Cliche

Overused tropes: earth is overpopulated

Of all the unused tropes I think that of the world being too full of people comes up the most. I understand the reason for it, if there are starving people there must be a shortage of food right? Same for not having houses for everyone.

The problem is that that is not how economics works, nor does every country operate every farm at the same efficiency.

North America, Central America and the Caribbean, have about 6,050,697,738 acres of land. If we moved everyone to north America we would each have almost an acre, and about double that if you included South America.

We are not starved for land, and that does not count the truly desperate and expensive things like going underground or making islands.

*Before I start please note I am not a professional farmer or doctor or anything, nor do I care to get the math exactly right, I only want to get it close enough to prove my point*

If we used aeroponics (spraying roots with nutrient rich water rather then keeping them in soil) and planted sweet potatoes (very high calorie food), we could feed something like 49,000 people per square kilometer (link, link). We could feed more if you had artificial light and stacked the farms on top of each other.

Without any artificial light you could feed the earth on farming or about a fiftieth of south America. In reality you would want more for variety, but even so I think I have made my point. If we wanted to, we could live and farm in the America’s then use the rest of the world for industry and parks.

Of course we could go even more drastic and farm algae in the ocean, (the most efficient food source we know of). This would mean we would not need to use any land for farming at all.

That is the reality. The world will not starve nor will we run out of space anytime soon. That however does not mean that everyone is well fed and housed. You can of course have a class of people who starve for economic reasons even if the food to feed them exists, or at least the production capacity exists to do so.

Now if you still want to have a world food shortage as part of your plot, then I suggest you think about why food production would be cut by several orders of magnitude and stay cut.

Sunlight would be my go to in this situation. If something is stopping enough light from getting to the surface of the earth that would mean we would have to make up the difference artificially, and that takes a lot of power. If light was that low, we would also need power for many other things, such as heating up ect. Food would become very expensive and I could believe we would only produce enough to get by and no more. The same would apply to heat.

An obvious approach might be to lower the water supply but it does not work as well as you might think. The human body does not expend water, we just hold onto it for a bit then put it back into the environment. While not 100% efficient by far, its not like electricity that is made, used and then gone.

Also water is so important for so many things that we will always give it high priority. A lack of water could change the cost of certain foods but I can’t believe it would push us to starvation. If we ever reached that point we would have much worse problems to deal with.

Honestly, where there are any number of things that could cause a temporary dip in our food production, there are not that many that would decrease it long term. Even if large amounts of soil became non-viable there are ways around that. The only other one that comes to mind is if something stopped us from using machinery, like the sun starting to emit a continuous EMP.

Human nature

Presuming that if your writing you are not going to change human nature, any writer needs to understand that certain characteristics are not going to change. Even though they may be bad or hurt us they are a part of who we are as a species and must therefore be taken into account.

Money
This may seam obvious but there are some shows and books that posit that money will not exist in the future.
I don’t buy it. I could buy that we would reach a point where anything that is a basic need would be taken care of for free, medical care, food ect. I could see that money would just be for luxuries, not for necessities but I can’t image a world without it altogether.
Humans tend to work best when they are working for a personal goal. Few people would keep their current jobs if they were told they would not be paid for their work. They also might do a much worse job. For example, if your making a movie just for yourself you would make it much differently, then if you were making it for a wide audience that it had to appeal to.

Violence and crime
I hate to say it but both violence and crime will remain with us, there are any number of things that could reduce both but nothing that will eliminate them.
At the minimum there are people who would rather just steal then work for a living. There are many things that could reduce it but nothing that would stop it.

Religion
This is one that kind of bugs me, many people see religion as a irrational part of the human psyche that we will be able to shed at some point in the future. In so doing it would ease a lot of suffering.
The concept of a supreme being or beings have been with us for as long as there have been humans. Which religions will change, and the number who believe in them will change however I believe we will have religion for as long as there is a human race.
The exact reasons for religions are very much up to debate but if history has shown us anything, it is that they are here to stay. That being the case if you are making a future society you have to take religion into account.

Disagreement
This might seam a bit obvious but one thing that some writers forget is that disagreement is not just about facts. It is very possible for two people to have identical facts, understand each other’s logic perfectly and still disagree.
As a rule everything anyone believes will have someone else who disagrees, no matter how logical or clear. You can just say “X was proven” and say that everyone accepts it, however that is not how humans work.
When I read something like that in a book, where an entire people believe something and no one disagrees I assume some form of coercion is going on.
There are people today in the US who believe the earth is flat, we never landed on the moon and even that we should go back to a monarchy.

Sex
Sex is one of the major driving forces of the human race. If you have a character interacting with someone who he is attracted to it changes the dynamic even if the interaction itself has nothing to do with sex.
One mistake some writers make is in thinking that a egalitarian culture means that people ignore sex, that it no longer effects our behavior. That simply is not the case.

Overused tropes: humans are violent

As you start to read sci-fi one of the tropes that you see fairly often is that humans are a very violent people. Not to say this view is wholly unfounded of course. You can even tell some good stories with it.
Even in fiction where it is not specifically a part of the plot we are not seen as peaceful.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand where it comes from, our history is not exactly blood free. That however does not mean that there are no other ways to tell a story.

Everyone else is worse
This is my favorite reversal of the trope. What if we get out into the galaxy and find that we are peaceful compared to everyone else? Maybe even so much so that they can’t evolve past a certain point because of it.
Image if we find a race of aliens who are all on a hair trigger to fight to the death? They are unable to trust anyone who is not family? What if we saw that this limited their civilization. They could never have cities that go beyond a certain number of people or projects of more then a certain size.
Should we help? What if we could change them? Should we?

As a less extreme example (for a given value of extreme), we encounter other races and in every case the history is the same. They would spread out through their planet and form nations. One nation would conquer the rest, form a brutal dictatorship and rule with an iron fist. And we see that this kind of control is need to keep them together and to keep the murder rate under control. If someone tried to form a kinder government it would fail because of the realities of their psychologies.
When this culture goes out into space it would just repeat itself. Colonies would either be wholly controlled or at war with the mother world. Any aliens they encounter would be seen as a threat and diplomacy would not even be considered.
Compared to everyone else humans would seem sedate and almost insanely calm.
Now given the above, what if humans were generally at peace and had been for decades. Because we can work together well our technology and manufacturing quickly surpassed theirs.
What would you do? Could you really see them as equals? Would you try and help them? If so how? Remember we are talking about something that is biologically emergent, not a societal choice. While it might be the easy choice to go around them, what if we could not? We might have to go to war with them, not because we want to but because that is the only way they can interact with outsiders.
If we win what could we do? We could wipe them out, or we could stay and monitor them forever. We might have to do this for all of them if we wanted to stay safe from raiding parties.
How would that change us?

Our nature is necessary
I have read a few books over the years where we were seen as overly violent, but it was necessary or a useful trait. This was mostly because something needed killing. I think however that we can do better then that. One of the major driving forces of our civilization is ambition, a desire to better yourself and your group (be that family, city, or nation). If you are not willing to be confrontational then there may be no ambition. How far would we have gotten if everyone was more afraid of making waves then of anything else? After all, there is a reason that societies that value individuality tend to develop technological breakthroughs faster.

What if in the future we alter ourselves to be docile and non-violent. We might free ourselves of war at the cost of all society and technology development.

Overused Tropes: Corporations Run Everything

One of the things I was taught in collage is that cliches and tropes are not bad or good. Like any tool they can be used well and they can be used poorly.
Cliches and tropes are just stories that are ingrained into us because they come up so often, or are referenced often. They are useful mostly because you only have to tell part of a story.
That said they are often overused. For example the idea that in the future corporations run everything (as in they control or are the government) and everyone is poor. I could name several shows that are airing now, and more books, where this is the case.

From the state of the world I can understand why people think this will happen, and why their is fear of it happening. I can think of few worse forms of government then allowing corporations to take charge.

All that said there are other ways to do things, areas that I think could use some exploring before corporations running things becomes as oversaturated as zombies.
And of course one of the best uses of cliches is to subvert them.

Everyone is rich
One of the problems with corporations ruling and everyone being poor is that you can’t charge more for something then people can afford. A man who can barely put food on the table will not be buying the latest 4D TV. Also having a society that is that classiest are what revolutions are made of.
What if instead the average person was rich by our standards? For example what if menial jobs were common and you got the equivalent of 100k USD a year from them? But if was all but impossible to get a more intellectual job (like doctor or engineer) unless your one of the elite who work for the corporations. You graduate high school, get a job and you never really progress from there.
How many people would really fight against the system at that point? How would you fight it?

Corporations used to run everything but don’t anymore
An idea I find more interesting, and not done as far as I know is what happens afterward. What happens when corporations no longer run everything because they were kicked off planet, lynched or broken up. Even if a new colony left to do its own thing and determined not to allow corporations to take root.
This is one problem I am tackling, in the first novel it will probably not come up, but it will be huge in the second. I see many interesting stories you could tell with this. Off the top of my head I see only two ways to really limit corporations, the first is by employees and the second is by income.
For example if you limit them via numbers of employees what happens when you want to make something that you need more then the limit to make? If the limit was five hundred people and you wanted to design a car you could easily run out. One effect might be that the education focuses on duel degrees so one person can do the work of two. It could also mean that the work week gets longer because when your boss can’t hire anyone new he has to work you harder.

The other obvious way is money, probably profit. What this could mean is that at the end of every year any company that has more then so much profit is forced to split into enough pieces that each piece is below that threshold.
This of course has the issue of providing a reverse incentive past a certain point. Once your bank or factory or whatever gets too good it’s at risk of it being split. You could have hordes of accountants who’s job is to try and make sure CEO’s aren’t tanking their companies just enough to stay below it. Or of course just hiding the money.
You could even have problems with the top entrepreneurs not trying once they get to the cap, why try and make your car better if you won’t get more money for it?

I see strong stories that could be made from these. What would a colony look like 100 years after its founding if they picked one of them? You would be dealing with the problems caused by the solutions to the problems above.
And of course what happens if they gained trade relations with a planet that still had corporations running it?

Corporations are the good guys
What if the corporations are doing what they are for the best of reasons? Or even if just one was? What if one of the corporations were using its power to help, even if they were doing it in a evil fashion.
For example what if it was discovered that aliens were going to invade in several years and because governments have no power. What if a corporation decided to take care of the problem. They started to be ruthless about gaining short and middle term profit, whatever it took to get the resources to save the human race.
Or even something like 10% of the profit was put into things like curing diseases or in building cheap housing that is sold at cost. But in any other way they are run ruthlessly.
Its easy to demonize a corporation when they are purely out for themselves. Might it be more interesting if they were morally gray?

Corporations assume the responsibilities as well as the rights of the government
What if instead of the corporations being what they basically are today, except larger and unfettered by regulations they instead replace the government wholesale.
What I mean is; what if there was something like an auction every year and corporations got seats on a council that ran most everything but they had to take care of certain functions. Like say water purification.
This would apply to most areas of what the government does, they would buy rights and power but would have to make sure something important was taken care of.
Again many stories could come from this, and most of the stories that embrace the government being subsumed by corporations assume that corporations won’t change much when its done.