Monday, August 3, 2015

Staying Ahead of the Tech (And How it May Not by Possible)

Next up in my Inherited Stars Science Fiction Romance series is The Outer Planets. It's a clear departure from the tone and setting in my first novel--Inherit the Stars--but yet, it is indeed a component of the same universe.

The Outer Planets takes a step back in time some 1,500 years from the Inherit the Stars era. That makes the setting just a couple of decades ahead of the Right Here and Right Now. In the Inherited Stars Series timeline, the story goes back to the origins of how things come to be in Sair and Drea's universe.
A previous blog explained how The Outer Planets looks back at a future that hasn't yet happened, and how challenging (and daunting) it is to peer into the literary equivalent of a crystal ball.

The Near Future setting presents some real challenges. Unlike Inherit the Stars which was written in last five years, this novel has been brewing in my head for decades and had already undergone several major revisions and updates prior to becoming a finalist in the 2011 RWA Golden Heart Awards.

Whoa! That was already four years ago! So much has happened on the technological front since then that the exploration of some of the really cutting edge stuff is now in danger of being overtaken by recent advances in science.

On many fronts, technology is catching up with fiction. As one Facebook commenter recently posted (paraphrasing): People now look to Star Trek to see what technology will be out next year.

Ain't it the truth! Transparent aluminum and all that jazz! Makes being a Near Future SFR writer a bit tricky, doesn't it?

But there is a flip side. The good news is that writing Near Future SFR is a two-edged light sabre.

Some of the technology revealed in The Outer Planets might have been too much of a suspension of disbelief for some readers until very recent years. We're right on the verge of breakthroughs now that will not only make such innovations believable, but highly likely to happen in the next few decades.

So what's new in this particular Near Future? Here's a glimpse at just some of the tech.

"Super Cool Mobile Phone
 Wrist Watch" (actual product name)
by ChinaVision as shown
Wristcoms. Nobody carries cell phones anymore. Everyone has this 50th generation upgrade of the computer wrist watch. It's a personal computer and data storage device, communication device, chronometer (also known as a watch), and tracking device (with privacy contingencies) all wrapped up into one. Oh, and one more cool perk. It has the ability to transmit video messages in holographic mode.

Mobile computer systems. And I don't mean laptops. In this Near Future, computer systems as we think of them have become obsolete. All terminals are "dumb" until an individual plugs in their personal omni-device in the form of a sia cube. Just plug that baby into any available terminal and the effect is -- voila! -- instant home computer! All operating systems, programs, applications and files are now available via the sia technology. Individual machines no longer carry their own array of applications and software because, well, as we all know, it's not at all efficient. Imagine being able to sit down at any terminal in the world solar system and having instant access to all your files and software.

Sia Cubes. A futuristic operating system array and storage device all rolled into one, like a memory stick on super steroids. These little babies can store entire New York City Public Libraries to the nth full of operating systems, applications, data, sound and image files. Nothing like having human history on a string.

StatMos. It stands for Status Monitor. It's another name for that "dumb" terminal that's waiting for someone to plug in a sia cube and turn it into a real system. When the monitor is not activated by an individual, it is tuned to the vessel's main information system (we are borg) and displays maps and layouts of the ship, data and time, bulletins from command, medical, or services, ship's calendar, or other general data that might be good to know while you're a passenger on a pressurized vessel hurtling through an endless vacuum.

Armstrong Space Port aka ASP - As exploration (and mining and profiteering) on the Moon and Mars become more commonplace, a permanent space station and orbiting shipyard is constructed in orbit around Earth. With a capacity of 15,500 individuals (plus visitors), it serves as a hub for Mars and Lunar shuttle flights and supply ships, and later becomes the base for constructing the outer planets exploratory and research vessel NSS Destination (a ship that will be re-christened before she even embarks...but no spoilers.)

Docking Arms. Sometime around 2030, while in the midst of building ASP, some brilliant engineer figures out that having two ships direct dock in a vacuum is a very bad idea. As a result, they construct the first docking arm systems. Docking arms are simply a heavily padded beam that swings out from the side of the larger vessel at a 45 degree angle. The arm is equipped with the docking cone and mechanism and also outfitted with shock absorbers and other safety equipment to make docking safer for both the craft attempting to dock and the personnel occupying the larger vessel or space station. Once the ship has successfully docked, the arm swings back in an arc along the side of the ship to allow the shuttle to connect with a special docking airlock to offload passengers or cargo.

[There are other forms of technology that I can't share for the sake of avoiding spoilers. Those will be for the readers to discover later. :) ]

Inevitably, real life technology will catch up with and supersede that depicted in the novel, but like the recent reincarnation of Terminator and such past hits as the Back to the Future franchise, I believe that stories exist in their own universe, and in that perspective, the fictional status quo remains timeless.

What are you thoughts on technology that's coming in the very near future? What innovations do you think we might have in another five years? Or ten? Or twenty?


  1. My first romantic suspense novel, technology was changing so fast, I had to keep going in and updating and finally tried to jump ahead some. It still got left behind! It's crazy how fast things are happening.

    1. Totally, Pauline! It's almost easier to jump a century or two ahead than to predict what's going to happen in a couple of decades.

  2. I will never stop giggling at the communicators they use in Star Trek. Those are big, clunky, and single-purpose.
    Speaking of Star Trek, I remember the "Hello Computer" segment with Scotty being nonplussed that he has to use a keyboard to control the computer. We're headed towards voice control for lots of things. I now have software and devices that will set my alarm, make my shopping list, put a call through for me, play me music, send a voice-dictated email or text...and that's just today. The obstacle to voice control I can think of is that it's disruptive at work. If everyone in the office is talking to their computers, it could be hard to concentrate...

    1. Too true, Eileen! And I'm one of those who has to work in silence. Can't even have the radio playing. I'd be a basket case if all my co-workers were talking to their office equipment at the same time!

  3. I just have up wearing watches and started depending on my phone for the time when there was not other source available. I hope the new watches are reasonably priced and come in all sorts of fashionable colors (like my old watches).

    All kidding aside - I'm interested in your view of the future of technology Laurie. And looking forward to reading about those technological advances you have withheld!

    1. Thanks, Riley! Personally, I think if they ever made a wrist phone where the buttons were large enough to read without making the whole thing too large to wear, I'd probably trade my cell phone in in a minute.


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