Tricky research – the ‘near’ future

by PD Martin

I’ve always loved the research that goes along with being an author, particularly a crime fiction author. I’ve posted here on some of my different research subjects, such as cults (part 1 & 2), handwriting, Kung Fu and Dim-Mak, real-life vampires and being a hitman (or woman).

I’ve also mentioned that I’m currently working in another new genre, writing a young adult (YA) novel. But this little YA novel has been giving me grief. Like, quite a lot of grief. But it’s not the writing process (which has actually been pretty easy), it’s the research. And what makes it hard, is that the book is a pre-apocalyptic novel set in the year 2030. So, it’s the near future. And I guess I’m pretty hopeless at speculating what the world will be like in 17 years’ time.

A little background…the book is set in the US and much of the action takes place in the environment of the Secret Service. In some ways, I figure the near future setting means perhaps I’ve got a bit of leeway. If I don’t get a specific Secret Service procedure right, maybe it’s just that things changed from how it’s done now to how it would be done in 17 years in the future. Right?  

But there are so many little facts and questions that are bugging me. Here are just a few:

  • Will a new power source have been discovered by then or are we still talking the current methods, including nuclear power?
  • Can my main character raise her SIG 9mm to take a shot? Surely guns will still be around and SIG SAUER will still make them. Or will they?
  • Will the US election system still be the same?  
  • Will the President still fly on ‘Air Force One’ and ‘Marine One’? And presumably planes and choppers will still be our primary method of fast transport. Won’t they?
  • Will countries have merged to make new countries or super powers?
  • What will the world look like in terms of water shortage and greenhouse gases? Surely 17 years wouldn’t have much effect…or will it?
  • Will people be reaching for their phones and tablets or something entirely different?
  • What will the internet look like in 17 years’ time?

It seems this particular area of my imagination is pretty pathetic! Problem is, when dealing with the near future I think you tread a fine line between what’s plausible and what’s short-sighted.

Have you thought much about the near future and what it might look like? If you’ve got any insights into any of the above, go for it! Help me!!!! God knows I need it.

13 thoughts on “Tricky research – the ‘near’ future

  1. Dana King

    You worry too much. The near future can be pretty much what you want, so long as you don't come up wtth flying cars or interplanetary space travel. Will SIG still make nines in 2030? Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. What do you need them to do? Advances in medical research? Sure. Different laws? Absolutely. So long as it's feasible, you can do whatever you want, especially for young adults, for whom 2030 is a hundred years from now.

  2. Jake Nantz

    As a devoted Cyberpunk fan (both the pen-and-paper game and the novel sub-genre of the 80s), I've had a character from that mold who's been threatening to completely derail my current WIP if I don't write his first. So I've gone back and re-read some of the sourcebooks from the old game, and also a couple of the more seminal novels (Gibson's NEUROMANCER and W. J. Williams's HARDWIRED). So I've been looking at "near future" from that point of view. Then again, only 17 years forward, the best thing to do is look back 20 years.

    Cell phones? In the 90's? I couldn't name one friend who had their own, and I was in my late teens/early twenties. The big, bulky, attached car phone? Yeah, that was a status thing.

    Guns? Still fired the same rounds, same calibers, mostly made by the same companies.

    Governments? Sucked then, sucked now, but the borders have changed and changed again.

    Politicians? All liars and hypocrites and scoundrels…same, same, same.

    So somethings will have changed a LOT in 17 years. And some things will still be the same in 70. You get to determine which is which, provided you imagine with your feet in reality. Human nature will stay the same, so the utpoic peaceful communes of hopeful fiction are a fantasy. But technology and governmental borders (if the world is "run by corporations" by then)? Yeah, that will probably change a lot.

    So play and have fun with it, and I wish you luck. Hopefully I can get my WIP done before my new protag kills me, and we can BOTH have a near(-ish) future book to write!!

  3. Alaina

    I've read widely in this genre, and I'd recommend you read Cory Doctorow's LITTLE BROTHER for some grounding; he released it as a free e-book, so you can find it easy. He sets the story 4 X-box consoles in the future (16 or 20 years). I'd also recommend FEED by M. T. Anderson, and Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

    Take a deep breath and stop worrying so much, now. Remember that we made all sorts of lofty predictions about what we'd have by 2000– flying cars, hovercraft– but don't.

    Next, start thinking practically, and do some research for news articles about things you'd WANT in the future, like flying cars or hovercraft. Right now, I can tell you there's a self-driving car that uses Google Maps to navigate. Would you *want* to trust yourself in a car using Google Maps to navigate?

    Now, to answer your actual questions…

    Power sources, consider that most places are using multiple means of power, and most 'plans' to switch from one power source to another are for 10+ years. Even then, they're things like 40% solar, or 60% wind, not a complete switch. However, you *can* look at current issues and expand on them; electric cars and hybrids are new and expensive, but with rising gas prices you can easily make them common.

    Guns, there is a lot of talk about regulation but not banning. I can't tell you about the make of gun, but it looks like there will be no change or that the main change will be tighter laws to get them, no automatic weapons. Even if there is a more modern weapon, it'll be expensive, which can change how many people even *see* them.

    Election system… who knows, but again, look at politics. Citizens United will be the only change, if anything, unless you want to make more changes.

    The president probably will fly, for tradition if nothing else, but remember: flying cars. Having planes didn't make cars go extinct, and flying cars won't make planes go extinct, but they have a working prototype that can go about 2 feet off the ground. If it gets anywhere, it may cause some security changes.

    Do different countries have any effect on your story's plot? Should you worry about this?

    There are all sorts of charts and infographics about the build-up of greenhouse gases and how they predict it'll affect the future, all based on scientific evidence. Find one of those, then decide how much other changes (electric cars?) might make a difference.

    Phones and Tablets… again, read FEED. I can't give you a better perspective than that. If you want a plot summary and can't find a good one/don't have time to read it, e-mail me and I'll give you one.

    What will the Internet look like? Who knows? But even as things change, they stay the same; there'll still be spam, ads, flame wars…

    I hope this helps!

  4. Fran

    You might look at Google Glass now for your computing projections in the future. They could be huge. And there are so many potential issues with them, they could make your future "life" complicated in — hopefully — good ways.

  5. David Corbett

    Don't forget the unforeseeable, unpredictable, ungodly screwup that provokes a crisis that seems inevitable only in retrospect. Although the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand wasn't out of the question, the fact a Serbian anarchist's bullet launched the most gruesome war yet seen by man was one of those steamroll effects it's almost impossible to imagine happening — but it utterly transformed the world. (WW2 and WW! were really the same war, separated by a two decade pause). I agree with the others, do a little research, then have some fun.

  6. Reine

    Phillipa, I think elections have a real chance of change, but what I think more likely will be huge changes in political campaigning. A small group of people convinced a large group of people to ruin their own political party during our past two presidential elections. Those who rode the coattails of idiocy, and were elected, are now being made fools of. All they can do is to work to stop progress and try to beat back anything that supports the interests of the people who will be voting for them next time. I thought that they would regroup and become more sensible, but today I see they are kissing the ass of money, in the form of Grover Norquist at CPAC whose money allows him to be believable when he proclaims, as he did totay, β€œRepublican elected officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everybody else.” How can our democratic republic survive this fight if we allow the advantage to default to money?

    Oh. Sorry. That was a rant, wasn't it? I do believe, though, that things could go very bad here in the states. You're related fiction, and the YAs who read your book will not be criticizing you in 20 years if you were wrong. They will enjoy it now.

  7. PD Martin

    Dana – you hit the nail on the head…I worry too much. About everything. It's one of my character flaws πŸ™‚ And I love your point about 2030 being so far away in the minds of young adults. I hadn't even thought about that but you are, of course, spot on!

    Jake – this book (and the lead character) has been calling me for a while, too. It's very different to the rest of my writing so not the smartest move in terms of marketing/sales (blah, blah). But I have answered the call! And it sounds like you have, too. In terms of looking back 20 years, I was thinking about that when I wrote this post. Trying to remember what was and wasn't around 20 years ago! I do remember my boyfriend of the time carrying his 'mobile' phone around. It was one of those huge ones with a handle and the handset was attached to the main body of the box with a wire. Remember those? Hilarious! Thanks for the trip down memory lane and your suggestions re other areas I've been thinking about. Not to mention the books…time to hunt some down for my Kindle!

  8. PD Martin

    Dana – you hit the nail on the head…I worry too much. About everything. It's one of my character flaws πŸ™‚ And I love your point about 2030 being so far away in the minds of young adults. I hadn't even thought about that but you are, of course, spot on!

    Jake – this book (and the lead character) has been calling me for a while, too. It's very different to the rest of my writing so not the smartest move in terms of marketing/sales (blah, blah). But I have answered the call! And it sounds like you have, too. In terms of looking back 20 years, I was thinking about that when I wrote this post. Trying to remember what was and wasn't around 20 years ago! I do remember my boyfriend of the time carrying his 'mobile' phone around. It was one of those huge ones with a handle and the handset was attached to the main body of the box with a wire. Remember those? Hilarious! Thanks for the trip down memory lane and your suggestions re other areas I've been thinking about. Not to mention the books…time to hunt some down for my Kindle!

  9. PD Martin

    Alaina, thanks so much for the book recommendations! Not to mention going through all my 'questions'. Much appreciated. The books you mention look like a good fit for the near future world. Thanks! I've just downloaded samples to my kindle and will buy one or maybe all three. They're certainly right in my time zone.

    And a car that drives itself…I guess it was only a matter of time given they park themselves now!

    I'm currently editing my book and I think I might do one editorial pass focusing purely on the 'near future' aspect. In many ways it's not important to the story, yet it's also essential that it is set a little ways into the future. And I'll definitely do my greenhouse gas research and search for those charts and infographics.

  10. PD Martin

    Fran – thanks for that. I hadn't heard of this before, so it's great to have a look at something that's very near future πŸ™‚ I've just watched a demo on You Tube. Very cool!

  11. PD Martin

    David – uh oh, I don't have an "unforeseeable, unpredictable, ungodly screwup that provokes a crisis". Actually, I guess the whole book is based on one, so maybe I do! But yes, retrospect is an amazing thing at both a personal level and global.

  12. PD Martin

    Hi Reine. Thanks for the rant (ha, ha)! And true, readers NOW won't criticise it down the track if a few minor details (e.g. flying cars) are wrong!

  13. Lance C.

    PD: I'm doing the same damn thing (writing a novel set in 2032), and yes, it's the hardest writing I've ever done. The big problem is staying ahead of the present; I can't tell you how many times I've created a situation or thing in this book that I thought was sufficiently futuristic, only to have it show up on the news a week later.

    Two things I've found that have helped enormously:

    1) Decide the social and economic layer in which your main characters live. This will determine how many of the new toys and activities they can take part in. The future comes slowly to the poor.

    2) Decide what's happened politically in the 17 years preceding your future. This will determine the world's economics, social dynamics, pop culture, technology, security, and so on. I went into a fair amount of detail outlining the world before I started writing, after looking at various futurist sites and think-tank studies. In my version of 2032, the Tea Party has won, Grover Norquist strangled government in the bathtub, and now everyone has to deal with an updated version of 1890s America (it ain't pretty).

    In case you're interested, I've blogged on my website about a lot of the background theorizing I've done to build this world. The process might be of help even if the specific results are different from what you're looking for.

    In short, before you can get to figuring out the future toys, you have to know why your world is the way it is, and your characters' places in that world. Good luck!

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