Remember what I’ve said about plausibility vs. realism? That if you actually know how to make a starship go faster than the speed of light you need to stop goofing around writing science fiction and go be the Bill Gates of the FTL Revolution?

Okay, then, this is for the science fiction writers in the crowd who don’t actually know how to do that, but want to write convincing, plausible stories set in a future where that, and other imagined high tech, is possible.

Critics have called it “technobabble.” This is dialog that sounds like science and engineering but is just pretend. Sometimes technobabble can be so convincing that at least a few people in your audience actually accept some concepts as real. I’d be willing to bet that there are Star Trek fans out there who think there’s really such a thing as chronoton particles.

These plausible-sounding subatomic particles that have some kind of ambiguous relationship to time and make time travel possible, or are detected in the wake of some kind of temporal disturbance, are entirely an invention of Star Trek’s writing staff, but within the Star Trek universe they make sense, and add to the fun.

After all, the various time travel episodes of the various Star Trek series and movies have nothing to do with the practical realization of time travel technology, they’re about the importance of key decisions and pivotal personalities, the fragility of consciousness and the concept of fate, and other heady philosophical concepts. And it’s cool.


I’ve been working on the Traveller novels I’ve mentioned before and have been putting together material for my own Traveller game (starting this Friday after a last-minute rescheduling). One of the things I felt I needed to get us started was a quick definition of cerulene crystals, which are mentioned sort of off hand in the classic Traveller adventure The Chamax Plague by J. Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr. (originally published by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1981). First, not having an encyclopedic knowledge of crystal geology, I Googled it and all I got were references back to the Traveller adventure. So these things are fake. Cool.

I remember hearing the term “metaconductors,” though I don’t really understand what that is. I just needed these cerulene crystals to be valuable in some way to the technological world of the Classic Traveller Universe. Back to Google I went. And I found this web site, which I did not really understand, but paraphrased as:

Library Data: Cerulene Crystals

Cerulene crystals are naturally occurring metaconductors that exhibit skin effect suppression at microwave frequencies. In their refined state their average in-plane magnetic permeability drops to zero. Unlike conventional ferromagnetic materials, no external magnetic bias is required due to the crystal’s large magnetic anisotropy.

Prized in TL15+ electronics and gravitics, cerulene crystals can not be synthesized and are found only in small deposits in rare locations around older stars.

With apologies to the study’s authors I would normally not be anywhere near this brazen, but in this instance my library data entry on cerulene crystals is for use in my own game and isn’t something I’ll sell, etc. If you expect your work to be published in any sort of for-pay medium, you can’t just . . . well, plagiarize like this, but still, the web provides a wealth of real science that can lend an air of credibility to your pretend science.

And who knows, it might just inspire a future scientist or engineer to develop a synthetic crystal metaconductor for use in high tech gravitics.

Gravitics, by the way, is another bit of technobabble for the engineering discipline concerned with anti-gravity and artificial gravity production.

How does that work?

Not sure, but I can tell you that chronoton particles have nothing to do with it.

Or do they?


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. kirkeberg says:

    Looking for some babble of my own. Making an old west gentleman vampire able to be nourished and still remain a good guy and a gentleman.

  2. Tharcion says:

    Creating technobabble is always fun, and anyone who uses the Chamanx Plague adventure as a hook has my attention. I loved that adventure. The clue the crystals weren’t real should have been in the name, which amounts to “blue crystals.”

    Anyway, Wikipedia is your friend when building technobabble, or even techno-magic-babble. Read a page or so on the Standard Model, or wormhole theory and you can be making up total rubbish that sounds reasonable in a few hours.

  3. I imagine this is why hard science fiction is so cool. It’s rooted in an attempt at real science, or a projection of where real science and actual technology will be at some point in the future.

    And like you said, making up stuff to a) sound like you as the author know what you’re talking about, and to b) attempt to convince your reader that you actually DO know what you’re talking about, is always great fun.


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