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How plausible is this?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Trick, Jan 27, 2017.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    In my WIP the MC fights and kills one of the villains. He doesn't know this person before they fight and isn't aware of the larger plot he's a part of - that comes later in the story. Anyhow, the MC is a thief and he automatically searches the guy after killing him. He finds a journal. Throughout the rest of the book there will be short interludes where the MC is reading the journal and it reveals a pretty interesting story about this dead guy's search for a prophesied savior who was predicted to come and destroy his people's enemy.

    The main issue is that this guy is from a country that is very far away and that the MC doesn't even know exists. There is no way he'll be able to read the language; but, he has an automaton that basically has an advanced computer for a brain (and yes, this is a fantasy story, it just has sc-fi elements). My idea was to have the automaton read the journal and algorithm-magic out a translation.

    But, I don't think there's a computer on Earth that could do that (correct me if I'm wrong). While I'm not restricted to what's possible on Earth, this automaton is not specifically a language robot or anything, he's sort of a multipurpose deal and it might seem a bit impractical to expect him to be able to translate the journal from a language he doesn't have in his database.

    I may have a magical option (haven't thought of a specific one yet) but I want it to flow by quickly so he can get right to reading without it pulling readers out to say, "seriously, he just translated a language no one has ever seen before now?"

    Please help.
     
  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    It's plausible enough that it wouldn't throw most people out of the story. The bigger concern I'd have is to not abuse the automaton as a source of knowledge.
     
  3. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    I'm going on the assumption that the automaton is programmed with the known languages, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. The way this could work, perhaps best, is for the unknown language to be tangentially related to known languages. If that is the case, the automaton could work out the new language because of the connections. (For example: Even if you've never encountered Italian, you can work it out if you know Spanish and French.)
     
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  4. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Thank you for your opinion. I didn't think so at first but I began to doubt. Nice to know others agree with my current plan.

    Good point on the automaton. He mostly only knows what my MC uploads into him so he does keep track of knowledge but I wouldn't call him a source. I'll keep it in mind.
     
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Ah, if the automaton only knows what the MC uploads to him, and you establish this clearly in the story, then that causes the plausibility meter to drop substantially.

    Did the MC create this automaton or merely acquire him? If the latter, then you could work it so that the automaton has some weird connection to that dead man's homeland, perhaps unbeknownst to both the MC and automaton, that allows him to read the journal. This could lead to some interesting plot twists....

    Otherwise, you could focus on the nature of automatons, perhaps including magic, to explain how it's able to read the journal. Maybe when they are created, they are magicked to "align" or "sympathize" with humans in order to be able to communicate with humans, and this happens to have the side benefit of their being able to realign their brains/processors to understand human communication. Voila!
     
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  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    This idea just might work. I had imagined the unknown language as similar to the ancient language of the MC's ancestors. The only issue is that there's no contact between the two races in the history I've worked up. But there's room in here for more ideas.

    Thank you

    Sent from my LG-H631 using Tapatalk
     
  7. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Well, he found the magical equivalent of a motherboard and built the automation around it. The data he uploads is more personal use stuff. But the automation is called a Serviton and was designed specifically to serve humans. I've already got a part that had Otto (as he is affectionately named) changing his accent too sounded more pleasant.

    The way you describe the magic isn't far off either. This may be something I can work in pretty seamlessly. Time to brainstorm it.

    Thanks!

    Sent from my LG-H631 using Tapatalk
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    How about just make the journal translation a small hurdle to be overcome? Instead of having the automaton be able to read it relatively easily, have your thief have to do something difficult to acquire the ability to translate it? It could be searching out the right translation program and needing to do some thieving to acquire it.

    To avoid any potential abuse or making things too easy because you now have this powerful ability, make it a one shot deal. It can do one "impossible" translation and then it's spent.
     
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  9. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    The idea of a blending of science fiction and fantasy intrigues me, and opens entire new vistas for you to explore, which I'm sure you were aware. But what it absolutely means is that you have an easy out here. As Fifthview said, don't make the automata some sort of glorious font of knowledge, but the fantastic element means you can give it a "handwave" here. Give it a magic-based translation matrix. Some sort of (insert Magic Tech Speak term) gobbledygook that you don't even have to explain. It just means the droid can interpret languages that it has never encountered before- perhaps with a bit of difficulty, even occasionally with mildly comedic results.
     
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  10. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    This tingles my "convenience radar." It just seems a bit...eh.."Hey, I've got this impossible to translate message. What a lucky thing that the Space Viking Romans over there happen to have a program that can translate this for me."

    It just seems a bit too convenient to me. But, maybe that's just me.
     
  11. Recall C-3PO, who is a protocol droid, but fluent in six million forms of communication.
     
  12. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I still don't see much issue with it. It seems like a computer or tablet with a robotic body. Most of the information in it might be placed there by the user but it was programmed by someone else and could have some functions the user wouldn't be able to replicate. If you establish this I doubt you'd have a problem, although if it seems too easy you can always add a layer of difficulty. Perhaps the decoding and translation functions require a lot of energy so the automaton needs to be plugged in to a source and can't do anything else while it does this and the MC is on the run so he needs to find a safe place to do it.
     
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  13. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

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    Maybe a Rosetta Stone? Find an expert who can first identify the language, research where clues for translation might exist. Have some rational obstacles so it's not too convenient?
     
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  14. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    That was just an example, not necessarily a solution. There are better obstacles and ways to weave it into the overall plot for sure, but to me, even the poor example is less of a convenience than having an automaton that can just happen to solve this unknown language just because.
     
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    A lot of magic is just because.

    I don't think that having a universal translator or Babel Fish is OP, necessarily. In Star Trek and the Hitchhiker's Guide worlds, the resolution of obstacles and conflicts rarely happened merely because of the ability for instantaneous translation of an alien language, even when this helped the MCs. Often, it made no significant difference at all, was simply normal.

    That said, there's no reason this automaton should have instant translation capability. Perhaps whatever magical nature it has would still require time for it to learn/adjust to the foreign script, leaving open plenty of opportunity for interesting pacing of the reveals in the journal plus some comedic early results before it reaches full understanding.

    I'd be curious to know what the world is like. If the MC and Otto-the-Automaton typically never encounter a need for translation, this ability might be something neither knows exists—until the journal comes into their possession. That could be interesting.

    OTOH, the number of fantasies out there in which every character seems to have access to some Common Tongue or at least is able to fully understand any other character ... is huge. Plausible or not, heh.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2017
  16. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Babel Fish
    Universal Translator
    TARDIS Translation Matrix

    It's actually a standard function of most fantasy and science fiction because translation of a language is...pretty much unimportant. Even in the context of "I"ve never seen this language in my life," it is something that is immaterial. The translation is just a thing that needs done, not a challenge or task for the protag.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think much depends on the type of story being told and the style chosen for the telling. Translation could play a significant role as a challenge in some stories, but in other stories it's not as big an issue.

    I personally have an example that tripped me up. Last year, I was brainstorming an idea about a race of non-humans who live entirely far underground, unaware of the humans who live above ground (who are also unaware of them.) The MC was going to be this kid born to that race who happened to be born looking very much like a human, able to pass as human, which was good because during the course of the book he'd be transported above ground and trapped there. I ran face first into that problem of language and was very bothered by this because I didn't want to spend a lot of time teaching him the language. It was going to be a fantasy story, so I eventually settled on the idea of giving this kid a fairy-like companion, also transported above ground, who had telepathic abilities, allowing some measure of translation plus quick learning of the human language. Yeah, this was just a quickie solution, but a quickie and potentially interesting solution was what I needed. The story never made it far enough for me to start writing it, although it's still one of those that might see the light of day sometime.

    Now, if I were writing an Idea story about some discovery of deadly ancient artifacts, I might spend a lot of time on discovery of translation methods for the script carved into those artifacts. Or if I had a theme involving barriers between cultures and the fog of war, misunderstandings etc., I might have language barriers playing a significant role. So, it depends.
     
  18. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    I could see it being plausible. A machine could likely figure out a language given enough time, or at the very least give a rough estimate of what it says.

    Which leads me to another thought; what if your automaton was translating it wrong throughout the story? You could have your MC relying on the essentially rough guesses from his robot friend only to find the entire thing was wrong all along. Now THAT would be an interesting twist IMO.
     
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  19. Caconym

    Caconym Acolyte

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  20. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Thanks to all who've chimed in on this, I appreciate it.

    I like the idea of using the attempt to translate the journal as an opportunity for funny results, however, the journal is only important to the story if it's at least a semi-accurate translation.

    Basically, it's a story within the story. My MC is not a chosen one type character but the journal tells a more traditional fantasy story where a race of people awaited a prophesied chosen one to come and defeat the "evil" race ruling over them. While my MC is reading this journal, my secondary POV character is reading the journal of the aforementioned Chosen One - who is in fact my book's villain.

    The journals serve to give the reader more information while also serving to inform my characters what happened that led to the situation they're currently in and perhaps how to get out of it/defeat the bad guy.

    Inaccuracies could definitely make things more interesting so I'll be exploring that idea but general accuracy is needed.

    I had another thought too. The guy who wrote the journal learned the MC's language while writing it (after he found the chosen one, who is from my MC's country) and it would make sense if he practiced writing the new language in his journal. Perhaps that coupled with notes he took while learning could make it more plausible for Otto the automaton to piece together a translation. The general consensus seems to be that this would believable if given the right amount of work for the characters and explanation for the process. Neither too much nor too little.
     
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