dystopian future

Making a world come together

A large part of any science fiction author’s job is creating a world, far from a chore this is a large part of the appeal of science fiction.

The great secret of course being that we can’t really create whole worlds, creating everything a whole world holds would be the work of thousands. However like all artists you can cheat.

You create enough details to make people think the world is full and whole. There are any number of large and important things that effect the whole society, however you also need the small things.

The first is entertainment. This is not just what people do for fun but what media do they use? Do they do full VR, holodecks, books, TV ect. Also how much do they cost? Do rich people have access to holodecks, while the poor have to settle for books and movies and the middle class has VR?

And of course if they are anything like us they are going to have some taboos. How would people feel about a VR where strangers can having sex with them?

And of course don’t neglect to think about shows or VR’s or whatever people talk about over the fusion cooled water cooler.

Next of course is what people dislike about the government and how things work. There will always be people who have a problem with the government. Make sure to distinguish between grumbling and real rebelling, you don’t want someone who just started your book to think the character is a revolutionary because he is grumbling about the 2% tax hike.

Sayings and swearing are next. Both sayings and what swears people use do shift over time, not as much as you might think but they do change. If your writing a book set in fifty years you might not really need to change anything, but if its set in five hundred? Yes you should change them, even if just a little, just enough to show the difference.

Where do people meet? By this I mean where do they congregate, after all things like shopping, working and maybe even being taught could be done from home. So think about how people would meet, you may have a lot of social clubs that exist solely to get people out and let them mingle for example.

Sociopaths and Narcissists

A Sociopath is someone who lacks what are sometimes called the higher emotions: love, compassion, or a sense of shame. They only have the basic lizard brain emotions such as fear and anger. They lack the ability to feel sorry for anyone else, or any sense of empathy whatsoever.
A Narcissist is someone who has the higher emotions but only as they apply to themselves. Like sociopaths, they lack the ability to care about anyone else.

Depending on which study you are looking at, between 1% and 10% of the population in the west is either a sociopath or a narcissist.
Studies also show more than half the people in prison for violent crimes are sociopaths.

While most sociopaths and narcissists can blend in well, there are easy ways of testing for it. For example, upon seeing someone grievously hurt there are certain psychological changes that can’t be faked. Those changes can be tested for. There is no reason a society could not have mandatory testing for all its people upon adulthood.

So knowing the above what if a society decided to treat them as second class citizens? Tattoo them, forbid them from running for office or anywhere that lives would depend on them.
There is no real data on what would happen to our society at large. From what little data we have a large percentage of CEO’s and politicians are either sociopaths or narcissists (sociopaths at least tend to gravatate to positions of power and money, such as being a surgeon). While we have no way of knowing for sure what would happen, I think the changes would be both profound and subtle.
Both groups are fond of the big lie. The idea that if a lie is big enough and absurd enough it will be believed. This often works because we assume everyone’s brain works like ours does. We assume people we are talking to or who are talking to us have compassion as we do.

Doing this would of course create an underclass. What I find interesting is how this would be an underclass that would have little to do with money or with hereditary. You would be putting people there because of who they are and not what they are.

The outcome of this could range on one extreme from being disabled. Little socal stigma, they would just be unable to do certain jobs. The other end of the spectrum they would be untouchables, shunned by all and trusted by none.

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.

The Family Unit

The family unit is the first and most basic part of any society, upon it rests everything else. It is therefore of vital importance to understand how the family’s of a society function to understand the society.
As always, never assume that the way things work for you is how they work everywhere, nor how they will work in the future.

The first thing to think about is where the society draws the line on what the family is allowed to do. Some have almost no limits, the parents or guardians can do anything they want including abuse. Others might see children as a trust that must be raised with the correct morals or they will be taken away with little due process.

The purpose of the family unit is to raise productive children and to produce and protect wealth. While there are certainly going to be exceptions to this as a rule families tend to be shaped to do both of the functions as best they can.

Think about the average lifespan of your populace, if it’s short enough then often you won’t have parents raise their kids to adulthood. It will have to be someone else. This was true of America if you go back to pre-victorian times. It was common to see older siblings and one or two step parents raise children.

While it rarely comes up you also must think about the gender mix. You might start to see family mixes that differ from what we would consider normal if there are many of one gender. This happening over one generation is not unusual. Whenever you have a big war, a large number of men die but you rarely see even a small dip in the number of women. Because it is temporary normally, by the next generation nothing changes.
That does not always have to be the case. If you had a very large difference, something like 10:1 then you could start to see different types of families pop up. It would have to be something that lasted a couple generations but it could change what they consider to be the normal family.

For example in The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein (can’t recommend this book enough) the moon is a penal colony, mostly political prisoners. The first several generations are mostly men, like 1:9 or worse. This means that most family’s have more multiple husbands per wife. This has echo’s everywhere in their culture, as it should (you really don’t want to assault a women on Luna).

However there is the second point, economic. The second purpose of a family is to create and protect wealth. If life becomes hard enough you could start to see love and romance start to mean less when looking at spouses. You could even see group marriages start from this basis.
If the average person had to work fifty or sixty hours a week just for a sustenance living, with no time to raise kids, a three way marriage might start to look good. Two people work full time, one works part time and takes care of the kids.

One last thought. Just because the desire to reproduce is part of the human condition does not mean its not a choice. There are reasons developed countries can have very low birthrates. While you can look up untold papers on why this is the case it all really comes down to incentives and costs (not just money).
Think about what the average person values, then think about what is given up when you have children. If the cost is too high then you will have a smaller birthrate. In Japan and South Korea the birth rate is very low right now, to the point of causing major economic problems down the road.

The family unit is so basic to the human experience that its a good way to make it clear that a people are different. Changing it is a good way of showing a people are human but very much not American or Chinese ect.
For example what if you started a book off with your main character meeting with his family. Except he had three parents, his two fathers being business partners who worked well together but did not really like each other. Then you say that was normal, and mention how few women there are.