Thursday, August 9, 2012

Future Worldbuilding: Unfolding the Future

One thing I've noticed in most "future timelines"-- be it for books or television or movies-- the worldbuilding tends to gloss over the "near" future.  This, of course, makes perfect sense.  If you're imagining the 24th or 25th or 48th century, what happened in the late 21st century isn't necessarily all that important... unless it's a big deal.  And you don't really want to put a "big deal" too close to the present, else your world is going to be outdated before too long.

Broad brushstrokes is another matter, and can even be pretty crucial.  The Star Trek Universe doesn't have a lot of details about the 21st Century*; beyond the Bell Riots**, a manned Mars mission and Zephram Cochrane/Warp Speed/First Contact, we really don't know much of anything.  Babylon 5 was even vaguer.  Firefly was vague, but in the sense that the past was nearly myth: "Earth-that-was" and such.*** 

But as a writer and a worldbuilder, I'm big on knowing, even if it doesn't ever inform the text.  Just as the names Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride mean something, especially to those in their fields, other milestones would be similarly remembered.  Who was the first person on Mars, and what did they say?  The captain and crew of the first ship to go at hyper-light speeds?  The first human to make alien contact, the first to step on a planet in another solar system?  The names and history matter.

The short-lived, interesting failure**** Defying Gravity did get this sort of thing right.  The series, set in the 2050s, had already landed on Mars-- a mission that was at least a partial disaster.  Not to mention the fact that the first words on Mars were kind of lame. ("Red Planet, Conquered.")  So when the show, in its penultimate episode, had one of its characters as the first person to walk on Venus, it was an event in the world of the show.  What she said when she stepped off the lander mattered.  History was being made.

And that's what it's all about.  Making history, just forward.

*- Though having the show in the '60s predict the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s was kind of amusing, especially since when the Voyager crew traveled to 1996-- the present when it aired-- there were fans complaining that the Eugenics Wars weren't happening on the show. 
**- Which, frankly, seem scarily possible right now.
***- Though I read a theory that Firefly could be a potential future of the Dollhouse-verse.  Which I can see.
****- I did like the attempt to import the style of a Grey's Anatomy workplace-drama onto a science-fiction setting.  It worked for me in making the SF aspects of living in the 2050s just part of normal life.  But I think the result was a show that really only appealed to the narrow overlap who liked both kinds of shows, instead of either.

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