4.07.2020

Not All Glitters in Tech

Americans worship wealth, and the large majority track the exploits of their favorite stars—good or bad, true or made up. The same avidity for reading such chronicles extends to people’s taste in fiction. A long parade of best-selling authors have written about the pomp and perils of the fabulously wealthy. A change in focus from books featuring techie code to books featuring techie riches was, therefore, only a matter of time.

By now everybody this side of a log cabin knows that becoming a techie means striking it rich. We may bemoan our utter lack of ability to understand math, but we envy those who do possess it. With the expansion of the internet has come a new wave of tech personnel who are not weird and arrogant, but helpful and smiling and, well, normal. They may code their way to a Maserati, but then, so can people in plenty of other fields.

The new frontier, with its gala launches and sparkling shows, does not differ in substance, however, from plenty of other rich-people events. The guy in the tux with the trophy wife is still likely a variant of a boring banker. Bragging about baubles and vacations dates back to Jesus throwing tables around temples. In another word, the song is the same.

Authors who expect a novel set in fabulous tech circumstances to be somehow different are fooling themselves. Being able to explain how some piece of tech works is nice, but it is instruction nonetheless. Business of any stripe is still dull fare in fiction, and readers still don’t care much if a character achieves status and money at the book’s end. How about the girl? Who died in this story, anyway? Such age-old concerns still quicken our hearts like no other.

The shift of tech workers toward normalcy is heartening, but the rest of us have not changed our rules. A maverick in fiction had still better be sexy and dashing in order to attract readers. All the trappings society confers to the winners cannot mask the workaholic grinder. We will continue to read novels to escape people like that.

Anyone who writes about the new frontier in success needs to start characters who matter. I’m all for exotic, and the new world of tech has plenty of that. But how do you make a character exotic and still stir the hearts of readers? That’s the pivot point.

Exercise: Rather than gain, think first in terms of what your lead characters have to lose. The threat of loss produces evil. Even the desire not to lose one’s present standing produces evil. Now deal your lead character a terrible blow just before the book opens. Let them scratch and crawl their way to success. I can cheer for someone like that.

“The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Copyright 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.


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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.