Futuristic Materials in Club Anyone (or Why my Transparent Aluminum is Better than Yours)
Club Anyone is set in the world of Interface Zero, approximately 75 years in the future. Space travel is routine, if expensive, and for the average person likely a once or twice in a lifetime experience. We've colonized Mars, but not yet discovered aliens. Governments keep Artificial Intelligences in check, while competing megacorps grow them in secret.
This is an interesting time to set a story, a Bladerunner-ish time. Recognizably grown from our real-world present, yet radically transformed by technologies that have only begun to mature, one might think it a challenge to extrapolate a reasonable depiction of daily life. And yet...the commonplace building materials of this future took more research and effort to get right then it took to map the possible evolution of artificial intelligence or plot the impact on humanity of direct neural interlink technology. It's like this: the big ideas (AI, the TAP —Interface Zero's direct neural interface technology — bioroids, etc.) needed to serve a story purpose first. That meant I set my constraints to suit the story and, while what I created needed to be internally consistent, it didn't need to comply with anything external other than Interface Zero canon.
For example, long before I arrived on the scene, the Interface Zero core book specified that laws called the Omega Protocols curtail the growth of Artificial Intelligence. Although nothing specified how, precisely, the protocols did that.
As the writer scribbling in the IZ sandbox, if I want a character to liberate an AI and my story says the liberating character for other reasons just has to posses lockpick skills — easy peasy! Author fiat. Poof. Expecto writronus. The way to liberate an AI from the Omega Protocols involves breakiung into a special room. Harumph and done.
Story problem solved. Side note: at this time, I can neither confirm nor deny that anyone can or does liberate an Artificial Intelligence in Club Anyone.
Moreover, nothing like the artificial intelligences of Interface Zero, or the TAP overlay, or hyperobjects, or... a whole raft of technologies posited in the book currently exists.
At this point in history they're still all ideas in the minds of scientists and science fiction lovers.
Futuristic materials were a different story (pun intended). In Club Anyone construction materials are not important enough to receive their own, wholly original treatment; rather they serve the purpose of connecting the world of today to the world of tomorrow. I wanted them to lend verisimilitude to the setting; therefore, they had to be extrapolated from something that already existed. Otherwise I ran the danger of Too Many Impossible Things Before Breakfast for no particularly good reason, which is exactly the same as saying I'd risk losing my readers for no particularly good reason. Why would anyone do that? What was the solution? No author should and... research! Time to hit the googlebox.
A quick search for "futuristic materials" and thirty minutes of reading generated a list of prospects:
Light Transmitting Concrete
Those are all real—and cool! — check them out.
At the time I was researching, Club Anyone demanded four materials. I needed (1) something reasonable from which to make the domes on Mars; (2) another material from which to build the stanchion-skyscrapers that held the dome in place; (3) yet another material that would be commonplace and reasonably weapons-proof; and, last but not least, (4) a material to which I could tie a massive structure from low orbit to the ground, like a kite on a string, and then roll a meteor down that string at re-entry speeds. Luckily, I didn't need today's version of those materials. I needed tomorrow's version. About 75 years in the future to be exact. Can you guess which I chose?
(ding ding - and pencils down)
I went with aerogel for the domes, metal foam for the skyscrapers, transparent aluminum for the weapons-proof divider between the front and back of a taxi, and carbon nanotubes for my orbital kite. Along the way I found a reason to reference the failure of self-healing concrete on moisture-starved Mars and discovered an unexpected use for self-healing amorphous metal.
Of course I wouldn't have known about the latter two materials without doing my research.
So what's the take-away, here? Do your research. That's a given, but doing your research for the small things is equally important. Also, Lou digs futuristic materials, that's a good take-away. Oh and amorphous metal just sounds cool. Take that away. And build your next house out of Hungarian light-transmitting concrete, yeah, that too! Oh and in the novel I gave the future versions of these materials brand names. When you read Club Anyone, see if you can spot them all.
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Lou is an Ennie award-winning game designer and author of Club Anyone, a neonpunk novel set in the acclaimed Interface Zero game world, coming soon from WordFire Press. Words Like Bullets is his blog on writing, the writing life, and what's new with Lou. You can receive these blog posts direct to your inbox by subscribing to Lou News or just learn more about Lou at www.agrestasaurus.com