Writing about the near future can be a challenge, especially when writing short stories. When I set out to write a short story today, one I had planned the night before, and then dreamed about as I slept, I realized that I had to think about how technology might differ from today a good sixty years from now. One way to predict near future technology is to examine some of science’s recent research papers and see what is on the frontlines of research, and where that funding is going currently.
Since my specialty is more in physics, I’ve seen a lot of research that deals with materials technology, nanotechnology, and quantum computing. There’s also a lot of research in astronomy and quite a few planned space exploration missions from not only NASA but quite a few other countries, such as China, which is currently sending a rover to the moon and has it’s own space station in a low earth orbit. Another area I know a bit about is climate science, based on me researching the latest papers by scientists in the field, and so I am able to speculate on the rise of sea levels, what coast lines may resemble after those sea level rises, harsher and more intense storms, and the look of the poles as more of the ice cap melts.
I’ve also done some digging into the design of cities — there’s a free class available on Cousera about this right now — and so I also considered how the rising sea levels and harsher storms might impact cities on how they develop, so I speculated that some cities, due to the rising sea levels, will either have to do hugely expensive walls and gate systems to try to block the rise from destroying parts of the cities on the coast, or they’d have to abandon that property and develop more infrastructure and land further inland, to try to pull people away from the areas that will soon be under water. I suspected a bit of both would transpire with the end result of the city slowly moving more inland, and the areas by the coast being slowly abandoned over time as wall protections undoubtedly fail over time (and after more violent storms damage them further). You could see some of this from space, especially if you were in orbit, say on a space station looking down on the planet. You’d also see where parts of the world had become dryer over time, less green areas and more of a sandy yellow hue, and see the change in coastline due to the rising sea levels.
Since I chose to focus the story on one astronaut on the International Space Station, I added some new parts to it: modules that grew plants and small trees and a quantum computer for its main computer core. Due to this new computer, it now cannot rely completely on its solar array so has a back-up fuel source to supplement the power from the solar arrays, and to help keep up the energy necessary for the new quantum computer. Also, considered ideas on how to safe guard against the growing array of space debris through us of lasers and electromagnetic pulses to push the debris away from the station and down toward the planet, where the smaller pieces can be burnt up, and the rest caught up in nets maneuvered by robots that specialize in detecting debris and catching it for clean-up.
Not all of these details will appear in the story, but I have them on hand just in case and to give myself a solid image of what the space station may look like in the near future. I then have the astronauts on board, mostly to supervise experiments and monitor the machinery and computers more than anything else, doing it in longer stints because of improved medical practices that deal with healing the body from the effects of weightlessness. (Nanotechnology could be very useful when it comes to repairing the body on the minute scales, and there has been some increased funding in medical science going toward more studies in this arena.)
This all took a bit of examining recent research in various avenues of science, but it was a bit of fun. The short story is now finished and am in the process of editing it and submitting it to a eZine to see if it’ll be accepted.