Making the future

When your laying out the timeline of your setting there are a few core technologies that will touch most everything else, these are the things you need to decide first.

Power Generation
Most everything you do cost power, either when you use it or to make it. A great many things would become cheap if power were nearly free (like aluminum or desalination plants) or be all but unobtainable if electricity cost a lot more then it does today.
And of course mining or farming whatever it is that you use for power would be an important activity.
If your setting is going to change how we gain power (fusion for example) you need to put some research and thought into it.

This covers not only speed, but how people communicate and what it costs to do so. One way to get this set in your head is to think about how people who are poor, middle class, and rich talk to people who are nearby, a city way, and a world away.
Today communication is assumed to be instant, if we do go out and settle the planets then it won’t be anymore, light lag will be a real factor. Going to other stars would make light lag be even worse, easily a decade to get a reply.
And of course even if we make some sort of FTL engine that does not automatically mean we have a FTL comm system. Or that FTL comm’s are cheap.
For most of human history we could only send messages as fast as we could send a person, we may return to that someday.

Honestly I would say this is the most important, how easy it is to move people from one place to another is the most pivotal part of your society. It changes where buildings are, how big cities are and where people live.
If you can’t travel faster then you can walk you have to live near where you work. If you can teleport anywhere you want you could live on top of a mountain and then work at a fishery. If we could teleport we might not even have cities.
It also effects the gritty details of your story, how does your character get to his job? When his mom wants him to visit him across the city would it take him a day or an hour to there?

Cost of living technologies
By cost of living technologies I mean the technologies we use to get food, lodging, water, and medical care for everyone.
A society that requires half its resources just to provide the basics for its people would be very different from one that needed only 0.1% to do the same.

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.

How some future tech will work

There are certain technologies that are common in science fiction stories, ones television shows almost all depict working in specific ways that make no sense. Now there are good meta reasons for this, but nonetheless the problems exist and you should be aware of them.

This category is both the universal translators from Star Trek and more mundane ones that have certain languages programmed and can translate them for you (what we are able to sorta make today).

The thing about real life translators is that they almost always have to wait for the end of a sentence before they can translate. Languages are not all structured the same, for example in English you almost always put the noun before the verb “Josh is going to the store”. Whereas in most other languages it works the other way around “To the store Josh is going”. You can’t do a word for word translation because it would come out sounding like you were Yoda.

This means that a conversation between two people with translators would go something like this;

Josh speaks a sentence in English while Aldo waits.
Josh finishes the sentence then waits while Aldo listens to it in Spanish.
Aldo speaks in Spanish, Josh waits.
Aldo finishes speaking then Josh listens to the sentence in English

Everything would take twice as long because everything would be spoken twice, once in each language. And that assumes that things like tone could be gotten across, if not it could take longer and require both sides to speak more clearly then they would otherwise have to do.

Even if we are talking about universal translators that can read your mind (like a babble fish) most people think in the language they are speaking. That is one of the steps to being truly fluent in a language after all, I doubt that would really gain you much speed.

I will be the first the admit this is minor, and a pet peeve of mine, primarily from Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) style communicators. However they are not the only ones to make mistakes of this kind.

If you have watched any ST:TNG you know how the comm badge works: you hit the badge and say the name of the person you want to talk to and you can talk to them, the other person hears you ask for them as their badge chirps.

The problem with this is that before you said the person’s name the badge had no idea who you were going to ask to talk to, so how did they hear you ask to talk to them? Does it play a recording of you asking to talk to them? That seams very inefficient.

A better way would be this
*Picard hits his comm badge*
“Commander Data”
*It Chirps to let the Captain know the connection has been made*
“This is the Captain…”

Data would only hear the part after the chirp, so the Captain would have to say who he was twice. Again Star Trek is bad about this but they are not the only ones. If you want your world to be real then you have to think about things like this work, if something is used often enough and its done wrong often enough it will cause you problems.

Voice Recognition
This is something that later Trek did very well and early scifi often did badly oddly enough.

Anyone who has tried to used voice recognition instead of typing has learned that it is not that fast. Most people can type faster then they can talk, particularly when your talking about responding while taking data in.

I can’t listen to one person, while talking to them. However I can read something or watch some dials while using some controls or typing.

Using voice commands as an additional way of inputting data, particularly when your already maxing yourself out using your hands does make sense. Using your voice as a primary way of imputing data is just too slow, and I don’t see it being used that much.

Why are you in space?

When writing a science fiction one thing that has to be addressed is why are people in space? Getting to space is very costly after all.

While I would love to think that we could and will have a large moonbase for purely scientific reasons I doubt that will happen. Given the costs involved too many people would object.

If you want it to make sense for us to be in space and stay there you need to come with a good set of reasons.

The first, and honestly best, would be economic. For example in my book the reasons humans got into space to start with was that the crystals for optical computers could only be grown in zero gravity.

Now the problem with making things in orbit is that it costs a lot, mostly because everything has to be shipped up earth’s gravity well. You also are limited by the bottleneck of earth’s launch capabilities, it could take decades to increase them by a real amount.

That is why past a certain point it would make sense to either set up a moon base or drag an asteroid to high earth orbit.

This brings up the second economic reason to got to space, raw materials. If your in orbit of earth or on the moon it’s cheap to shoot ore down to earth.

You would reach a tipping point however, once you have an easy way to orbit (space elevator, orbital ring, rail gun launcher plus skyhook. Lots of options) and can do manufacturing in space the cost would be cut to almost nothing. At this point the only thing you might bring to space is people.

The second set of reasons would be military. A fact that few people really acknowledge is that if one nation controlled space they could not be fought. If you had a thriving space industry and your enemy did not they would not be able to win any kind of war. You could hit their cities with cheap bombs that would wipe the city out. You would see anything they do coming and they would have to rely on planes for surveillance.

One idea that pops up here and there is that the earth is dying and we need a colony on Mars (or sometimes the moon) to survive. So we put all the effort we can into creating the base to save the human race.

While I have read some good fiction with this idea I think the amount of effort needed to get to Mars is underestimated and the effort needed to survive on earth is overestimated. Setting up a colony on Mars that would be able to survive cut off from the earth forever would require a very large amount of resources. You would not only need to have the base in a location with raw materials, you would need the machinery and expertise to create everything from microchips to rockets. Unless we are talking about thousands of people there would be some specialties that you just could not have.

Think about how big the ISS is, now think about how much material you would need to send to mars. You could burn through a decade of launches just sending 100 people and machinery to mars.

The other side of the coin is how much the earth would have to change for such an effort to be needful. Even if our atmosphere become unbreathable and all the plants and animals died it still would be much easier to live on earth. Whatever happened to the earth it would have to be something that would not even let humans live in reinforced domes using greenhouses to grow food.