The problems with writing ‘near future’ science fiction

Writing ‘near future’ sci-fi can be a bit of a mine field. Even what appear safe assumptions have their problems.

I’ve pondered on this a lot recently, having written a book that starts in the late 21st century.  drought_edited-1Just what might happen in the next eighty years or so, how will the world change.  It’s alright if you’re writing a post apocalypse novel.  By their very nature they are, on the whole, unforeseen events and the playing field changes, almost literally in some cases, overnight.  What happens next is only limited by the writer’s imagination.  However, if, as in my case, the world carries on changing gradually the roots of that change are based on what’s happening now.  The trick is extrapolating that forwards.  Well, that can’t be that difficult can it?  And you still have quite a lot of license with new technology, speed of change etc., don’t you?

The problem, as I see it, is that we as readers feel (naturally) closer to that future.  We have an investment in it.  Distant future sci-fi, well who knows?  Then you are into strange worlds, faster than light travel and alien species.  Again wherever, your imagination can take you.  But the next twenty, fifty and hundred years, it should still be a world we recognise.  One problem is that I know from my strategic planning days we have a tendency to overestimate the amount of change for a given period of time.  In hind sight I think I may have done that in my book, but then I’m telling a story not producing a scientific prediction.  I’ve included the obvious such as continuing climate change; the demise of fossil fuels and the need for other sources of energy; the continued growth of the population and the problems of feeding that population.  I see those as fairly reasonable assumptions, the question might be in the speed of those changes.

flood_edited-1However, even those are not ‘safe ground’ for the sci-fi writer.  In the last six months the debate over fracking suggests that, potentially, we have much more in the way of fossil fuels.  There are reports that climate change might not be occurring as fast as originally predicted.  What are we writers to do?  In an early editorial comment on my book I was taken to task on my assumption of population growth, which I considered the least contentious issue.  Apparently there is a theory that population levels will peak in the next thirty years or so and then fall.  So you see in effect nothing is certain.  And we can all have an ‘evidence based’  view on it, which is not the case with ‘far distant’ fiction.

One thing we can do of course is look back at all those novels that attempted the same thing in the past.  I think it’s a pretty mixed bag of getting some things pretty close and ‘wide of the mark’.  However, the bottom line then as now, is that we are writing stories for entertainment, not definitive scientific predictions (well that’s my get out anyway).  Therefore we are at some liberty to pick and choose our assumptions.  So when ‘Project Noah’ comes out feel free to disagree.  I’m guessing I won’t be around to witness the reality, or will I?  Oh, and as for population growth, I’ll stick with the UN based assumptions.

If you have an opinion or comment on this let me know.  I’d love to hear from you.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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