Information Overload Doesn't Equal A Believable World

Why do science-fiction novels feel the need to include such massive infodumps? They don't make a story or a setting feel more fleshed-out and real, argues blogger Ian Sales. If anything, they make the story feel more made-up.

Writing in his blog It Doesn't Have To Be Right..., Sales argues that too many info dumps don't illuminate a book's story, they just bog it down. (He singles out the James Bond novel Moonraker as having a particularly atrocious infodump in its second chapter.) And they don't make the work more authentic, but less:

[A] lot of exposition fails for me as a reader because it has no authority, no authenticity. It often seems that the more time the writer has spent researching the details of their world, the more of that research they lard into their story. So, instead of the setting feeling authentic, we have a story buried under info-dumps. Or perhaps, they go the other way and just make it all up. But writing science fiction doesn't mean you can make it up as you go along. The details have to be convincing. And nothing convinces as well as verifiable science (although there are those who would disagree…).

It seems to me that modern science fiction – the good stuff, anyway – makes more of a point of authenticity than the genre did in previous decades. I suspect the same is true of mainstream fiction. Is it a change in attitude; or because we live in a world in which we expect to have information on anything and everything at our fingertips?

I'm intrigued by the idea that information overload is the opposite of authenticity — usually people talk as though reams of details are what make a setting come to life. What do you think? [Ian Sales]