Bogosity generators: the secret heart of science fiction

From Rudy Rucker, a riveting essay on "The Bogosity Generator," science fiction's answer to the McGuffin:

Let’s call what I’m talking about a bogosity generator. Kind of like a tank of helium, useful for inflating your pretty balloon animals so they can bobble across the ceiling. Or, more obviously, like an electrical generator that sets the great streams of sparks to arcing across your mad-scientist lab.

The rules are that fantasy authors aren’t expected to justify or to explain their bogosity generators, but an SF writer is expected to cobble together some kind of semi-plausible, paralogical, science-like explanation—that’s considered part of the fun of SF. The styles of these hand-waving explanations change with the intellectual fashions of the times. Over the years, preferred bogosity-generator-justifiers have included radio waves, radioactivity, the subdimensions, relativity, psi powers, black holes, quantum mechanics, parallel worlds, nanotechnology, chaos theory, superintelligent AI, an escalating technological singularity, bioengineering, and our dear friend the Higgs particle.

One point that’s worth making over and over is that an SF writer’s explanations for his or her bogosity generators serve a creative purpose. The theory behind your bogosity generator is not idle bullsh*t. Why? Because in the process of making up the explanation, you get ideas for new things to do with the bogosity generator.

The “Bogosity Generator” Tool In Science Fiction


  1. an SF writer is expected to cobble together some kind of semi-plausible, paralogical, science-like explanation

    Yeah I agree. I was annoyed with Looper because while they legitimately invented time travel they also invented telekinesis. There was no attempt to explain why the world in the movie had those two amazing advances, even though a little bit of thought could have feasibly linked the two.

    1. I actually don’t mind that.  All our developments are not necessarily going to be linked, there are going to be random collections… and some of the plot that the TK stuff dragged in was starting to elevate the story beyond a hackneyed, seen-it-a-million-times-before time travel plot with a few especially dumb premises (and, admittedly, good actors)

      What annoyed me was that they did, for my money, the worst possible ending type of time travel movie. :P

  2. The other reason a theory behind a bogosity generator isn’t idle bullshit is that SF is often a lot more serious and thoughtful than fantasy, and generally has plenty of things to say about human nature and our relationship with technology and evolution.

    Aside from the fact you don’t want to come across any implausible clangers in such a brew, and since many SF writers are particularly thoughtful folks have a hard science background, some of them do this so well they’re engaging in the first step of actually creating the future.

    It should be blindingly obvious to all that SF is the highest form of fiction, without no other contenders for the title.

    1. OK, so I realise you’re being a little facetious, but Sturgeon’s Rule was originally applied to SF after all.

    2. Agree 100%.
      That is also one of the reasons why Fantasy should never be called SF; it does not even try to be realistically set in this universe.

      1. It depends if you are defining SF as Scientifiction, Science Fiction, or Speculative Fiction. There are good speculative fiction works written by extrapolation of current trends, by changing one or a few things, and by changing many things. As long as they share the speculative spirit – not being bound by the here and now, but being bound by the logic of the setting and following it through – I think they can be considered SF.

    3. I’ve read tons of both genres, and they equally exhibit pure-entertainment works and works that are thoughtful and/or self-aware, ones that try to accomplish more than just pleasure. The difference, however, is that SF tends to skew toward stereotypically “male” interests like politics and philosophy, while Fantasy often deals with psychology and/or interpersonal relationships, as well as just working how how mythic/epic narratives can be retold. That said, there’s plenty of fantasy that also takes on those grand, “masculine” themes.

  3. Isn’t this known in Star Trek as technobabble?  The hand-waving that is used to explain/fix the problem-of-the-week?

    1. Visually, I’ve heard all the stuff in the backgrounds is referred to as “gak”. I’m thinking of computer screens and the like.

  4. It seems a little unfair to say that fantasy authors don’t have to justify their “bogosity generators”.  Many don’t or give minimal explanations, but others do give coherent rules for “magic” or for how the universe/worlds work and such. Surely these would qualify for the same kind of consideration. (Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series comes to mind here). Do we say that if a (high) fantasy author who does give plausibility through explanation is automatically a science fictional author?  These seem to me to be the kind of issues that arose a long time ago, especially during the late 60s to 80s and generally resulted in fantasy and science fiction coming much closer together (guess the term speculative fiction is re-dead now?)

    1.  I was going to say much the same thing. In fact, I’m fairly sure that Brandon Sanderson has been described as a sort of science fiction in that his magic systems are very much a part of the laws of physics of his worlds, and often major plot developments result from new discoveries in how to utilize those laws, just as a rather large chunk of SF is based around new scientific discoveries using physics that are a little closer to home…

      There’s no shortage of SF that doesn’t really try to explain it’s bogosity either, or that makes at best a slap-dash point of doing so (midoclorians, anyone?)

      In most of the SF I’ve read, the excuse for he bogosity is “it’s science”, and hand-waved away. Change the technobabble in ST:TNG from “inverting the phase coupler” to “cleansing the mana stones” and *poof* it’s fantasy. Works with the vast majority of SF.

      1. Sure, go ahead and make Asimov, Clarke et al turn in their graves.

        Just because there’s a lot of dross doesn’t mean proper SF isn’t inherently a cut above anything else.

        I mean, look at Greg Bear’s Blood Music. You can’t tell me any other genre has the capacity for such mind-blowing scope.

  5. I’m re-reading one of the Culture novels, and it’s jam-packed with bogosity generators.  They add nothing to the plot, but they add tons of atmosphere.

  6. Oh, nope there it is. Wonder why my add button didn’t automagically find it? Second question … why does each entry show up with the same headline in my feed?

  7. hmm so the RSS feed is only for the comments? No RSS for the original posts? *confused* Sorry but I am having trouble finding it if it’s here …

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