Predicting the future in sci-fi

I recently re-watched Blade Runner, one of my all time favourite films (The much-maligned Theatrical Release for those who care about such things. I don’t mind The Final Cut, but I’m not a big fan of the Director’s Cut.)

The story is set in 2019, just three years from now, and important events in the backstory are occurring right now, like Roy Batty’s “birthday.”


The movie was released in 1982, just over thirty years ago (though the Philip K. Dick story on which it was based – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (best title ever) – was published in 1968). The conception of the future portrayed in the film was interesting, not only in terms of technology but also social developments.

There’s the proverbial flying cars, and Replicants who are almost indistinguishable from humans, but no cell phones or flat screens. People are moving to “off world colonies” but most of them still smoke!

As a science fiction writer I’ve been trying to decide what the lesson in this is. I think it’s that you should lay off predicting future technology and society unless it directly affects the story, i.e. don’t use tech as the literary equivalent of eye candy.

Even then, you’ll probably get it wrong. But you’ll at least have a shot at drawing out some plausible implications, and perhaps to make the reader question some assumptions about their present. What more could an author ask for than that?

Cerelia’s Choice is Finally Here!

My latest novel, Cerelia’s Choice, is now available in ebook format on Amazon (US, UK, Australia, and the other stores). The paperback should be available in a week or two.

I’m really proud of this book. It’s a mix of space opera and romance, and I feel I’ve done a decent job of being true to both genres, resulting in a story with a little of something for everyone. I have a picture in my mind of the scene in The Princess Bride, where the grandfather is explaining to the boy that the book has sword fights and pirates and giants and chases, and of course true love. Well there are no giants, and the fighting is all done without swords, but the rest is true!

Cerelias Choice Kindle Cover

 A beautiful princess.

A handsome space pirate.

It could be a match made in heaven—if they survive…

When the luxury spaceliner carrying Crown Princess Cerelia across the Galactic Empire is attacked by space pirates, she is forced to flee for her life in the company of the ship’s captain, Jefferson Rydel. Having left behind her home and family forever to marry Lord Veraney, the man she has selected to succeed her father as Emperor, her disappearance throws the Imperial succession into question and destabilizes the Empire.

As she struggles to adapt to a harsh and challenging environment completely unlike the refined, sophisticated, and comfortable world she has always known, she discovers again and again that Captain Rydel is not what she thought he was.

Has he really uncovered the secret of Earth, its location lost in the passage of time and regarded by most as a myth? It would be a discovery to rock the very foundations of the Empire, its fourteen worlds each having been selected and terraformed to resemble as closely as possible humanity’s supposed original home. Or is he nothing but an unprincipled charlatan exploiting the hopes of millions?

Whoever he is, she has no choice but to accept his help. As they fight to stay ahead of the forces trying so desperately to kill her, and to stop the plot against the Imperial throne, she begins to wonder if she has found what she always longed for but never believed she would find—a man she can truly love without turning her back on the duty she was born to fulfill…

Discworld Mourns

All of Discworld mourns today at the news that Terry Pratchett has had his final meeting with Death.

I love the Discworld novels far more than any other fantasy works I’ve read (I generally prefer my fiction with a little science). They are satire at its very best – laugh out loud funny wrapped around biting political and social insights.

It’s a close run for my favorite between Going Postal and Making Money, but the latter wins for its profound observations on that most ethereal substance – money – that we all seem to spend so much time pursuing.

Wherever Sir Terry is now, he can take comfort from knowing it’s turtles all the way down.

Ender’s Game

I just watched the movie of Orson Scott Card’s best-selling novel Ender’s Game.

The movie was enjoyable, but lacked the emotional impact of the book which is a sci-fi classic and one of my favorites, by which I mean that it still affects me when I think about it, even now several years after I first read it.

In the book we see the slow, deliberate process by which Ender is transformed from an innocent six-year-old boy into a ruthless military commander. How and why this happens is fundamental to the story and the skill with which Card carries it off is what makes Ender’s Game so unique.

In Fuller’s Mine, there’s a process of a character being broken down psychologically. My character’s transformation is nowhere near as dramatic as Ender’s–it doesn’t so much change her as simply force her to act against her wishes–and occurs over a period of only a month, but it still required nearly 15,000 words (45 paperback pages) to do it justice.

In the movie of Ender’s Game the transformation happens to quickly. We don’t see enough detail of the experiences which change Ender for such a dramatic change in his character to be convincing. They’ve also compressed the timeline, so rather than being six years old at the start of the story he’s more like eleven or twelve.

If you’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the book, you really must.

Voices in my head

Since I’ve started writing I’ve found that when I’m daydreaming, it’s primarily dialogue. Not storylines, not structure, but literally dialogue. I hear my characters talking – not to me, but to each other.

The biggest problem is that this mostly happens in places where I can’t immediately write it down – in the shower, the car, falling asleep!

Fusion Reactors

As I have mentioned previously I was very conscious in writing Newton’s Ark to keep the science as real as possible. The most speculative technology I included was probably the micro fusion reactor – a small, highly portable fusion reactor that could power a satellite for decades.

This technology requires us to find a way to build a self-sustaining fusion reaction that produces positive net energy. And then you have to miniaturize it – I’m going to ignore that challenge assuming we can solve the main problem.

This technology has been a decade away for the past sixty years. Will we ever solve this problem? Who knows. It may really be a only decade away, it may be another sixty years away or it may never happen. It’s hard to extrapolate from the experience to date. There has been some progress but not enough to be completely confident that the fundamental challenge can be overcome.

It is still an active area of research though. In fact I recently received an assignment to design a biometric security system (iris recognition) for an experimental fusion reactor facility!

This post brought to you by author of Newton’s Ark, D.A. Hill.

More Sci Fi Keeping it Real

I posted recently on keeping the sci fi real in my first novel Newton’s Ark.

I just ran across this article about stopping an asteriod specifically debunking the scenario presented in the movie Armageddon of using a nuke to split it in half.

Here’s a relevant passage from my book:

“Despite all the holo-movies you might have seen where they destroy the asteroid before it hits the Earth and everyone lives happily ever after, it isn’t possible with the technology and time we have available. To nudge the asteroid off course we have to hit it far enough out that we would need to launch now. Problem is we don’t have anything with the range and payload required….”

“Can’t we just nuke the damn thing when it gets closer to Earth?”

“Yes sir we can, but we risk turning a single very large asteroid into multiple asteroids, each still plenty big enough to wipe out a large city. Better to have only one object to track and to limit the impact to a single location.”

I think this quote from the article nicely captures my philosophy:

…fiction is all about the make-believe. But good science can make for a more plausible narrative, making it easier to suspend disbelief.

This post brought to you by author D.A. Hill.

Keeping Sci Fi Real

One of the things I set out to do when writing Newton’s Ark, was to keep the science part of the science fiction plausible, by basing the technology of the future either on already emerging technologies or at least on plausible projections of current technology trends.

This article on taking control of drones by spoofing GPS signals is a good example.

Here’s the relevant section in the book:

 “The early drones worked exactly that way, Major. They were vulnerable; if communication is disrupted the drone is pilot-less. Worse still, if the signal is intercepted it is possible for a hostile force to take control of the drone. Back as far as 2012 the Iranians captured what was then one of our most advanced drones by spoofing a GPS signal. They convinced the drone that it was landing back at its base in Turkey when it was really landing in Teheran. Incidents like that were the impetus for the EM program.”

This post brought to you by author D.A. Hill