In a room full of engineers, no one would be shocked to find numerous science fiction fans. Yet many people seem surprised to find technical communicators in fandom.
Scifi and tech comm have a long history together that begins with engineering writing. Engineering writers were the earliest tech writers and often the same engineers wrote, read, sold, bought, and promoted early science fiction.
Engineers and scientists enjoy playing with new ideas, but some of the best theories cannot easily be tested. The wonderful thing about SF is the opportunity to skip the messy, expensive (or impossible) experiments and get right to the application, usefulness, and consequences of an idea.
One of the earliest engineering dreamers was Jules Verne who wrote several science fiction stories, explaining in great detail how certain technologies might work. His clear conceptions of mechanisms and functions set the stage for others to dabble with similar devices, yet the stories still manage to entertain the reader. Verne did not let the technicality interfere with readability and this became the standard for all great modern scifi. The same standard is also a mainstay of TC.
Tech comm has a tradition of objectivity which may seem threatened by scifi themes such as social values and subjective experiences. But, in fact, this is a natural and compatible element of writing about science and technology. Faced with new, untested devices, technical writers must predict what type of audience might want to use it. They create stories about the those who would use such a device, the environment it might be used in, and what these users might want to know. It doesn't take too much to stretch the imagination from What Is to What If. And as soon as you're in the realm of What Ifs, you've achieved science fiction.
More than ever, tech writers are expected to predict the future and anticipate needs. Habitual SF readers find this easy which translates into success as technical communicators.
To the technical communicator, the usefulness of SF is more than stretching the imagination; it's tapping some of the greatest minds for possibilities and results which would otherwise be unavailable to one person or team. The usefulness of TC to science fiction is a little more obscure.
Any professional writer who has taken a course in technical writing would admit the effect it has on his or her writing. The clarity and focus of TC helps authors stay on topic and precisely approach a subject even when the subject matter is not factual. It's even been suggested that the great writers of the 21st century will come from technical writing just as the great writers of the 20th came from journalism.
This interaction between TC and SF will continue to develop as leisure readers become more tech-savvy, teachers incorporate more science fiction in classwork, and the scifi genre becomes more mainstream. Eventually, tech writers will be ubiquitous in fandom rather than an oddity.

 


Comments

One Sr. Technical Writer
06/08/2009 07:37

I'd have to agree with most of this post but when it comes to the last statement; Eventually, tech writers will be ubiquitous in fandom rather than an oddity. I 'd say don't hold your breath. I just think that eventually could still be a very, very long time.

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