Telling The Future

I was recently asked by a reader how I go about writing the future—to have a narrative in a world decades from now, and be convincing as such. In reply I asked whether they thought for one moment that they were not in the future when reading the story (Seen And Not Seen), even if only the relatively near future. Well, obviously it’s the future—it’s science fiction. And there’s a spaceship…and stuff…

Writing a distant future—centuries or more ahead—might be considered by some a difficult proposition, but I would say it has the advantage of being anything you want it to be. A convincing near future is harder, as the reader will [want to, need to] relate to it more.

The way I go about it is to avoid stuffing the narrative with zappy gizmos and social profundities, except where they pertain directly to the story. These can otherwise be distractions that give the reader pause to consider, to reflect upon—and I don’t want the reader to do that, except where I really do want them to.

In fact, I start with the world—the familiar—of today. So it is a world of phones, cars, sidewalks…whatever. Or to put it another way, it is now, but extrapolated only where needed.

We seem preoccupied with the near future (just decades from now) being markedly different—flying cars, at-home fusion reactors and the like. But the reality is that things are unlikely to be radically different. Not really. Well, notwithstanding some dystopian schism—but that is not a genre I favour as a subject presently, as it has been done to death.

If I were to take someone from the Fifties (okay, so I would need a time machine gizmo for that) and zap them into 2016, what would they make of it?

It’d be a shock to them, for sure. And perhaps initially they may feel things to have moved on dramatically, but once they’d settled they would see the broad strokes of the familiar.

Cars, shops, roads, fuel stations, airliners, hospitals, trains, schools, clothing styles, social issues…and all that despite the white heat of progress.

Indeed, they may be somewhat disappointed—no flying cars, no personal robots, no free energy, no space stations, no holiday trips to the moon… The ISS and its ilk wouldn’t count—a tin can in orbit—that’s all you managed?

And if I took someone from forty years ago they might even recognize the same rolling stock on some of the UK’s railway lines…just sayin’.

Perhaps the first thing they may query is everyone walking around looking at these hand-held things all the time, or holding them to their ear, or talking into them—or to themselves. But they would understand the concept of the mobile phone pretty quickly.

Personal computers, laptops and tablets may take a bit more explanation, but it wouldn’t be much of a leap.

The one thing that they might boggle at is the Internet and the globalisation of the world—that is, just how connected everything is.

Now, it’s not that my future worlds aren’t chock-full of shiny things, but rather I leave it to the reader’s imagination—after all, it’s what the imagination excels at, so why detract from that?

So my future is the now, with bits added, and the rest I leave to you.