One of the themes of the #BFIVoyager festival is ‘Tomorrow’s World’, so I’d like to tell you about the novel I have coming out next summer. Unexpected Rain takes place several centuries into the future. Near-light-speed travel has enabled humans to colonize a few nearby star systems, which turns out to be a necessity due to unspoken ecological disasters on Earth. Some of the habitable planets are only habitable thanks to the construction of massive self-contained, fully-enclosed cities on top of otherwise barren landscapes. These habitats are organized into densely populated domed metropolises, spidering out into only slightly-less dense sub-domes. Aside from these populations, the rare few with a tolerance for hard living and a penchant for libertarian living have colonized the handful of remote moons that can support life outside of a dome.
If any of this sounds familiar, you can bet the novel draws from many existing sci-fi concepts and settings. This allows the focus to move from concept to character development in the context of this flavour of future living. In these worlds, domes resemble the way I think of shopping malls when I’m in one of my more cynical moods: they are overly-sanitized places that make one feel safe thanks to consistency; a consistency that encourages conformity. A place where comfort and consumerism go hand in hand. Likewise, the engineers of future living have designed an economy in which everyone is employed. Most people do work that could be automated but simply is not, and in fact some systems are intentionally constructed in a way that require human intervention where it could be unnecessary. Think of it this way: when typewriters were first invented, people learned to type on them so quickly that they constantly jammed; as a result, the QWERTY layout was invented to purposely reduce the efficiency of the user. In the domes of Unexpected Rain, people get jobs designed to be just complex enough to keep them busy, feeling productive, and cashing paychecks.
If I think about it too much, the economics of this future are almost so overtly capitalistic that it borders on satire. For the characters of the story, everything is normal because these are the lives they’re born into (well, some of them; not all of them). It’s a backdrop for a murder mystery that begins when that seemingly perfect dome-life is shattered because an entire block vents its air supply and thirty-two people asphyxiate. A semi-technical button-pusher – the life support operator on duty – is the sole suspect of the crime of mass murder.
Since domers are living so comfortably, their governments haven’t needed to invest in law enforcement beyond the minimum to maintain order. Instead, they outsource all of their peacekeeping and policing needs to a monolithic, interstellar defence contractor. When these cops-for-hire show up to investigate, they’re quite happy to arrest the operator and walk away. All except one, of course: an officer who has been waiting for a chance to prove his worth as a detective, and he alone takes the side of the suspect when the opportunity arises.
Inside the domes, there is a blending of ethnicity, culture, and environment that has smoothed out over time, to the point that it would seem as though there should be no more need for distinctions within these areas. However, the isolation that dome-life provides intensifies the effect that diversity has once someone steps outside their bubble and into another world. In the societies of Unexpected Rain, racism and nationalism are still very much alive, though they are much more subtle. It’s a future where technological advancements have drastically changed human life, and this illuminates the aspects of the human psyche that have not changed along with everything else that has evolved. In other words, even in the distant future, people are people.
Which is to say that in the end, it’s all a lot of fun. Our characters get to play with fantastical technologies, planet-hop from clue to clue, attempt to solve the mystery of a mass murder, get hunted by psychopathic space-faring gangbangers, face and escape death for as long as their luck holds out, and make sure to take a break for a drink now and then.
Unexpected Rain will be released as an eBook on 7 May 2015. Pre-order now!