Monday, 3 December 2012

The shape of things to come

One of the good things about writing science fiction is that I can just make stuff up. The down side is that I'm not really that good at it.

Echo is set something like seven or eight thousand years in the future but, leaving aside the spaceships, it's not that different from now. A couple of chapters ago, Echo shot somebody with what is effectively a Glock Model 18, she wears clothes that wouldn't look out of place now (OK, the jumpsuits would probably need to hide in 1982), and, until recently, reusable spaceships went up and down to orbital platforms. The world / galaxy of Echo is reasonably recognisable.

I've got round this in a couple of ways. I mentioned the war with the artificial intelligence race, which effectively bombed humanity back into the dark ages and a lot of their technology was presumably lost and they had to start again. Also, different planets have different technology levels. At first I presumed that all planets in the Empire would have the same level, but then I realised how dumb that it. I live in a house with electricity, central heating, and reliable utility supplies (although crap Internet speeds) and, in some parts of the world, people live in dwellings made of corrugated metal and plastic sheeting. Economics is likely to be no different across the Sleeper Empire. The world of Sangekar, which was resource poor, wet and mountainous, invested fabulous amounts of its meagre coffers in bringing in the best software technology and has prospered, although the taxis are still motorised rickshaws. Asimov, the capital, has unsupported bridges that span kilometres although, to avoid having to design a futuristic city, I set my two scenes on buildings that were old.

How quickly does stuff change? I don't watch Heartbeat, but the world of the 60's isn't that different. Their cars were small and poxy, their telephones were few and far between, and computing involved either your fingers or a pencil and paper. But they had cars, they had phones and they had a couple of computers in a building in Manchester. It's not really that different. Everything is smaller and faster and more reliable (apart from the Internet here), but has it really moved on so far?

It's not just me that struggles to see the future.The Head of IBM famously (supposedly) thought the world would need only a handful of computers. From where I sit I can see four and that's not counting the myriad ipods and smartphones.

It's my ambition to write steampunk, but the level of imagination and detail needed is probably far beyond me. For now I'll stick with Echo.