1. GaleSkies
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    GaleSkies Member

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    When Reality Catches up to Fiction

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by GaleSkies, Feb 24, 2012.

    What do you do when reality catches up to fiction? Specifically, when the gadgets of your science fiction universe are actually created in the real world?

    I'm working on a novel-length science fiction story and I threw in a couple of gadgets just to give the story a more futuristic feel. However, Apple, Google and Mozilla, are closing the gap very quickly. Is this a good thing? Will it help my potential readers be in a frame of mind to understand the tech more easily. Or is it a fatal flaw: "can't this writer come up with anything more original?"

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    The technology in question wasn't that original, anyway. Its like that classic, "Well, we'll probably have flying cars in 100 hundred years, let's put that in the story." Only in this hypothetical situation flying cars are slated to hit the market next year. I've read a few editorials written by Robert A. Heinlein on the matter, and I love his take on it. His take is a soft soothing reminder, that the job of a science fiction author is not to predict the future, but to extrapolate or speculate possible futures.

    Here are the main discussion points I'd like to stick to:
    Would you change your tech or setting if reality got too close?
    Do you prefer a setting in your writing/reading as close to reality as possible or as far away as possible?
    How heavily do you rely on technology to paint your setting? Do you go as far as making up new words? Do you go further?
    Is it a curse or a blessing, to have technology match up to your story?

    Now let me predict the future. At least half of the responses to this thread will contain the words "It depends" MuahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
  2. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    It depends. Is your story set definitively on Earth? Are these humans? On another planet, that's already kind of sci-fi, so I wouldn't worry too much about the tech level; on Earth, I would move it up, but I don't usually write sci-fi so I'm afraid I'm not going to be of much help. If you're working with humans, especially I would say enhance the technology. In Star Trek humans claim to be evolved, and yet they consistently show that they aren't. That's sort of the point, I think, to show that no matter what circumstances humans are in and how much they've learned about the universe, they're still human.

    If I were writing sci-fi, I would definitely make up new words, but I would root them in Latin or in composite English words. Who came up with the terms "computer" and "Internet"?

    Hm... blessing, because it's easier to visualize, and curse, because it requires less imagination. I would put that on the whole as curse. A story that requires no imagination, that asks nothing of the reader, is uninteresting to me.

    And lastly, because you put in that prediction, every response will contain the words "it depends."
  3. GaleSkies
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    GaleSkies Member

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    Self fulfilling predictions, and causal time travel loops are some of my favorite science fiction themes. Including them in regular life is a fun pastime. :)

    To answer Erato's questions, I am dealing with a far future, space traveling society. The communication problems that I envisioned this civilization having are being addressed today by companies like Google and Apple. I could very easily imply that the basic communication structures haven't advanced to match their space faring ways, but like you said, that is uninteresting.

    I try to write closer to reality, especially when it comes to human behavior. An issue I'm having at the moment is with an invented word and what would happen if Google or Apple decided to establish their own name for a similar device or technology, like "cloud computing". This term is not as self descriptive as words like "internet" or "computer". Using self descriptive terms with latin bases is good for the reader, but unimaginative on the authors part. A lot of sci-fi authors love to point at oddities like keeping the term cloud computing even though the people who live in space have never seen a cloud in their secluded space station life. (<-- Asimov is my primary example, he does it a lot) It keeps in line with that theme you mentioned, humans don't change.
  4. UrbanBanshee
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    UrbanBanshee New Member

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    Even with technology that really exists it can take awhile for it to be an 'everyone has one' kind of thing. I'll use the standard PC as an example. A character with a PC isn't anything new and wouldn't make the story seem future-y. I have a computer, and most people I know have one too, but, even out of the people I know who have a PC a good chunk don't understand a lot about computers. These people I know are about my dad's age or older and didn't grow up with the internet (granted I myself remember when google wasn't the answer to everything) and they often have problems with the technology. I also know techs the same age, so I'm not trying to generalize just illustrate something.

    The way the society treats the technology can make it seem newer, or just another facet of life. Using your hover cars example, if hover cars really did come out next year I wouldn't rush to buy one. They would be expensive and would start out as a purely luxury item. If I saw one on the street I would probably admire it, while ooh-ing and ahh-ing. I'd guess I wouldn't be alone. Those older then me probably wouldn't trust hover cars and would probably ridicule them (like how people ridicule cell phones even, today) but if in your story people rode in them like they were no big deal, and especially if there weren't people going on how 'in their day cars had wheel dangnamit' then I wouldn't have a problem with the same technology we have being used in the future.

    The biggest concern I actually come across when someone suggests new tech in sci-fi stories is with something we can't predict making future technology look odd. Still going with the hover cars, it would be like having a story with hover cars and instead of getting real hover cars too fast, we get instant teleporation in real life instead. Making it so we never have hover cars. I know that isn't your problem but I just find that sort of thing interesting.
  5. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Member

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    In my story for the SF short story contest, I wrote about something that I called "The Podway" -- that is, something of an automated private monorail system, where cars (or pods) can hold 1-6? people, and are programmable to any destination on the line. Basically, one would enter the pod, swipe a passcard, program their destination, and the pod would carry them there. No need to stop at each station along the way, and it's a private car, more like a taxi or your own vehicle.

    Well, this whole thing is an idea that I came up with when I was without a car and the bus line that ran past my house was discontinued. What kind of public transportation would be useful to me? Something like cars, but that was pay-per-use and accessible to everyone, right? Developed this whole concept in my head, was getting all excited about it... then one night, on a whim, I did a little looking around Google.

    Yeah, turns out these things have been in existence since the 70s. It's known as Personal Rapid Transit (and are even called "podcars" by some). There are few active tracks around the world, but they DO exist.

    So, after the natural disappointment of not even coming close to being the first to think of this thing, the excitement started to set in. What if these things became mainstream? What would that mean for society?

    Slowly, I started imagining using the podway. I imagined someone taking advantage of the autonomy of it, and reprogramming a pod to kidnap someone. I imagined who these people were, why they found themselves in that situation.

    And eventually I had my story.

    So, the point is that I did initially have misgivings about using this design that is (limited) science fact. Eventually, though, I embraced this possibility of the technology and let it shape my story. So, maybe next year some city starts putting in a podway, and in five years it's up and running and my story is no longer even remotely science fiction.

    Oh well. Now it's just a story about two people.
  6. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte New Member

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    TheIllustratedMan: that is very cool what you shared about podcars actually existing. The movie "Logan's Run" came to mind when I read your post.

    GaleSkies: I write a lot about the distant future (a space-faring, nonhuman race) by basing it in the now (or the past, as I seem to have acquired a taste for incorporating the medieval lately). I try to maintain a highly relational setting by using existing terms and concepts which are easily identifiable, only highlighting unique technical facets as they promote the plot. Since my focus is more drama and politics, this works out well. But, as you already know, there are different sub-genres of sci-fi that do rely more heavily on technical description, and it sounds to me like you are on the right road of studying how the masters of the art handled similar dilemmas in their work.
    .
    As far as new words go, I love making up new words! However, I do try to be mindful of when, where, and how often I use them. For an example drawn from the genre of historical fiction, I felt that both Shogun and Tai-Pan (by James Clavell) had a level of foreignness in including Japanese words that I appreciated - without feeling overwhelmed. That is what I want to strive for, an inclusive factor for the reader without sounding preachy or overwhelming.
  7. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Member

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    You know, that falls into this weird category in my head of "Classic movie that I've seen parodied so many times that I basically know what it's about and so have never gotten around to actually watching." There are quite a few like that. But yeah, now that you mention it, I think they had something similar to the podcar idea.

    Let that be a lesson to all of you who come up with an idea, only to find out it's been done before. My story uses a similar element to Logan's Run, but the story is COMPLETELY different. It's not that big of a deal... everything's been done before. :p
  8. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte New Member

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    Haha ... another movie came to mind ... remember "Throw Mama from the Train"? Just like you said, similar elements used created completely different storylines. Whether or not technology has been done before or reality catches up to your fiction, only you can tell your story, and I think that's what makes our writing unique.
  9. GaleSkies
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    GaleSkies Member

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    OH yeah! I totally loved shogun. Foreign words are great at making the unfamiliar things more recognizable, or the familiar things seem more foreign. That T.V. show Firefly had all of its swear words in Chinese, and Orsen Scott Card like to model his space colonies after immigrants from South America or Asia. Cross culturally is a great way to introduce technology.
  10. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte New Member

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    Absolutely! I recently took an Anthropology class and it made me want to change my major soo badly (but I'm almost ready to graduate!) because everything we studied inspired me with the most awesome story ideas (and not for any want of being an anthropologist). History is full of examples of what happens when a more socially or technologically advanced society encounters one that is less so ... the parallels that kept coming to mind in class for developing conflict in speculative fiction really were amazing. I am currently working on a short story in which the heroine is a xeno-anthropologist and the plot focuses on the cross-cultural contamination of alien technology. Now, I wonder where that came from? :)
  11. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Member

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    It would seem to me it only becomes a problem if you're setting is way in the future and the devices you have are becoming current. It it's near future then I could see some small evolution but not enough to worry about unless it's a big issue in your mind.
  12. Imprive
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    Imprive New Member

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    Well, remember that Arthur C. Clarke thought up Geostationary satellites, and now we have them and his books are still considered science fiction. Just because one piece of technology has been invented in RL, doesn't make your story any less sci-fi. And even if most of what you wrote about became real, your story still might be considered to be near-future sci-fi. I've read stories that take place only a few decades in the future, and they are definiatly considered to be sci-fi. Granted, near-future sci-fi might be slightly easier for some to imagine, but it is still science fiction, no matter when it was written or how much came true. Heck, much of the technology in far future books resemble stuff we use today. Like tablets, they are used TONS in sci-fi and are called a variety of things, like compads.
    Don't go changing your stuff because you don't consider it to be far enough advanced. If you think its too close to todays tech, then you could add a new feature, or reinvent it somehow or even just give it a different name.
  13. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    What kind of technology is it exactly, and what is the real-life version?

    If it's something like an iPhone or smartphone, I'd definitely recommend changing it to make it more advanced.
  14. GaleSkies
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    GaleSkies Member

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    Well I didn't really want to get into specifics, but...
    Google is making an Android based glasses that project content into the user's field of vision...
    Or virtual reality glasses meets mobile internet content...

    Like I said its not a core gadget of the novel, but I wanted to use semi opaque video phone glasses that are used in all facets of society. Like ordering from a menu, or checking the fuel levels on your space ship, etc... so, yeah. Cell phone glasses.
    I think the new york times did an article on it a week or two ago, but nothing is solid yet. Early tests could show that everyone ends getting eye cancer.
    Anyway,

    AS I mentioned earlier:
    Far future, with near future tech...
  15. Jowettc
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    Jowettc New Member

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    And here is the thing about Sci Fi. Most sci-fi is essentially near future sci fi in terms of tech or human endeavours. Why? Because you have to be able to relate it to the reader otherwise it becomes too unbelievable or too bizarre to get their head around. Most good sci-fi has some basis in the technology and human ideas and ideals present today -- stretched further -- but they seldom include completely new and radical ideas.

    Examples usually include, space ships, regular common garden planets, alien life forms that mostly conform with lifeforms already present - no matter how apaprently bizzarre, computers, and so forth.

    Seldom do you read about humans that exist as blobs of consciousness living in clouds of semi-gaseous liquid planets for the obvious reason that the reader cannot relate.

    You can still of course conjure up a new piece of tech from the pages of a new scientist piece that led you to think, 'What if we could...?' and thats the real genius of Sci Fi. But don't panic if you can't - Sci fI should not forget that it is the interplay of CHARACTERS through EVENTS that still weaves the story. Technology simply adds an interesting edge. I don't think it should be about the technology in and of itself -- but how it affects the lives and inter-relationships of all those that use it. Or it could be just a means to an end.
  16. bazzie
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    bazzie New Member

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    Hmm, virtual reality contact lenses instead or glasses, is that a little further ahead?

    What is the level of bio tech in the society? Can they just have a small chip in the brain that allows a virtual overlay on what the eye is seeing, by tapping straight into the optic nerve? Possibly an implant in the ete instead of the brain if that is slightly less high tec..

    bazzie
  17. Berber
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    Berber Member

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    I would still use it, but you do need to be careful if it's truly about to reach the public. Since this is a media/communication device, then you may run into difficulties. The problem is this: once products such as these (i.e. smart phones and tablets) hit the mass market, you will find that the public quickly adapts to the new technology. We crave this kind of communication. It may only take a year or two for even a child to be fully literate in its functions. Essentially, the public (and much more importantly, the younger market that you may be targeting with your novel) becomes an expert on the device. Your level of expertise needs to match theirs, or else you risk losing credibility. At any rate, you can avoid this by not being overly specific about the limitations and capabilities of the technology in question.
  18. GaleSkies
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    GaleSkies Member

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    @bazzie: Yeah, I could make it biological implant style, but that totally doesn't work with the theme that I'm going for. I shooting for a clean distinction between humans and their tools. Why that's important... well, maybe when I finish I'll know more.

    Great points everyone. I think I'll try and be less explicit in detailing them. I would love to immerse the reader in the technology and the world, but it is smarter to focus on the characters and events. Maybe I'll read Nueromancer again... great tech, but he always focused around the character and their experiences with technology through events that progressed the novel. No needless fluff or exposition.
  19. jeffm
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    jeffm Member

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    Indoor plumbing used to be science fiction, but now it's reality. At some point it becomes just a part of the world rather then a gadget that the author extrapolated into existence. If the technology is reasonable and useful to your fictional society, then the fact that it's being developed now only goes to show that what you are describing is believable and realistic.

    A lot of old SF talked about portable communicators or hand held radios, they were being developed when the author's were writing and didn't work out exactly like they had envisioned and it turned out OK. We don't' fault those older authors from being slightly wrong, or think of them as less "original". In fact some of them, like Gibson we praise for being so close to eventual reality.

    In the end if it reads well and fits in the universe, use it.
  20. bazzie
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    bazzie New Member

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    Hmm, what about a small piece of technology, that sits behind the ear like a hearing aid, that when requires, projects what the user needs to see just in front of their eyes? People are just so bloody vain, would they really all wear these glasses? it could also act as a wireless interface for all sorts of technology like non contact payments and security access etc

    Just thinking out loud :)
  21. daydreams
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    daydreams Member

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    I know what you mean. It's difficult to know what will or might come in the future. Take Star Trek TOS for example, where they have portable communicators (compare to our smartphones!), tablet computers (which was realised back in the 90's, but only now popular), medical tricorders (we don't have them yet, but one of the X-Prize contests is about inventing such a thing). But they were progressive in other ways too, with their crew consisting of humans of both genders and various ethnic/national heritage, plus a Vulcan. And that was during the 60's, when both women and blacks still had to fight for equal rights.

    In the Star Trek Voyager episode Phage, Neelix's lungs are beamed out of his body by some race which has to replace their organs to survive the phage disease. The Doctor implements holographic lungs, which was pretty clever. But even today we are about to grow/print new organs in the lab, and so several centuries into the future, they should have come much farther than we have.

    Maybe we shouldn't try to predict the future precisely, but we can still offer new visions and new possible technologies. With the rapid growth in computing power, the advances in AI, the growing understanding of our own brains, genetic engineering, etc., I think the future could bring a lot of possibilities. We will almost certainly change ourselves in some way, get rid of genetic diseases, improve ourselves with implants, and maybe further down the road upload ourselves into machines and become virtually immortal (and upgradable).
  22. VM80
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    VM80 New Member Contributor

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    That kinda happened with a futuristic story I wrote.

    I started it in 2004, and mentioned an 'electronic reader' (i.e. something Kindle-like), which was being developed at the time I suppose. Certainly I'd read something somewhere about plans to come up with electronic books etc. When I picked up the story again to finish it in 2010, I left well alone.

    Generally I didn't go into too many details, so most of my technology was 'device' or 'latest media player', or something like that.
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