Ron Moore Decries Star Trek Technobabble

The Star Trek franchise, especially in the TNG era, is well known for its scientific and engineering dialiog, often referred to as ‘technobabble’. Recently when speaking at the New York Television Festival, veteran Star Trek writer/producer and Battlestar Galactica co-creator, Ron Moore spoke about how he became “frustrated” with this aspect of Trek. Watch video of Moore talking tech below.

 

Moore Techs the Tech
video courtesy of SyFy.com

 

Trek’s Top 10 Technobabbles
Here is a tongue-in-cheek (with adult language) compilation of Trek’s top 10 technobabbles from JamesNintendoNerd (aka The Angry Video Game Nerd).

 

 

 

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screaming satellite

i dont know how some of those TNG era actors (esp Spiner) managed to memorise all the Treknobabble…

charliebob

technobabble is an integral part, though can be quite funny.

Gotta love the flux capacitor :)

Tox Uthat

I always loved technobabble.

Eduardo Cordeiro

I don´t see a problem with the Technobabble. By the way, the new movie has technobabble.

I'm dead Jim

They certainly learned how to sell it!

Apart from a fondness for my moniker, I hated all that technobabble… especially when it simply invented a solution to a problem, taking all the “wind” out of the danger. To me, this was always lazy writing, and it never impressed me…

I'm dead Jim

By the way, I was watching the TNG episode “Conspiracy” last night and heard the following exchange between Riker & Geordi:

Riker: “Increase to warp 6.”
Geordi: “Yes sir, full impulse.”

WTF? Geordi was out of frame so I suspect they just added his voice in editing but got the response wrong… or am I misunderstanding the technobabble. I just never noticed this before.

Entropy

Gene Roddenberry said it best “John Wayne never explains how the gun works, he just shoots it” (or something like that) Technobable is an easy way out for writers. Its ” Lets push the purple button twice and the yellow once and wait for the beep”. Problem solved. Its nonsense. I love RDM he has an impressive imagination that he shared with us countless times especially post Star Trek….however, I feel he is the biggest vioaltor when it came to technobablenonsense. Star Trek Generations anyone? (Specifically, how to get the Lakul out of the NExus and so forth.)

Lore

#7 Thats what happens when you put a blind man in the drivers seat.

PJ

#7 thats hilarious

captain_neill

I loved the Technobabble in Star Trek. I always found it cool.

True that Voyager over did it but it never ruined the shows for me.

By the way the scene from Rascals Riker is purposely confusing the Ferengi to aid Picard and crew retake the ship. So Riker’s technobabble was meant to do as it sounded.

I loved the Technobabble and I am sorry the new movie has done away with a lot of it.

-

I like it. It makes Trek feel more real than other SciFi series.

zan

i see no problem,

if a person from 1830 walked into a 2009 high school astronomy class talking about nuclear fusion in a sun, the 1830 person would say its nothing but technobabble!

Ometiklan

I am disappointed that the video doesn’t include the worst scene of technobabble in Trek. In Enterprise when Archer is describing quantum engineering recovered from the future to Trip. The scene goes on and on with no purpose to the technobabble. Normally, it has some kind of point like a “like a balloon that gets over inflated’ translation, but this had none.

I don’t understand how any top 10 technobabble countdown can leave out at least some of the over 9000 examples from Voyager.

13.

I think the issue is that most people don’t talk about nuclear physics on an everyday basis. I doubt even naval personnel on a USN carrier like the Enterprise or the Nimitz go into the details unless they’re an engineer. What concerns them is that it works, not HOW it works.

Not to mention that all of that would actually make sense, whereas in Star Trek and most other science fiction it’s just nonsense thrown out to sound intelligent (to a point that people actually versed in the sciences can easily spot the errors).

I don’t really mind technobabble all that much, but I can see the roots of the complaints.

star trackie

# 2 “technobabble is an integral part, though can be quite funny.”

Was an integral part of the 24th century perhaps. But it had little exposure in the 23rd century. While Geordi would literally waste 5 minutes explaining some cock-eyed technobabblefied solution on how to repair the problem, Scotty would simply fix the problem. Kirk didn’t want to hear how he was going to fix it, he just wanted it fixed. The spin-offs wasted way too much precious story time with that useless mumbo jumbo. I’m thrilled to see it stripped down for the new movie.

Marvin the Martian

Here’s a question…

Is there less technobabble in TOS compared to TNG because…

1) …there was very little of it?
2)… because we’re a more technologically savvy society now and we’re looking from hindsight?

Discuss and give examples.

Robert Bernardo

I like the on-line techobabble generators, like the one at

http://ds10.org/Database/babble.html

My favorite technobabble generator is at

http://hyotynen.kapsi.fi/trekfailure

me

@16:

You probably never heard two computer experts talking to each other.
That is even thousand times worse than ST Technobabble, because the computer experts don’t only use technical terms, they also use thousands of abbreviations.

Technobabble – when it makes scientifical sense and isn’t used as deus ex machina – is great. But you have to use it in the right dose and at the right point of time.
No Captain would ever use technobabble or allow his science officer to use technobabble when talking to him.
However two engineers talking to each other would not do without technobabble, they would not talk in stupid simplifications as if they didn’t know the corrct technical terms, as if they only completed a crash course for dummies.

Dom

Technobabble is nasty pseudo-science and is part of what makes TNG a joke. TOS, beyond the conveniences of (di-)lithium-powered FTL travel, energy/matter conversion/reconversion for teleportation and futuristic zap guns, didn’t need to lie.

When Dr McCoy found a vaccine in Miri, he simply worked out a vaccine. We didn’t need lies to make it sound more believable: the man’s a doctor and he gets on with his job!

Technobabble was part of what led modern Star Trek to seem like some kind of smug self-contained fantasy universe unrelated to ours. Really, most TNG technobabble solutions are no better than the Valeyard trying to blow up a Time Lord jury in Doctor Who with a ‘Megabyte Modem!’

Aqua

I loved the technobabble, I had no trouble remembering it, it made sense to me, and I used to have fun picking out flaws in the technobabble they sometimes used.

god i was a loser then

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

Scotty on tos did use some technobabble. But when he did it it was never over done. It was there for that scene. Like in The Doomsday machine or Elan of Troyus. On Tng I think they always took it a little to far. But when they get it right it was gold. Case in point The best of both worlds 1 and 2 and Q Who.

me

Number 3 doesn’t count, that wasn’t real technobabble, Riker just was fooling the Ferengi.

Izbot

Anyone notice on the Top 10 Technobabble video the text under the first clip reads “That Witch Survives” instead of “That Which Survives”? I thought that was pretty amusing — has the guy who compiled all these clips always thought the title was refering to “That Witch” Losira? Or just a typo?

DJ Neelix

@21 Dom
The TNG era shows used more techno-babble because they were more thoroughly done than TOS. Also, people in the 60s were less educated, and would have gotten a head-ache of all that information. TOS was simply made for less educated people than TNG was.

And how the frak can you call TNG a joke? Believe me, if you ask a non-trekker, then I guarantee you that TOS will be the ST show that they will think is the most ridiculous…

I love ’em all though. I sincerely wish people like you could let go of all your hatred/prejudice and feel the same.

It’s really too bad Ron feels that way. The terminology we came up with wasn’t meaningless; it’s only babble if it doesn’t make any sense. As I’ve been discussing with folks over on John Scalzi’s blog WHATEVER, those of us who understood the science and technology (both present day and 24th century), who helped the writers and producers make sense of the “super science” of Star Trek, tried our damnedest to have it all make sense and be internally consistent. It was up to the writers to make it into drama; was somebody -forcing- them to over-tech it? Not me. Naren Shankar got it; Jeri Taylor could make sense of it and work it in. Even the Stargate folks figured out how to do it, regardless of how many times they took us to the Renaissance Faire planet. Maybe we should have used smaller words in our memos. And just so’s you know, if you heard words like “isogenic” and “metaphasic,” that -wasn’t- us.

There’s a disturbing backlash going on with media SF, where the folks making what are clearly science fiction productions are distancing themselves from the field, proclaiming that their products aren’t SF. Science and technology should be intelligently addressed in SF films and television in the same way that med tech is handled in med shows like House, M.D. or political tech was handled in The West Wing. If you take the science out of SF, you end up with the SF equivalent of Scrubs and not House. It’s time folks treated the source material with a little respect.

Rainbucket

It’s “technobabble” when it’s a substitute for good story writing, as when

1. the plot hinges on made up technology, and/or
2. the resolution hinges on made up technology

You get an unengaging story since the writer can basically invent whatever is needed to get from A to B. De-polarize the subspace deflectors? Ah, of course. We learned something today.

Ron’s BSG still had its moments of technobabble, like the cancer curing properties of Cylon fetal blood, or Leoben’s de-jamming box of blinky lights.

Paramount should hire James Rolfe (AVGN) to make Star Trek XII

Aqua

Welcome Rick. Any thoughts on something I’ve heard floating around about how SF should be split into Science Fiction and Science Fantasy?

Rainbucket

#27 Great to see you here Mr Sternbach. We posted at the same time but my post sort of makes a reply to yours. I don’t think there’s an objection to imaginative technology or a detailed future mythos. It just feels like a cheat when the story is resolved by a fictional ad lib, no matter how consistently crafted. It could be based on the Technology, or on Spock suddenly having a useful Vulcan ability like a forgotten inner eyelid.

It’s like if episodes of a Harry Potter series concluded with someone suddenly remembering or inventing a perfect spell.

bill hiro

I would love to see a Harr Potter movie end with someone holding a wand aloft and crying in a loud voice “DEUS EX MAAAAAAAACHINAAAAAAA”. I assume most of the audience wouldn’t get it, but a handful of people would be dying with laughter.

#30 – I didn’t know there was a governing body that controlled such things. :) Actually, since there isn’t, you can make up your own mind as to what a particular work is.

I’ve always thought of the “field” as the two major parts, science fiction and fantasy. Or fantasy and science fiction; not taking sides as to which is more important. There are plenty of sub-categories, and I’m speaking mainly about literary works, though the umbrella fits to cover comics, art, film/tv, etc. There’s a lot being done and there’s something out there for pretty much every taste. Thanks goodness.

James Durdan

In 100% agreement with Rick. Trek has always had science advisors on board, and while at times the ideas used in the shows have pushed the limit of credulity, at least they TRIED to make sense.

I have to say that Ron Moore seems to have this chip on his shoulder when it comes to Trek. For years while extoling the wonderfulness that is BSG he has also taken time to lambast Trek, in all forms. I have lost a lot of respect for Mr. Moore over the last few years because of these rants.

If you have a problem with “technobabble” then books like Niven’s Ringworld might not be for you. I had to look up some of the stuff in those books to understand some of the concepts that were being discussed and explained and used as plot points. And a lot of it was theoretical and highly entertaining.

Point of fact is that you don’t have science fiction without science. And for the science fiction to be compelling you will have to go beyond modern science and venture off into theoretical sciences. Read some Asimov or Heinlein. You could call a lot of that “technobabble”. Heck, read Jules Verne.

Rick Sternbach explained it perfectly.

#31 – Right. It all depends on how well the story is crafted. Some episodic TV writers can weave the tech into the story, some can’t. I agree that pulling the tech rabbit out of the hat to solve the problem of the week was unsatisfying; it’s sometimes difficult to tell a story of a genuine last-minute brain-spark before the ship gets blown up. I’m the first guy to say that (tech) isn’t the most important thing in a story, and I live and breathe this stuff all the time. But if you’re writing about a space faring civilization that relies on machines and unusual processes (compared to what your average viewer experiences daily), you’d better be prepared to talk about the gizmos as well as who Lt. Jane Doe is dating.

trekkie

Technobabble is mostly a good sign when used intelligently.

It musn’t be used as deus ex machina, but you may create a consistent technological future and you can discuss technology in a SF show. SF always included the hopes and fears people have towards technological progress and therefore some “science” between all the “fiction” is welcome.

Actually I have to say BSG wasn’t enough SF for me. Big parts of the first two season could also have taken place on a US Submarine. And season three & four became too much fantasy (God, Angels…). Either it was a character drama or fantasy, Real Science Fiction episodes were very rare.

AJ

That YouTube video is obnoxious.

I have always found it strange how Moore bashes Trek the way he does. First it’s canon that’s the problem, next it’s technobabble.

I think his issue is called “writer’s block.” He was a major contributor to latter-day Star Trek. It was probably the peak of his career in terms of working in corporate TV. So far, anyway.

SpocksinnerConflict

Jezzzzzz….

He’s not dissing trek.

Can our favorite things in life not have flaws?

DJ Neelix

@33 Rick Sternbach:

I agree, I see no reason for sci/fi to be dumbed down simply because some are afraid to actually learn some things while being entertained.

I know you’ve put a lot of care and effort in the technology of (the golden era of) Star Trek and I salute you for that.

Phil

Finally, RDM said it. The mountains of venom spewed because die hards didn’t like the new Enterprise overlooked the obvious – no amount of techno babble will ever wish the image on the screen into real life…ever. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the decline in viewership in Star Trek was correlated to the rise of techno-speak. Most people will watch Sci-Fi when the tech is in support of the story, as the latest Trek flick demonstrated. When the story supports the techno babble, you lose your audience…fast, because it’s bad story telling.

19 – Thanks for the hilarious technobabble generator link.

How’s this for one? “Unresolvable Plotpoints Resolverator.

#40 – Thanks for that. We tried. A lot of the Trek 24th century science and technology was really established as a set of basic rules, so that we had limits on what we (read Starfleet) could do, and hopefully the drama would have to deal with those limits to make the story interesting and exciting. We strongly recommended that, for instance, one could not use the transport buffer to bring back dead folks. Some of these limits were bent and others completely broken, but our intent with the tech memos and handbooks was to create a foundation for the writers to work from, so that they understood how warp worked, how the transporter worked, how much the Enterprise massed, etc. and could create compelling stories with -some- of that in mind. We said all along it wasn’t all required reading, but it was nice to know it was there if required. If the writers needed a rule to be broken, we’d help make it at least sound plausible. It seemed better, though, when aliens broke the rules, so that we could be suitably impressed and boggled. :)

#40

I completely agree with you. That’s what I was getting at in my post #35. I sought out the concepts that were being presented to me in the science fiction I read.

Science Fiction is for thinkers. Ask yourself: Is it the so-called technobabble that you don’t like or the fact that you can’t wrap your head around an advanced scientific concept that you don’t like?

And #41 I think your assertion is off base. Trek enjoyed it’s greatest popularity during a time in which so-called technobabble flourished. Trek’s popularity waned because there had been a glut of it on TV and that the property had become stale and mis-managed.

Daoud

#41 Finally? Heck, he’s had the opportunity to say it before. As in… almost 20 years ago when he was on the staff of TNG. Yes, he voted with his feet out from the Voyager staff… but he could have been more vociferous and saw to it changing rather than leaving… He’s as much to blame as any of the TNG staff.

Worse, that’s a lazy YouTube compilation, as one of the babbles is from an alternate universe Data, another is *purposely* Riker doing doublespeak in “Rascals” to confuse a Ferengi, and another is purposely written to show Riker’s frustration with Barclay. Sometimes technobabble has a purpose.

RDM is quite the “oracle” 20 years later. Yeah. Hey! Watch out! in 2000 George Bush gets elected! Wow.

Anybody talk to a computer tech lately? There’s plenty of realworld technobabble in everyday life.

Plum

Thanks Rick! I have to say, the technobable of the TNG era was something that everyone loved. Here was a show that actually had some science going on. I couldn’t believe the show actually didn’t stick to comfortable metaphors to explain the science! lol! Those of us who enjoy science loved how TNG was an understandable universe scientifically, even if the science was fiction. Heck, even my little sister and everyone else who watched reruns of TNG on basic cable got to understand the tech so well everyone just started to ‘get it’. Really, you’d be surprised how many people know what a ‘warp coil’ is. And I think that goes to show just how great that technobabble was!

After all, TNG was a super popular show. Technobabble and all!

I guess it’s just that, as the shows piled up, the technobabble became a crutch. Even a deux ex machina at times, though that’s not automatically a bad thing.

20.

I have, and you’re right.

My point is that there’s no reason everyone on Star Trek should be as versed in the sciences as they are. I think the Enterprise (IMHO) is more similar to a naval vessel than a room fool of computer scientists.

One of the things many writing instructors have talked about in story is the “life-line.” This is something you plant early in your story, which comes back later to help the hero, or is something the hero can rely on. But because you already presented it in the story, it is believable, it makes sense, and there is a logic to it. On the other hand, technobabble solutions appear seemingly out of nowhere, at the last moment, to save the day. Someone just happens to have an idea, or remembers something at the last moment, or offers some cutting-edge suggestion — presenting information the audience had no prior knowledge of. This is akin to watching a mystery show where the detective reveals the solution but the audience was never given any prior clue as to how he deduced that. If the detective’s solution is based on a conversation he had with the victim’s landlord, for example, we should have seen something about that conversation take place earlier in the story. Otherwise, I think it’s called “cheating.”

If you folks want some real technospeak (I’m officially changing the term), go back and read the LENSMAN series by Edward E. “Doc” Smith. Or listen to the audiobook versions. Begun in the late 1920s, the story of the Galactic Patrol and Civilization vs. the Boskonians and the Eddorians is the source of all we know in space opera, including Star Trek, Star Wars, and a lot of other franchises. The Bergenholm was the warp drive of the day, the DeLameter was the phaser, and duodec was the explosive that just -had- to have led to the photon torpedo. It’s a whole different style of SF entertainment, and very dated, but tons of fun. “Hey Worsel, you old snake! Tell Haynes I’ve got to flit!”

Dom

40. DJ Neelix: ‘I see no reason for sci/fi to be dumbed down simply because some are afraid to actually learn some things while being entertained.’

Far from it. But tell me anything of TNG technobabble that teaches us anything. It’s essentially – when it makes what little sense it does – a nuclear physicist talking jargon down to a class of five-year-olds. It’s dirty and dishonest. The best science fiction is scientifically genuine and is explained to its audience. It was for these reasons that the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and so on captured the imaginations of so many readers in the 40s, 50s and beyond.

And I’d certainly argue with the patronising assertion that people in the 1960s were ill-educated. We’ve never had a darker age than now where reading and general knowledge are next to non-existent across huge swathes of the population.

Good Star Trek by science fiction writers such as Theodore Sturgeon managed to look at both science and philosophy in a clear, well-thought-out manner. Bad science fiction is exemplified in the above video. The technobabble of TNG is the work of ivory tower pseudo-intellectuals looking down on the viewership and not bothering to explain themselves. It’s high-minded, dishonest and nothing more than an excuse for bad and lazy writing (which Berman’s era exemplifies!) It’s a classic emperor’s new clothes tactic.

The Youtube video was spot on. A pity it didn’t flag up Picard and his goons committing genocide in Homeward as well!

Ron Moore saw the foolishness in TNG’s Soviet Union-esque disrespect for its viewing public and turned around to make the best, most thoughtful science fiction series in years, one which addressed similar questions to those brought up in TOS.

Intellectually and philosophically, Battlestar Galactica is the true sequel to Star Trek TOS.

Get this straight, I think TNG is a pretty ok series in its own right. I just loathe it as a purported sequel to Star Trek and I loathe its revisionist misunderstanding of the original show.