Large Paradigm Shifts

Humans have shifted how we think on a basic level many times, this is one thing to understand when writing anything set in the far future. If you want to show someone in the year 3,000 AD you need to try and think of how he will be different, not just in body but in how he will think.

To explain what I mean I will detail out a few paradigm shifts we have gone through.

The first is the age of enlightenment in Europe. The short explanation of this is that it’s when we changed from assuming things that we did not understand were supernatural to assuming they were understandable scientific phenomena. This sounds simple but it is not, it changed everything about our civilization.

The second is who people identify with. In a very real sense civilization happens when people decide they belong to more then just their family. At first this might mean their tribe, but then it grew to a city, and the city grew to into a nation.

What shifts do you think will happen in the future? Could we even accept them today if someone came from the future and told us about them?


One of the things that annoys me greatly is how nudity is used, and not used, by Hollywood. Nudity is almost only used for sex. While there are exceptions to this it is rare that you will see nudity for any other reasons. This annoys me because some of my favorite stories would require nudity be used for things other then bringing in the sexy.

The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein (Very good book, spoilers for that ahead) is the best example I can think of, you could not faithfully adopt it for TV or a movie if you were unwilling to use a lot of non-sexual nudity.

In the book you aliens invade who can wholly control your body if they are touching any part of your skin. They are flat and about dinner plate size so they can easily hide under clothing. When they are discovered they had been working for months and had already spread through more then a third of the country. They would have taken the entire continental US in a few more months with no real fight.

The only way to stop them required the main characters to convince congress to make wearing clothing a capital offense punishable by death. This was the only way to make sure invaders could not just walk into any city they wanted and start converting people.

That was about as easy to do as you would think, their also was the issue of winter, it was a few months away and they had to win before they would be forced to wear winter clothing.

You should not assume that everyone wears clothing like we do for the same reasons we do.

The first of many reasons for nudity would just be that a people don’t have the same taboos we do. One example of this is in the lensmen series, about half the planets with people like humans don’t have the nudity taboo.

There is nothing wrong with using this, in fact I would use it for sure if there was a huge disincentive to wearing or making clothing for a people. For example if clothing was not needed and a people were on the edge of starvation they would probably not waste time making it.

This also can be a way to show a people are different, it is easily something that could change over the course of a couple generations on a colony.

Under some conditions I would be surprised if this did not happen. For example if everyone on a colony were genetically engineered and always perfectly fit that would remove one big reasons for the taboo. This would be even more likely if we are talking about a people who live on a station or somewhere that weather is not a factor.

Another reason is humiliation, if you want to humble or humiliate someone stripping them bare can help. If your book has a slave class you could have clothing be a way that status is shown. For the same reasons it can be used for interrogation.

Honestly this is one thing that bugs me when I see someone being tortured on TV, this is the first thing you would do. Its not like you would be okay with torture but not okay with stripping someone nude.

Government structures are reactionary

One thing you will be doing when writing Science Fiction is creating governments, something that I think is not done as well as it could be. Often writers just take current governments, scale them up then transplant them. This I think is a wasted opportunity.

One lesson that history teaches is that when a people are writing a constitution, and deciding what basic shape their society should take it is almost certainly going to be reactionary. People are going to see the problems they had with the previous government and want to avoid them. The entire US Bill of Rights is written in this way, each one is something that the British did that the colonies did not like and did not want to happen ever again.

That in fact was why the US’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave the federal government almost no power. It could not even tax, the only source of income it had was from selling land it owned.

To understand the reasoning for the new government all you have to understand is what the sentiment is for the old one. This is why I say that government structures are reactionary, they almost always reflect what the people don’t want to see again.

The point of the post is this; If a people were starting a colony and were mostly happy where they were from I would expect to see them create a government similar to their home. However the odds are they would not be, you don’t become a colonist if you’re happy and content with life were you were born. If your leaving everything you know you have to have a good reason, it could be anything from too much religious freedom (pilgrims) to wanting more upward mobility (much of the early American immigrants) to almost anything else.

So when your talking about setting up a new government think about what problems the first generation had with its previous government, think about what they disliked and why they left. This is where you can get a lot of drama and some real world building.

Religious colonies are nothing new, all you have to do is open a history book to see examples, I think going in directions that are new would be more interesting. Even within the confines of a representative republic there is a lot of room for new and interesting governments.

Maybe a nation was founded by people who hate large corporations and don’t want them to form. How would they do that? And just as importantly what problems would that cause? How do they deal with colonies from other systems?

Or a colony was founded by the super rich who want a place away from taxes and oversight. They might create a system where bills are voted on by money, or your vote counts for more if your richer.

All government systems are flawed, no matter the one in place a large number of people will dislike it. And never forget your a writer, you want problems, even small ones can be useful.

So You Want A War

War is, for better or worse, quite common in science fiction. If you want to use it you need to understand at least a few basic things. There are in fact books written on it. I am just going to start with the most basic ideas you need to understand.

First you must understand the goals of each side.

To give a real world example think of the American revolution. The colonies lacked the ability to get even a small military force across the Atlantic. They had zero chance of bringing the British to their knees. Yet they won. They could have lost every battle and still won the war. The goal was to make the cost of victory so high the British were unwilling to pay it.

The strategies used were very different then during the second world war. Both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched wars of naked conquest and greed. They had to be beaten back tooth and nail. Both sides reached the points of no return, where victory was not even remotely possible (far before the end) yet they kept fighting.

The goal of a side in war might be simply stated “Make victory cost too much” but it informs everything about how that side fights.

There are times when there is no national goal. This almost always this means someone is meddling. Someone is pushing leaders of one nation into a fight against their own national interest for reasons of their own. If this is the case you need to understand that too.

Modern wars are at least as much economic contests as military ones. Germany’s tanks were better, but the allies had 4 or 5 tanks for every German tank.

When a country is gearing up for war, it affects almost everything about life there. During World War Two whole industries were revamped. Car production stopped for a few years because tank production was more important. Copper was so important for the war effort that the Manhattan project had to use precious metals from Fort Knox when it needed a huge amount of wire.

When a country is at war it completely changes the economy. One of the more subtle ways of showing a country is at war is to start off with showing the economic effects.

A nation can act selfish, but have selfless solders. This is not a contradiction. When I was first learning about World War Two in elementary school, I read something that stuck with me to this day. It was about how when the Japanese emperor went on the radio and surrendered, a peasant was ashamed because she felt that they had failed him.

No one can blame the solders of Imperial Japan of selfishness. That however is the very thing that Japan as a whole was most guilty of. The war was little more then the people of Japan seeing something across the sea and deciding that they wanted it.

The point I am making is that a nation can and often does act in ways that the individuals who comprise it never would. It is a somewhat scary part of human nature that people will do things for their children or their nation that they would never do for just themselves.

While a number of limited wars have occurred of course, they do tend not to happen when both sides feel in danger of being wiped out. I find it hard to believe, for example, that if a nation had nuclear weapons that they would not use them in a do or die situation. It is the same with chemical and biological weapons. In such a situation you would no more hold back than if you were in a knife fight and had the chance to kick someone in the balls. Few would restrain themselves if they thought it was really do or die.