Whether the setting is next year, next century or next millennia like mine, depicting the future is never easy. If you stick too close to current trends, the future might catch up with you before the book is published. If you predict flying cars and undersea cities in twenty years, you run the risk of asking readers to suspend too much disbelief. And the comfortable middle ground is…well comfortable, which is one baby step away from being tired.
Disney’s Tomorrowland is the perfect example of this conundrum. Between Disneyland and Disney World that particular section of the park has seen every space-age style from Buck Rogers to Jules Vern to Buzz Lightyear. Mission to the Moon lasted around a decade before Neil Armstrong’s little stroll necessitated an update to Mission to Mars, when that tech became outdated Disney went with the sci-fi thriller, Alien Encounter. Now they appear to have totally given up on staying ahead of technology and the whole land looks more like a comic book than Star Trek.
Epcot has faced similar problems staying relevant, made worse by its focus on edutainment and thus realism. Rather than shell out $100 million on a Health Pavilion that doesn’t look like an 80’s Jane Fonda aerobics video, it was shuttered in 2007. The current trend appears to put more focus on thrills and characters, maybe so no one will notice when the future tech becomes last year’s hot Xmas gift.
Luckily books don’t cost millions to publish so our work doesn’t need to stay relevant for decades, although we certainly hope it does. So how do we create a future that feels real, not cliché?
One way is to use technology that scientists have envisioned or created in a lab setting, but is not currently in production, such as carbyne, the new strongest material. Or make gadgets and gear currently only available to military special ops available at discount stores nation-wide. Liquid body armor for all! Only writers have the power to push through the limits of current technology. If the Spike S-512 hypersonic jet is projected to travel up to 1900 km/hour, make your passenger jets capable of reaching 2500. A quick search of 2014 new technology will give you plenty of starting points.
Another option is to create your own materials, such as Tolkien’s mithril or Superman’s kryptonite. And what would Star Trek be without transporters and warp drives? While now they’re canon, once they were all just another writer’s wild idea. But to make your creations really click with readers, they have to be grounded in science, be it the refractive properties of crystals, nuclear physics, or string theory. Be sure to give us the specs on your creation’s properties and limitations so we can fully appreciate your genius, but not in an info dump the size of Mount Doom.
Whether you’re creating a post-apocalyptic thriller or a sci-fi romance set in an alternate reality, world building can make or break the novel. So fire up you browser and plunge into the latest issue of Popular Science. Just don’t attempt to ascertain the properties of carbon nanotubes at 2:00am. And watch out for worm holes. If you get sucked in, you may not write another word for hours.
This will be last world building post for a while. While I hope you enjoyed the series as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’m feeling the need to write something more in keeping with the season. Maybe the spirits are communing with me. Or maybe it’s all the fake cobwebs and paper ghosts my son and I put up this weekend.
I’ve been trying to set up a advanced civilization that terraformed the moon to be habitiable. I had trouble deciding how far they should be ahead of the planet but thanks to your post I’ve been looking up new real world technologies!
Glad to be of help. Happy worldbuilding!