Future Worldbuilding: Choosing the Future

I’ve now switched gears, in earnest, with my “primary” writing project.  I’ve written four books in Maradaine and the world around it (six if you also count the two trunked novels), and while I’m not at all bored of it*, a palate-cleansing switch is due.   So I’m now (finally) writing the project that I’ve been calling Banshee for some time, which is pure space-opera.

The setting of this book is something I’ve been cooking for some time.  I’ve done a fair amount of worldbuilding here, with regards to future history, alien species and technology.

Now, trying to predict the future, especially in broad strokes for the next four hundred years, is pretty much a fool’s errand.  You’re not going to get it right.  So, you need to just embrace what the future you’re creating is going to be, and jump in at the deep end.

The way I see it, you need to ask yourself three Big Idea Questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. How did we get there?
  3. Why aren’t we over there instead?

The first two are essentially about establishing what your setting is.  In the case of Banshee, it’s a wide-sprawling, vibrant space-opera where great interstellar powers are forming alliances and empires… and humanity is a minor power that has only started to be a part of the larger community.

The third question is about establishing what your setting isn’t, which is just as vital and necessary thing to think about when building sci-fi in the future.  For example, is genetic engineering of people common?  To what extent?  And if it isn’t being used to the fullest possible extent, why not?  Cybernetics, nanotech, cloning, brain-taping?  Artificial Intelligence? Have these been fully embraced as part of normal life?  Or have they been shunned?  If so, why? 

For example, the future humanity in Banshee do not have artificially intelligent computers, and any form of cybernetic replacement of limbs or organs is done in a very controlled way (or on the black market).  Partly because, as a writer, these were cans of worms I didn’t want to open and had little to do with the future I wanted to explore.  But I felt I couldn’t just ignore it, pretend that such sciences didn’t exist.  So I’ve included in the history a point where humanity achieves Artificial Intelligence, and it goes horribly badly; a bloody war against the machines where AIs try to take over, and people with cybernetic implants are unwilling meat-soldiers used against the rest of mankind.  Humanity wins out, but the cost is high, and the result is the feelings behind never do that again are quite strong.

So, with that worked out, I’m diving into tomorrow.  See you there.

*- In fact, I’ve got specific outlines for Books Two and Three for each of those four books, and a rough plan for more beyond that, which all really excite me. 

One comment

  1. Great post. I recently struggled with exactly this issue when building a world 300+ years in the future, and I’m glad to learn I’m not the only one.

    Much as you got hung up on AI, I did so on cloning. I didn’t intend for issues around cloning to be a factor in my story; but if cloning was commonplace then it would of necessity have an impact on society. Okay, so they don’t have cloning – but when humanity had all these other impressive advancements, WHY wouldn’t they have cloning?

    It drove me nuts for three days until in a burst of inspiration I came up with a totally plausible explanation. It may never see the page, but I feel much better for it :).

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