The real world is catching up to near-future SF


Near-future science fiction is one of the most challenging sub-genres to write, but it offers us a peek at the technologies that could be just around the corner. Where space operas can invent anything in their worlds, readers of near-future fiction expect a futuristic world different from their own, but not so much as to be unrecognizable. … Like any other tool, technology can be used for good—or with criminal intent for much more nefarious purposes. This field of possibilities is the fertile ground where writers can merge the dreams of science fiction with the nightmares of crime novels.

This article then takes a closer look at some of the SF-ish technology currently being developed. Let me see. Okay, autonomous cars, augmented reality — oh, those are the two developments on which this post focuses. Pretty decent discussion about both. I was personally expecting a bit more about facial recognition and Big Brother, and also more about social media leading to social meltdowns, but okay.

Oh, here are some great suggestions for Crimes To Commit With Autonomous Cars: You’re riding along in peaceful bliss when a message pops up on the screen. “Deposit Bitcoin into this account, or you’ll crash into that bridge coming up.” They could also use the vehicle to kidnap a target for ransom. A mass of stopped or crashed cars could provide a distraction from a greater crime underway or to cover an escape.

I love those suggestions! …. Wow, you could aim a lot higher, both literally and figuratively. “All you passengers need to cough up a million dollars among you, or this plane is heading into that mountain.”

There’s more about this sort of thing, but this particular topic actually reminds me of Murderbot hacking elevators or whatever they’re called. “So I told the emergency pod to pause on the third floor and cut it out of the system so none of the other lifts pods could see it, then stepped out and erased myself from its memory.” Things like that.

In fact, the Murderbot universe also uses plenty of augmented reality, with all those advertisements that leap up at you and people with implants and everyone reading the feed and so on. I wouldn’t call that world near-future, but it seems near-ish in some ways. (Bad ways.)

Okay, so while we’re on this subject, near-future SF is something of a hard sell for me, but every now and then I really like an SF novel of this type. I can think of a couple offhand.

I liked James Cambias’ Corsair a lot. Here’s part of the description:

In the early 2020s, two young, genius computer hackers, Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz, meet at MIT and have a brief affair. David is amoral, out for himself, and soon disappears. Elizabeth dreams of technology and space travel and takes a military job after graduating. Ten years later, David works in the shadows for international thieves, and Elizabeth prevents international space piracy.

So, very near future, although I don’t know that we’ll see quite as much use of space any time this decade as Cambias suggests in this book. If he’d set it in the 2030s, this would look really quite believable. Good story, good characters, come to think of it there’s a quite decent redemption arc in this novel, no wonder I liked it.

Oh, I see Cambias also has a new book out. Just came out this past February. The Initiate. It says here:


It’s their world. He’s going to take it away from them.

A fantasy novel! Interesting departure given his previous books! Well, regardless, I have liked all three of his other books, so sure, I’ll try this one.

Okay, and the other near-future SF story that jumps to mind for me is Genevieve Valentine’s Persona dulogy. This one, now, is all about the social media phenomenon, combined with celebrity worship and other things.

When Suyana, Face of the recently formed United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, is secretly meeting Ethan of the United States, a potential ally for her struggling country, the last thing she expected to be was a victim of an assassination attempt. Daniel, a teen runaway turned paparazzo hoping to make a name for himself, witnesses the first shot targeted for Suyana. Without thinking, he jumps into the action telling himself it’s not selflessness, it’s the scoop. Now Suyana and Daniel are on the run—and if they don’t keep themselves one step ahead, they’ll lose it all.

Amazing Valentine could make me like this duology. I detest celebrity culture the whole Face thing is a huge turn-off for me, and I’m not at all keen on paparazzi. And yet here we are. She’s just such a great writer. Nothing new from her, but you know, I’ve never read her Mechanique. I think I’ll pick that up too while I think about it.

Have any of you got a near-future SF novel you’d like to recommend?

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5 thoughts on “The real world is catching up to near-future SF”

  1. They’re going to retrofit a lot of 18 wheelers with self-driving rigs. That’s when I think ransomware for vehicles will be worth the development cost to criminals, because they can hijack shipments without the legal liability of endangering people. (I’ve been pointing it out for a couple years now, as cyber security is my industry).

  2. SarahZ … I bet you are right. Wow. I bet some clever person is working on that kind of hacking right now.

  3. I know researchers who’ve done car hacking work – it’s mostly a huge mess, just like all IoT security, but not homogeneous enough yet to be worth the time of bug hunters (not a good effort to market share ratio, not as good a payoff as other targets). Right now, voting systems are understandably getting more attention. But, if you ever need hacker type background for a book, let me know!

  4. SarahZ, I will keep that in mind, but I doubt I would feel competent to even try to include hacker-type stuff in a book!

  5. William Gibson’s _Pattern Recognition_ is I guess so-near-future-it’s-contemporary SF. Whatever genre it is, it’s extremely interesting.

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