One of the interesting parts in writing – or in this case preparing to write – a science fiction story set in the future involves all the setup work conducted to flesh out a fictional universe. When doing all that setup, an author setting their story in the future
needs to decide where to branch off from real-world history. This aspect makes all futuristic science fiction a form of alternate history in the long run. How many science fiction classics from the 70s and 80s wrote about the Soviet Union enduring well into the 21st century?
For my upcoming novel The Greatest Game, I chose 2007-08 as the time to fork from real history. This offered me a couple benefits: enough time (a generation) to setup socioeconomic and geopolitical situations that coincide with technological advents, and time for such situations to develop those technologies and spread them among the public. In many ways, such preamble work is more taxing than actually writing the book. Timeline construction is but one of many studies I did to flesh out The Greatest Game.
Below is a sample of the timeline I designed for Greatest Game. It highlights differences in recent years from our collective history:
2008: USA federal election elects President Bill Richardson to office. Richardson’s benefactors happen to be heavily invested in information technology firms that dabble in artificial intelligence.
2009: Major US government investments in artificial intelligence research and associated offshoots begins. Throughout Richardson’s presidency, AI and quantum computing R&D becomes a microeconomy in the USA and ultimately the rest of the developed world.
2012: Elected to a second term, President Richardson and his cabinet launch another microeconomy based on revitalizing rail or equivalent transportation for local and regional travel. This leads to the economical development of the Siranx vacuum tube network.
2015: The Siranx pneumatic tube transit system is prototyped in California. Using freeway right-of-way, the network is initially established from Los Angeles and threads through Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, then onto San Jose & San Francisco.
2016: Rand Paul is elected President of the United States. His 8-year tenure is one punctuated by free-market economics, limited regulation, and isolationist foreign policy. Under Paul’s regime, AI and quantum computing research is less regulated and more based on corporate monetary and innovation aims.
2017: Green energy firms and their technologies (wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, tidal) start to slowly overtake the energy market in the United States after government subsidies for fossil fuel extraction & technologies (coal, natural gas, petroleum) are phased out under President Paul.
After the USA declares a new, insular foreign policy, Israel takes advantage in the Middle East, seizing full control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Concerned about the viability of their economic prowess and democratic stability, most South American countries ratify the UNASUR treaty with additional conditions and powers, giving the continental organization more direct economic, military and political control.
2018: Advancements in photovoltaic technologies allow for successful intracontinental flights of smaller Airbus planes half-powered by solar energy. Photovoltaics also increasingly power Siranx tube transit networks.
Israel launches annexation campaigns in the Middle East. Their conquering aims are tacitly approved of by the USA and Russia. Within 4 years (2018-2022) they seize Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The Secular Kingdom of Israel and the Arabian Provinces (SKIAP) is thus formed.
The Patriot Act is dissolved by congress under President Paul. Subsequent increases in citizen privacy are still minimal, however, as other data collection programs that skirt legality exist. The external need for such domestic spying, however, decreases as Paul fosters the USA’s inward-focusing paradigm.