Hey again, fellow writers and readers! How is everybody doing? As for me, I’ve spent the past few weeks picking up my life in one place and depositing it in another. Translation: the wife and I recently moved. Yes, we bought our first house and now we’re living in our dream neighborhood. It only took five years!
But now that we’re settled (more or less), I can get back to work on my next two novels. If you recall, I recently finished writing my third novel – the Frost Line Fracture – which is the final installment in the Formist Series. The manuscript is now off to the publisher for edits and revisions!
With that project all but complete, I began wondering what to write next. I was torn between two options, but on the advice of my publisher, I decided to work on both simultaneously. Not long ago, I described one of them (Transverse) in some detail. But it’s been a while since I said anything about the other one – Reciprocity.
So I thought that’s what I would do today. And I thought it would be fun to discuss the social, political and economic context in which the story takes place. It’s the late 2030s in this story, after all. Stuff will be happening!
What is that stuff, you ask? Well, predictions are tricky like that and opinions differ. But here’s some of the stuff I want to work with. If it all works out, I hope that the resulting novel will be the first in a series of three.
Life by the 2030s:
Reciprocity takes place late in the third decade of the 21st century, which is a time of significant crisis. These are caused by the way technological progress and climate change are both accelerating and pulling humanity in two very different directions.
Whereas one of these titanic forces for change promises a future of post-scarcity, post-mortality, and endless possibilities, the other promises increased mortality, diminished resources, and the possible collapse of civilization as we know it. To break it down some…
Technological progress is reaching a breakneck pace as advancements in robotics, biomedicine, computing, and manufacturing become increasingly common. Quantum computers and are a reality and AIs are surpassing humans. There are also medical cures for everything from HIV and cancer to Alzheimer’s.
The Internet of Things has become a reality as well, with trillions of wireless routers, satellites, devices, and sensors coating the world in a “sea of connectivity”. Wearable devices are also becoming increasingly sophisticated, as well as smaller, and flexible – effectively making PCs and laptops obsolete.
Traditional banks and government are still being used. But both are under threat from cryptocurrencies, distributed political systems, and decentralized networks that are projected to become the norm by the 2050s and later.
In the world of transportation, Hyperloop technology is growing, reducing reliance on planes, trains, and automobiles. In addition to elevated lines, subterranean versions of the technology are revolutionizing mass transit.
Particle accelerators that dwarf the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have come online that can recreate the kinds of energy conditions that were present during the Big Bang. These experiments are yielding new evidence that is helping to resolve the ongoing mystery of quantum gravity.
Under ITER, experiments with fusion technology have taken off and Tokamak reactor facilities are being built on every continent. In the coming years, fusion power is projected to gradually replace nuclear reactors. Renewable energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power now constitute the largest share of the energy market.
With all this progress, a major revolution is expected in the coming years – aka. the Technological Singularity. However, those who are pushing the boundaries of science and technology in an effort to achieve the Singularity are coming under increasing public scrutiny for their work.
Proponents cite how the explosive growth in biotechnology, food science, nanotechnology, and computing will offer solutions to all the world’s problems. But to many, the research and development being pursued by the world’s tech giants is just more of the same – the wealthy looking to line their pockets.
Many fear that the coming revolution will only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots irrevocably, and on a global scale!
By the 2030s, the levels of CO² in the atmosphere have continued to rise, despite our best efforts to curb them. Average global temperatures have increased by about 1.5 °C (2.7 °F), oceans levels have risen considerably, and coastal flooding and storms are a regular issue.
In addition to Cairo, Miami, Bangkok, Ho-Chi-Minh City (Saigon), and Jakarta, several major cities have been all but abandoned due to the extreme cost of restoring them from annual flooding. Even worse is the fact that entire countries – such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Netherlands- are slowly disappearing into the sea.
Throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world, drought, famine and wildfires have become a regular occurrence. This has led to all kinds of refugee crises as people continue to flee the hotter, drier areas of the planet to seek out greener pastures and food security.
This, in turn, has triggered all kinds of political crises. In the regions of the world where the refugees are flooding – northern Europe, Argentina, Canada, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand – openly-fascist parties are gaining a considerable foothold in politics. The idea of using military force to seal the borders is no longer something to be feared for its already happening!
The situation is far worse in parts of the developing world where the effects of climate change are causing all kinds of problems. Here, totalitarian governments and petty dictatorships have seized power, erasing all hopes of democracy blossoming worldwide. It has also led to multiple civil wars, sectarian wars, and blatant police-state measures to maintain control.
Russia is working to convert much of the Steppe and Siberia into farmlands to meet the rising demand for food. In Canada, the Northwest Territories and Northern Quebec are experiencing an agricultural revolution as well, as is Alaska. Workers are being imported to conduct the rigorous labor of prepping the land for massive agricultural operations.
In regions that were once dominated by tundra, permafrost, and boreal forests, land is being cleared to grow grain and other crops. However, it would be a lie to say that these regions are thriving. Throughout the Arctic Circle, environmental changes are leading to mass extinctions – much like everywhere else on the globe.
By the 2030s, the climate isn’t the only thing heating up! On every continent, the forces of stability and civility are arrayed against the forces of chaos. In the political realm, progressive forces find themselves in a fight-to-the-death with regressionists.
China’s Communist Party has fallen. After decades of attempting to buy their people’s loyalty with economic growth and progress, a series of recessions and increasingly brutal measures against pro-Democratic forces has forced an end to what is often referred to as “the Mao Dynasty.”
Part of the problem stemmed from what has been happening in the Western Provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. With much of China’s most productive farmland drying up, attempts to control the source of the Yangtze intensified throughout the 2020s. As a result, protests, demonstrations, and even failures to conform resulted in violence clampdowns by China’s state police.
Xinjiang, meanwhile, accounts for the largest share of coal and petrochemicals in China, which remain important to their economy and their export market. China’s attempts to pacify the Uiyger population in this province through “re-education camps” resulted in widespread condemnation and sanctions that exacerbated their economic woes.
In Europe, Brexit is complete and the “Lifeboat Britain” mentality has set in amid the realization that resources are dwindling and millions of refugees are trying to make the UK their home. Similarly, Scotland has declared independence from the UK and the status of Northern Ireland is becoming more contentious.
On the Continent, the EU is divided between north and south as climate change forces more and more people out of the Middle East, Asia Minor and North Africa. Countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, Romania, and Bulgaria – whose economies are breaking due to severe drought – are the hardest hit by the influx of refugees.
In response, their northerly neighbors are turning their backs, refusing to take their share of refugees, and/or offer economic assistance to those that are. Some states are even splintering between north and south, joining a growing chorus whose mantra appears to be “not our problem”.
This includes Italy, which has divided between Norditalia (north) and Mezzogiorno (south); and Spain, where Catalan (east) and Euskal Herria (Basque Country) have become breakaway Republics. But Europe has it easy compared to Latin America and Africa, where ecological impacts (as well as newfound wealth) are causing cessationist hostilities in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mexico, and others.
Russia is gaining greater international influence thanks to reliance on its remaining petroleum and natural gas reserves, as well as its growing food production. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s efforts to sway elections in neighboring countries have continued, with frightening results!
Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Turkmenistan have all joined the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO), making them full-fledged Russian allies. This has given them direct access to Iran, which is strongly considering joining the CTSO as well. This effectively makes Russia a global superpower for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
This has put them into conflict with China, which is Russia’s direct competition for influence in Central Asia. It has also made the situation with Pakistan and India tenser. Whereas India has been looking to establish greater ties with the US while not closing the door to China, Pakistan is cultivating closer ties with Russia.
Speaking of India and Pakistan, tensions have grown considerably between the two historic antagonists thanks to growing water scarcities. With widespread drought occurring in both countries, India has attempted on multiple occasions to divert waters from the Tibetan Plateau.
This has effectively cut the Indus river basin in Pakistan off from some of its sources of seasonal waters, which the Pakistani people depend upon for much of their food production. Several mobilizations and international crises have resulted, and there are fears that a war between the two nuclear powers might be inevitable.
The US, meanwhile, is experiencing the worst economic and political situation in its history. The influx of refugees from Latin America, combined with all the internal displacement, is leading to strict controls being implemented at the southern border and even between states.
It seems more likely with each passing day that the country will splinter into a whole mess of new national entities. Various nations are already being proposed, including Cascadia, the New Confederacy, the Atlantic US, the Great Lakes Republic, Heartland, and various smaller republics.
Cities on the Grow:
Despite the destruction of many urban centers, megalopolises have become a reality around the world. In the Pacific Northwest, an urban corridor now stretches from Olympia, Washington, to Vancouver, Canada. This urban corridor is colloquially referred to as Cascadia, and there are those who predict it will be the capitol of a future republic of the same name.
Similar megalopolises stretch from Boston to Washington DC (the BosWash), Tijuana to Los Angeles (SoCal), Sacramento to San Jose (NoCal), Accra to Benin (Niger Delta), Quebec City to Windsor, Calgary to Edmonton, St. Louis to Pittsburg, Tokyo to Osaka (Taiheiyō Belt), São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, Brazzaville to Kinshasa, and Mexico City to Puebla.
In Asia, the greater metropolitan region of Guangzhou (which includes Hong Kong) has exceeded its capacity. For this reason, engineers have been working on creating island communities in the bay of Tung Wan. These communities are similar to the “Lillypad City” concept, consisting of offshore complexes that are designed to be as self-sufficient as possible.
For power, these communities run on a combination of solar, wind, and tidal power. Vertical agriculture, aquaculture, and insect farms not only cover a lot of the cities’ nutritional needs but also provide green spaces that help absorb urban pollution.
These sorts of facilities are being built in many locations where populations continue to grow and/or city-living has become untenable. So far, arcologies have been built offshore next to Shanghai, Tokyo (Shimazu Pyramid), New Orleans (NOAH), Boston (BoA), Manhattan, Moscow (Khrustal’nyy Ostrov), Dubai, Kuwait, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, and Inchon.
Space Exploration is Advancing:
You can say that again! By the 2030s, space agencies around the world will have done/be doing some very impressive things. For starters, two missions have explored Jupiter’s moons for signs of life – the ESA’s JUpiter Icy moon Explorer (JUICE), and NASA’s Europa Clipper. These missions found the first evidence that basic life could exist beneath the icy surface of Europa and possibly Ganymede!
Closer to home, NASA has returned to the Moon, China, India, and Russia have all sent their first astronauts to the Moon, and in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, multiple research bases have been created. So far, the biggest and most widely-used is the ESA’s International Moon Village (IMV), which is the spiritual successor to the ISS.
And with the construction of the Lunar Gateway complete, NASA was finally able to launch its long-awaited crewed missions to Mars! Though it happened almost two decades later than was originally hoped, by the late 2030s, boots have finally hit the ground on the Red Planet!
In the coming decade, NASA is expected to be joined by astronauts from China, Russia, and Europe. These and other nations (and commercial aerospace companies) are now able to conduct missions to the surface thanks to the Lunar Gateway, Deep Space Transport, and the Mars Base Camp, which allow for cost-effective transit between the Moon and Mars.
Beyond Mars and Jupiter, the first autonomous explorer vehicle has made it to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. This vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drone, known as Dragonfly, has spent years examining the moon’s dense nitrogen and methane-rich atmosphere, as well as its methane lakes, in the hopes of finding evidence of life and clues as to how biological material forms.
More of the Universe is coming into focus too thanks to next-generation observatories and space telescopes. With the success of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in finding thousands of more exoplanets, the WFIRST and PLATO missions also found the first biosignatures beyond the Solar System!
Commercial aerospace is also advancing considerably. Blue Origin has joined SpaceX is developing reusable two-stage rockets, and is conducting regular launches to orbit. It’s current CEO also hopes to join Elon Musk in sending commercial spacecraft to the Moon, where SpaceX is now delivering payloads to the IMV and conducting lunar tourism.
Closer to home, asteroid mining has moved from theory to practice. Multiple commercial entities have been prospecting Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for years using their own space telescopes. But in recent years, they’ve even begun constructing stations in orbit to service future missions.
It is estimated that by 2050, asteroid and lunar mining will lead to the world’s first trillionaires. With all this ambitious space exploration taking place, there are proposals for even bolder missions. Every billionaire with their own space company wants to create a colony on Mars, the Moon, or in Low Earth Orbit, but so do a number of non-profit organizations and crowdfunded concerns.
What do you think of this glimpse into a future that takes place just twenty years from now? Admittedly, a lot of the material I used comes from Future Timeline, a source that I’ve come to like a lot in recent years. And of course, a good deal comes from my day job, which is writing for two publications that specialize in this kind of stuff (Universe Today and Interesting Engineering).
The rest, that’s just stuff that I think is likely to happen based on projections I’ve heard or read about. As you might have noticed, it’s incongruous and paradoxical. But based on everything I’ve researched, that is how the future is likely to be – humanity being pulled in two directions at once!
Let me know what you think in the comments. As ideas go, is this worth pursuing? Or better yet, is it worthy of becoming a trilogy?
One thought on “Writing About the Near-Future”
Notable incident changes based on current events:
Dissolution of the current Chinese Republic, multiple splits akin to Soviet Union-Russian transition.
Second Korean War
The Russian-Indian conflict ends in tactical Russian victory and economic stalemate.
EU instability, possible breakup?
NATO-backed research of fusion reactors ends in partial success. Deployment of these devices has managed to somewhat stem the Russian influence, as the promise of electoral approval and cheap power sways politicians and citizens.
Armour and weapons research further develops. M5/STF suits provide near-perfect protection from most small caliber arms and explosive fragmentation. Boron Suboxide and PolyCrystalline Diamond create highly resistant strike faces that make heavy arms protection from cartridges like .50 BMG quite feasible at sub 10lb weights publicly. Prefragmented explosives and AP ammunition… sort of proliferate. The possible consequences of their use in more populated zones are catastrophic, thus leading to a mild stifling.
Switzerland… vibes. They also built a lot of guns. In a few mountains. And also rerigged the bridges. Just in case, you know.
World tensions overall increase. There is a marked increase in “preppers”.