Month: May 2017

Endstate Tech

One of the things I have to think about when plotting out the setting of my novel is what endstate tech will look like.
What I mean is, what will happen when a given technology is so old and so developed that there are no more major improvements to make.
For example the internal combustion engine has been around for well over a hundred years. At this point the only real improvements you can expect from a purely internal combustion car are small incremental improvements.

The thing that I find interesting is what happens when we get to this point with other technology; for example, computers.
Thanks to Moore’s law, computers have been getting smaller and more powerful for decades. Of course that can not continue forever. The smaller computers get the narrower the conductors get. That however can only go so far. You can’t have a wire less then an atom thick after all.
At this point if you want a faster computer you would need to make a new type of computer, like a practical optical or quantum computer.
When this happened in my novel’s universe, a single company had control over it because the crystals that optical computers ran on had to be grown in orbit, and they were the only ones with the facilities. While the monopoly lasted the company had more power then most governments. The least of their computers were several orders of magnitude better then the best electronic computer.
That is one of the issues you have to consider for setting anything in the future. Some technology will be fully explored and used and you will have to transition to something new. This is not a bad thing. It can be the source of very interesting stories.
Never forget that just because something is outdated in most area’s does not mean it is useless. After all, we still use propellers on some planes even though jets are a superior technology in almost all cases. What if you were working with one of the older technologies and the new one comes along? Do you stick with what you know and limp along even though there is almost no demand for it anymore or do you go back to school at age 60 and learn about the replacement?
One thing that I see sometimes is people just plot out the future and assume everything we have now is faster and smaller, which is a shame. In some cases you would not even want to improve every part of a devise. For example we have been able to make cars go much faster then 70 mph for a while but we don’t increase the speed limit because human reaction speed has not changed. Even in the future some things are not likely to change.

Another aspect of endstate tech is how things will be more normalized and combined. For example I own three computers, my phone, my tablet and my laptop.
The idea is that many things are duplicated among those three. Once we get to the point where you can fit the guts of a laptop in a cell phone we will be able to combine them.
By the year 2600 we will have been to this point with optical computers for more then a century. This means that the form and function of them are pretty well set in stone.
Now the important question? What will they look like?
In my books they are about the size of a cell phone but very thin. They are flexible enough to wrap around your wrist and can snap in place. They can stretch to tablet size. When you want a keyboard you tether it to your computer.
It may seem a minor issue but if you don’t think about things like this your future will seem a little too much like today. If I was walking around a ship from 2600 I would expect to find everything at least a little different after all.

Taboos

Taboos are an important part of any culture. Along with many other things you need to understand what purpose they serve if you are going to make cultures whole cloth or alter existing ones.

Google defines a taboo as:

a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.

Many people also would add that taboos are irrational by definition, they are something that you don’t do mostly because it just is not done.

While taboos are perpetuated by social pressure and conditioning, it does not mean that they do not serve a purpose. Any taboo you care to mention is reinforced by something, often by several things at once.

For example nudity, in most of the world clothing is needed, it is rare to find a place where you could consistently go months without clothing. That feeds into taboo’s against incest.
The most likely reason you see someone naked is sexual, the two things become linked. Given that you would hardly want to be out and about with your sister when she is naked.

This leads to incest. While the obvious reason against it is inbreeding, that is not the only reason it is a taboo. If you look at cultures where it is less of a taboo you see problems arise where fathers and mothers see their children, and younger family as sexual beings and take advantage. The parent/child relationship dynamic is very different then that between romantic peers. When you mix them you get problems. Such problems are one of the reasons why incest has been a taboo for hundreds of years in the west.

All that stated, the salient thing to remember is that taboos are a large part of any culture, and need to be taken into account.
If you were going to have a culture where nudity was not a taboo, and it was normal to be out and about with your family while not wearing anything, you need to think about changing the causes of the taboo and maybe even think about things to work in opposition to it.

For example one of the societies in my novel, Liang, lives almost entirely on habitats. They of course are climate controlled, geting rid of one of the reasons for clothing taboo.
They also had a very hard first generation, They had to work everyone who could all day every day just to feed themselves. Using resources for clothing was not seen as important. After that, those in charge came to see clothing as a status symbol and started to discourage its use by the lower classes.

While taboos may have a rational basis, that is not how they are normally enforced. Taboos are often emotional, it just “feels” wrong. People will enforce them even if many of them have no idea the underlying reasons they exist.
I think most people would agree for example that, Pedophilia is taboo for a very good reason. However that does not mean that the rules and laws against it always make sense. People have taken naked pictures of themselves when they were kids then been arrested for it when they were adults because they had pictures of naked minors (themselves).

Rationally those actions make no sense. However taboos are emotionally enforced, so their enforcing does not always make logical sense.

Taboos are emergent, and if you are setting a story far in the future you need to think about new taboos, they can indeed be a good source for drama.

It may be tempting as a writer to make something a taboo as an easy way out, to make something be seen as wrong without having to think of a good reason for it to be wrong. You can not do that, you must think about it and plot out why it exists for it to be believable.

Review: We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Overall the book is very good, It took me about a day to finish it, I am busy enough that it’s rare for me to read that much these days. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction and are geeky in any way.

The Characters
Bob is very engaging, he reminds me of Mark Watney (from The Martian). Like Watney’s character has a lot riding on him because he is the only one around.
While he does have a very good skill set for the situation, he does have to learn and improvise in many areas and do things that do not come easily to him.

As the name of the book implies, by the end there are many Bob’s. They are off doing different things around various stars. This could easily get bogged down in details or confusing but it never does. The sign of the best art, in whatever form, is that something very hard is made to look very easy.

The Writing
The writing is what can only be called smooth. It flows easily and never at any point are you tempted to stop, wait or even to skip ahead to a more interesting part.
I have read books, even some that I really like where this not the case. Even Game of Throne’s has parts where you want to change point of view badly.

The Scope
The book starts off with just the life of one Bob, where pleasing those in charge and staying alive is all he can or has to worry about. Before too long it grows though, stretching about 40 years into the future and a couple dozen light years away.
While very very far from the first writer to do it, he does it well.

The Science (and technology)
I really do like how he maintained a hard sci-fi setting. The only technology that might not be considered hard is the subspace tech. Mainly the drive that creates gravity around the ships and pulls them forward. Otherwise there were no violations of physics that I could note.
It really is a good lesson that the constraints caused by science can help you tell a good story.

One thing I see here that I really wish I saw more often is how Bob was very creative and how he researched new technology. It also explored the various applications of the subspace tech.

Edit: review of the sequel: For We Are Many

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Far Future Hard Science Fiction is Unrealistic or Progress Never Stops

For those who do not know hard sci-fi is where the author sticks to known science, mostly things that we do not know how to do now but are probably possible, or things that we can’t say are impossible but don’t really know much about (such as practical nanobots).

Hard sci-fi is limited by our current understanding of physics. If modern physics says something can’t happen then you can’t use it in your book. At least in theory, part of being an artist or a good writer is learning how to break the rules after all.

The practical problem with this is that its a paradox. Our understanding of physics is ever changing and growing. If you are writing a book set in 2,600 AD you have to account for a greater understanding of physics. This means that you have to acknowledge that scientists are almost certainly wrong about a great many things today. A great many things that we think are impossible today might very well be thought of as possible or even easy in the future.

One of the basic things that your average physicist will say is impossible is faster then light travel. However I doubt they are right.
Humans are very good at thinking around problems. Even today people are working on the Alcubierre drive, an FTL system that may skirt around relativity. I am not saying I know they are going to get it to work of course, they have massive problems to solve. What I am saying is that we will find a way, even if it takes centuries.

All of which is why almost all hard sci-fi is set in the middle future, a couple centuries at most. Far enough to have all the tech you want to go out into space but not enough to have that tech violate physics as we understand it.

So how do you do it? How do you have hard sci-fi set five hundred years in the future? How do you have FTL in a close to hard sci-fi setting?
If there is one thing I have learned it is that just because something is impossible to get perfect, does not mean you can’t get close, and close is better then nothing.

The first thing to know is that people will be more likely to buy it if its hard. One of the first rules of tricking people is that people trust what they had to work hard to get. If someone had to bite and claw to get a piece of information then it will be considered more trustworthy then something they are given for free.
So you make FTL hard, which means slow. In my setting it takes years for the first ship to get to a system. Then months for normal ships to make the trip.
Another way is to limit access to it. Meaning it can only be used under certain conditions, so it can’t be used to ignore problems. Just because you have FTL does not mean you don’t want to have plots that involve getting away from things.
Their are several ways to do this, one way would be the way Babylon 5 does it. If your not a huge military grade ship you have to use a jump station to get into hyperspace. Outside of those you have to go the long way round. You could be more generous then that and require your ships to be in certain places to go FTL, such as outside gravity wells.

I believe that you need to try and maintain the spirit of the hard sci-fi as much as possible. Taking months or years to travel between stars feels more real then taking days, even if its just as unrealistic scientifically. I believe it is the same thing for other fields. Curing all cancer with one injection and no side effects is unrealistic (almost boring), curing cancer with a series of painful injections and procedures that might kill you? This feels right even if its just as unrealistic.