Saturday, August 06, 2005

Developing a Background: Part One

Developing a "future history," as Robert Heinlein called it, is particularly important to good science fiction stories. Even if most of the events of your timeline are never mentioned in the story, the characters know the history, and it affects their actions. The big thing to watch out for is that for the most part this history isn't really discussed by the characters -- after all, how often do you and your friends sit around and debate world history? Instead, the timeline should have implications for your characters, setting up logical conflicts, old enemies, new friends, business opportunities, etc. As an example, I thought I would post the background and history for my "Exodus Project" series of stories. The timeline extends from 1997 to 2063. Incidentally, there really is an asteroid 1997 XF11 and scientists did suddenly revise their prediction that it would hit Earth. The rest is pure speculation. Really. Because of its length, I'll post it in two parts.

The Exodus Project
Background and History (Part One)

Fall 1997: Asteriod 1997 XF11 is detected by SpaceWatch. Initial orbit projections predict the asteroid will impact Earth in 2028, destroying most of Earth's civilization. Primarily at American insistance, SpaceWatch soon issues "revised orbits" which indicate the asteroid will actually miss the Earth by several million km. A vast cover-up begins as the nations of Earth secretly begin plans to establish habitats around each of the inner planets and around Jupiter.

Fall 1998: To the astonishment of technology observers, the International Space Station receives full funding and becomes the first major American space project to launch essentially on schedule. No one, as yet, suspects the true reason behind NASA's sudden efficiency and the various world space agencies' sudden cooperation.

Summer 2013: World news media agencies release a report on the 15-year cover-up. Leaks within the European Space Agency are blamed, but the Exodus Project now has too much momentum to be stopped.

20 July 2019: The completed orbital habitats depart for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Vesta, and Jupiter.

June 2023: The Martian habitat suffers a partial braking thruster failure just three weeks prior to orbital insertion. Martian engineers cobble together a makeshift mass accelerator which, in concert with an equally makeshift aerobrake, manages to put the habitat in a highly elliptical but stable orbit around the planet. Martians joke that it was their garbage (ejected at 30 km/sec) which actually saved them, but they gain a lasting respect in the eyes of the rest of humanity as the best engineers in the Solar System.

12 March 2027: For reasons unknown but hotly debated, Jason David Cristos, mining specialist aboard the Mercury habitat, destroys the main Mercurian manufacturing facility. With no way to manufacture replacement parts, the habitat will eventually be doomed.

15 March 2027: Martian engineers embark upon a crash program to deliver new supplies to the Mercurians. Due to the current planetary positions, however, it is known from the outset that the supplies will arrive too late to be of any help.

21 March 2027: Jacob Wilson, president of the newly-formed Venusian Mining Corporation (Venus Habitat), offers to send relief supplies to the Mercurians - but only in exchange for 75% of all mineral wealth extracted from Mercury's surface from now until perpetuity. Faced with the choice of becoming essentially a Venusian vassal state or the slow death of his entire crew, Mercurian commander Jaquil Fahir reluctantly agrees.

Fall 2028: Asteroid 1997 XF11 misses the planet Earth by a narrow margin. The asteroid is actually seen in some hemispheres to transit the face of the Moon. Spontaneous parties erupt, which eventually lead to world-wide violence, looting, and rioting. National security forces restore order after two weeks of chaos. Clean up and restoration of services require an additional three months. The habitats' messages of congratulations are largely unseen by anyone on Earth.

Spring 2029: Life around the globe begins to return to normal. The population of Earth begins to lose interest in spaceflight and the habitats. Since the habitats were designed to be self-sufficient (albeit marginally so), there is no moral requirement felt to continue to support them.

17 January 2030: Due to funding cuts, ground controllers for the Exodus habitats sign off for the last time.

(To be continued...)

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