crime, fantasy, horror and adventure.  No surprises there then.

Another ariticle on the BBC talks about the low literacy rate in Welsh secondary schools (that’s age 11 to 16).  Apparently, most of them can read – although up to 40% start secondary school unable to read “properly” – but not fluently enough to really apply the skill in other subject areas.  I only hope that the literacy co-ordinators that they will be appointing have read the first article and don’t limit themselves to actions in the secondary schools!

Teaching Reading

A third article examines the system of Synthetic Phonics, which is the current government-approved method of teaching reading.  Phonics is contraversial, as some believe it doesn’t teach children to “read” but to “decode” writing, which is less fluent.  Not only that, but

The books that have been devised in order to support synthetic phonics offer a restrictive diet, says Lambirth.

So here we have a contraversial system for teaching reading, with a limited selection of books that they can use to learn with.  No wonder children aren’t learning to read for pleasure.

One of the contraversial things about it is the use of made-up words to test whether children can decode properly.  Children will be asked to read words such as “terg” or “thazz”.  It might confuse some children, but it does provide an early look at reading scifi… maybe they could include “grok”.

Some Thoughts

Clearly more, better books are needed for children in all age ranges.

Not only that, but books which are phonics-friendly will likely get used more in schools, at least in the UK.  If you’re planning to write something for children, it’s a good idea to do some research.  How are children taught to read in your country?  Are there any special considerations you should think about because of that?

Enhanced humans.  Superhumans.  Mutants.  Whatever you call them, they are much more powerful than us.  When there are enough of them to form a society, inevitably they will have a name for us.  Here are a selection:

  • Norms
  • Muggles (Harry Potter)
  • Mundanes
  • Deaf (for telepaths)
  • Monkey-boys (Men in Black)
  • Outmodes (Robots)
  • Mud People (Artemis Fowl)
  • Mud Monkeys (Supernatural)
  • Man Animals (Battlefield Earth)
  • The Retarded (Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space)
  • Clumsies (Disney Faries)
  • Sheep

Can you think of any more?  Leave them in the comments.

We’ve all come across them.  Practically every science fiction novel since the 80s contains them in some form or another.  No spaceship is complete without them.  They go by many names.  Here are just some of them:

  • Datapad (Star Wars)
  • Data Slate (Warhammer 40k)
  • PADD (Personal Access Display Device) (Star Trek)
  • Infotab (Shortened from Information Tablet)
  • Datacard
  • Pocket Computer (Asimov’s “The Feeling of Power”, Niven and Pournelle’s “The Mote in God’s Eye
  • News Pad (Clarke’s “2001, A Space Odyssey”)
  • Dynabook (Alan Kay – but this one isn’t fiction)

Can you think of any more?  Name them in the comments!

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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