A decade or so ago, I took a creative writing class. One of the top drawer teachers around, being knowledgeable and full of open-minded energy. I, of course, submitted a science fiction themed story. It amused me more than frustrated me that she had red pen circled “hyperspace” (and a few other similar SF terms), citing I need to explain such things in the story.
These last couple of months I attended a class in Canadian Science Fiction. The class had a full spread of folks, from zero knowledge about SF to a couple like myself who have a black belt in the genre. As a result, each class did at least one dance step around confusing terms and jargon words.
Jargon. There is certainly no list of words to use without explanation or definition. Where is the line? It is a fascinating question to me. What is the base level vocabulary a reader needs before jumping into the pool?
It is not a question endemic to Science Fiction. Every genre requires a specialized vocabulary:
“Saddle up a cayuse and go check the dry wash in the north for stray dawgies. Better pack some iron in case those bushwhackin’ polecats is still in these parts.”
“The COD for the vic was a single gunshot to the chest. We found prints and residue on the vic, so it was up close and personal execution.”
Westerns and crime-mysteries have an advantage in that movies and TV depictions are pretty in-line with their book cousins. The rip-roarin’ space adventures that make up 90% of film science fiction are only a slice of the available material in books.
SF also suffers additional handicaps in that much of its jargon is totally made up. Somewhere in the back aisles of time, some author had the privilege of coining the term “Hyperspace” for the very first time…and explaining it to his readers. (hmmm…I wonder who that was?) If there is any focus on the ‘science’ of science fiction, making it hard and crunchy, then the reader has to be something of a polymath to follow a story devoted to exploring biology, a story involving engineers building a ship and a story revolving around astrophysicists finding a new planet.
I guess the key safeguard is to have quality beta readers to go thru that first draft to not just spot structural holes and plot flaws, but to circle “Slip Space” in red pen and say it needs defining. Clumsy writers stop the story to stiffly explain the term. Good writers slip in hints and context so I somehow know what Slip Space is without even being aware of being taught.