Language Cheat, Fiction’s Biggest Lie in Plain Sight.

Fiction tells entertaining lies, a harsh way to put it, but true. One in particular stretches across all genres. And it does so for the benefit of us all.

Most fiction I enjoy dodges impossibility either by occurring outside reality, like Star Trek, or with a measure of ‘hidden from history’ plausibility, like The X-Files. These deceptions draw me in and I consciously accept to enjoy the tale.

In my first favorite science fiction I felt a twinge from the right hemisphere of my brain. As a child, I watched the original Star Trek series. An illogical conundrum repeatedly jarred my experience. As Kirk and crew went to new worlds and met new civilizations, they boldly ignored the boundary of language. Though with a foreign accent, most of these new creatures spoke English.

No sooner had I set aside this one flaw than I discovered this uncomfortableness elsewhere, then everywhere. Why ignore such an obvious obstacle?

In dealing this fault-line in fiction, I imagined how each story might’ve progressed with this cheat omitted. It dawned on me then, the dark force that turned logic on its head.  The enemy big enough to overshadow the elephant in the room, boredom.

The hours or days it might take to establish a common communication, unless it’s at the core of the story, stands to grind any great fable to a mind-numbing halt. So, as if in a secret meeting, hundreds of storytellers slid that bit under the rug and carried on.

Today I write a scene, 1883 in the Dutch East Indies, present day Indonesia. At least four languages meet to tell the story of how explorers from another world caused the devastating eruption of Krakatau. Do I explain all happen to know a common tongue? Do I complicate dialogue with a translator? Nope, I cheat, and I hope the tale told holds up enough to make my lie worthwhile.


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