Oh, you’ll have lots of fun with a futuristic setting. Speculative fiction in particular is rife with them. Generally, these stories take place on Earth, but they can also happen on other worlds and involve other life forms. For our purposes, we’ll discuss those that focus on humans. Here are a few of the most popular types.
Dystopian or utopian societies
Humanity has either lost control of some major issues and its world has gone sour, or it has mastered them to the point where all needs are met. The latter holds the potential for extreme boredom, so usually some outside threat will arrive to menace the population (or the heroes must prevent it). Dystopias include The Hunger Games and Fahrenheit 451; a couple of familiar utopias are twenty-fourth century Earth in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Shire in The Lord of the Rings. (We’ll talk more about utopias in the U post.)
The Dark Tower (you knew I’d sneak this in, didn’t you?) sort of counts. Mid-World is a parallel universe to our Earth. It’s dying—beset by decaying infrastructure, damage from long-ago conflicts, and the weakening of the time nexus at the site of the Dark Tower, the object of Roland’s quest.
A space opera is a sweeping, epic story set in a huge universe that includes humans or one that humans have somehow traveled to or been incorporated into either through evolution or interstellar travel. Star Wars is the best known, but we also have Star Trek, John Carter of Mars, Buck Rogers, Firefly, et al.
While not strictly a setting, time travel lets characters hop into the future and experience alternative worlds and timelines from a base in their own time or through a sort of lost wandering. Doctor Who is a notable example; though the Doctor is an alien, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, his travel companions are usually human. Quantum Leap presents a variation where futuristic technology enables a protagonist to travel not only forward in time but backward as well, and into other characters (something Roland also does in The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three).
Futuristic stories can happen a half-century or a century from where we are, or even thousands of years hence. Some writers start over and imagine a complete overhaul of life as we know it, to the point of unrecognizability. Others do a credible job of projecting how our current future may actually appear. The writers and designers of the Star Trek series made some pretty interesting technology predictions that we’re actually using today.
If you want to project the future in your story, you should remember two things:
- Change is slow. Rarely does any major shift in culture occur without a very long period of adjustment. A huge, instantaneous sea change is not realistic. Technology may change the way we do things, but people’s motivations still remain much the same as they did a hundred years ago. Food, safety, love, and power are four very compelling motivators.
- If you want the speculative elements to be effective, the reader must be able to suspend disbelief. Using aliens demands an effort right out of the gate. Many folks don’t think they exist, and those who do tend to have their own ideas about how that scenario would play out. Your situation must make sense, even if it’s only within the confines of your story.
You may decide to set the story on another world, a la The Martian, etc. For a known world or one in a scientifically known setting, do your research! Don’t say there are people breathing oxygen in the Moon’s atmosphere unless you’re prepared to explain how we suddenly evolved this ability (and where the oxygen came from). Alternatively, you can make up a planet. Come on; you’re a writer. It’s what we do!
If you think you can swing a futuristic setting, go ahead. In fact, it’s worth trying even if you’re not sure. You’ll never know if you don’t try, and practice makes perfect, right?