Could This Be The Future?

future When it comes to technological advances, I’ll admit I’m not the most creative. I don’t have too many ideas for improvements or new inventions. Speculating about the future is hard for me – which is why I’m fascinated by J. D. Robb’s vision of the world in 2060. I dragged my heels for a long time before reading the In Death series, simply because the futuristic element didn’t appeal to me. Well, once I decided to try it, I didn’t look back, and I’m now in the middle of my annual re-read of the series.

This time around, I’ve found myself paying more and more attention to the plausibility of certain advances or legal changes. Before I started, I assumed the series would be too science-fiction-y, but it’s surprisingly realistic. It’s been fun for me to look back to where we were 50 years, and then to look forward to where we might be. It must have been as difficult for 1960s Americans to imagine the Internet as it is for us to visualize the computer systems and programs of Eve Dallas’s world.

Can I imagine the shuttles that cross the Atlantic in an hour? Yes (and oh, I can’t wait until that happens). Legalized prostitution? In 50 years, I can see our country getting there. The outlaw of guns? No way—the NRA is way too powerful for that to happen, now or fifty years from now. Off-planet colonies and droids that – almost—have minds of their owns? There’s too much science fiction there for me to imagine that actually happening in my lifetime. I’ve found myself far more intrigued by the social and political changes than the technological ones. I don’t think Robb has ever fully explained the Urban Wars, but I would really love to hear the “history” behind it. I remember getting a jolt when I first read Loyalty in Death and the World Trade Center was a potential location for a bomb during the climax—and then in a book published after Sept. 11, it’s mentioned in passing that the Flatiron Building is the only skyscraper left in the city. Another reference is made to the “third woman president of the United States.” What’s the story behind the first? One of the things that make the series authentic is that it isn’t like a fictionalized history book. As much as I’d like to know the stories behind the Urban Wars, and the gun ban, and the presidency, I’m glad Robb doesn’t explain it all in big, distracting info dumps.

I’m not the only one for whom the futuristic nature of the In Death series has been both a detractor and a draw. Fellow AAR reviewer Katie Mack shares many of my thoughts. “The only futuristic books I’ve read are the ‘In Death’ series. I almost didn’t start reading them for that reason, but everybody raved about them so
I thought, ‘What the hell.’ It took me a couple of books to get used to the futuristic world, but I eventually did and now I slip right into it without thinking. (If I’ve gone on a Robb binge sometimes I forget that links and autochefs don’t really exist. ;) ) I think Roberts/Robb has created a fascinating world, and a lot of the new technology and social norms she has are not so far out of the realm as to be unbelievable.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I tried to remember if a particular slang term or product name was real, or if it had come from the book series.

One of AAR’s publishers, Rachel Potter, has read another futuristic book. “I almost never read futuristics, but there’s a book called Promised Landby Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice that is set in some distant future where it’s possible to commute between planets. The heroine, who has been sent away and educated off planet in some fancy girls’ school, comes home to her more backwoods home where her education is rendered kind of pointless by the primitive conditions of life there. I totally bought the setting I think because it makes sense to me that “civilization” would not always be cost effective to export. Also, as on Firefly, there’s always going to be a frontier where things aren’t settled and nailed down yet. Plus it was a really sweet story, kind an arranged marriage. I love those.” Jean Wan, another AAR reviewer, also is intrigued by the sociopolitical changes of future societies. “[Nalini Singh’s psy/changling series] might be classified as alternate futuristic (because if you don’t buy into the shapeshifters and psychic talents then her series doesn’t fall within your realm of
“reality”), but I find her world fascinating nonetheless. Even if the idea of a future of psychic-controlled America with shapeshifters and humans rebelling doesn’t appeal to you, there are so many parallels of our present society and politics that I think the series, as a metaphor, is as relevant as it is plausible (within your imagination).”

Jean also found the 2176 series interesting. She stated that, “I think it was the brainchild of Susan Grant, who imagined a future, year 2176, constructed of three superpowers…Australia is now the world’s dumping ground again (no mention of New Zealand)….The 2176 premise is that the original American ideals — freedom, liberty, Paul Revere, democracy, etc. — have been perverted in America’s[United Colonies of Earth] (inadvertant) quest for dominance and world influence, driven by its economic and industrial supremacy, and the 2176 America is nothing more than a totalitarian dictatorship. Do I think it’s plausible? In some ways, no, because I don’t believe America and China would ever exist in a balance of power. Too unstable. But it was an interesting thought.”

My question for you is: what elements of futuristic romances do you think could happen? Where do you think the author’s imagination has gone a bit too far? For those of you who read the “In Death” series, what do you think about cancer vaccines, AutoChefs, aerial driving, the “Revised Miranda,” vocal computer commands, probability searches, or anything else? Is there anything you think is missing? What about the 2176 series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Promised Land, or other futuristic stories?

-Jane Granville

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10 Responses to Could This Be The Future?

  1. Lynn Spencer says:

    I like Sci-fi and futuristic romances a lot. I enjoy seeing the different visions of the world that authors come up with. The Shomi line over at Dorchester was a favorite of mine and the worldbuilding in some of those books was fantastic!

  2. Susan/DC says:

    I didn’t get beyond the fifth book or so in the In Death series and have to admit that I barely recognized that it was a futuristic world. Other than Eve and Roarke going off planet on occasion and some fancier machines, the world just didn’t seem that different. My focus was much more on the people and the mystery, so the world building was deep background, nothing more.

    As for other futuristics, I’ve seen StarTrek and read some Susan Grant novels, but it’s not a genre I either seek or knowingly avoid. I’ve got “To Say Nothing of the Dog” and “Freedom & Necessity” in my TBR pile but haven’t yet got around to them, although both come highly recommended.

  3. Estella says:

    I have read the In Death series and don’t find it unbelievable—so much can happen in 50 years.
    I have also read the Psy/Changeling books. They are very good reads, but not as believable, to me, as the IN Death series.

  4. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    I think that the “gun” ban in the In Death series may be one of the consequences of the Urban Wars. Besides, now that there are blasters & stunners, guns are pretty much outdated. I find the future technology of the series within the realm of possibility, but some of it–especially off-planet travel and colonization–is probably much farther into the future than 2060.

    I enjoy Jayne Castle’s futuristic “Curtain” books. Her colonists had to develop new technologies and social structures when Terran contact was cut off and Terran imports proved incompatible with the new worlds. I enjoy her biological creations and the psychic skills that the settlers develop.

    Of course, the best futuristic creation, IMO, is the Star Trek universe. I have read many of the books, and many of them feature romantic elements.


  5. JML says:

    The one thing that always, always, always comes up with my friends during discussions that concern the “In Death” series is the autochefs. We all agree that they are the ultimate fantasy for women who read and don’t want to stop in order to make dinner!

    I don’t buy futuristic romance books often because I have seen too many where the world building takes precedence over the romance story and I’m not happy when that happens.

    Oh, and Jayne Castles’ Dust Bunnies. THAT is a fun look at what time and technology could develop, lol!

  6. Mary Skelton says:

    Not technically a romance, but there are some romances in it – my favorite futuristic series is Frank Herbert’s Dune books set about 10,000 years in the future.

  7. Laura says:

    I’m going on the 9th In Death book for what must be my 10th read through of the series. The last couple of books haven’t been nearly as good, but these earlier ones are gems. The complexity of Eve and Roarke, as well as the hotter-than-usual-for-Nora sex scenes make me wonder if she’s having some help as these are so far superior to her other books it’s not funny.

    Anyway, I normally love sci fi in tv shows and movies but not in books, and I’m glad she doesn’t dwell on the future thing–it just is what it is.

  8. LizA says:

    I read a lot of science fiction, so I have no objection to all those imagined technological changes as such. But I do think that the timeline of the in death books is too close to our reality, in fact I always mentally add about 100 years. I can buy some of the inventions but I think others are less well thought out – I am not fond of the virtual reality things that you can switch on and that make you feel like you are somewhere else – sorry, but I can’t see how that could work. I generally find the socio-cultural aspects of the story more interesting and in tune, except for the things that are considered “antiques” and that are really mass produced 20th century junk. But that is a personal pet peeve of mine…

  9. Jean Wan says:

    One of the themes I really like about the In Death series is Eve’s constant realization that despite technological, social, and industrial advances, the world is the same because people don’t change. Prostitution may be legalized, marriage laws may be considerably relaxed, scientific discoveries may change the face of the world – but people still hate, love, want and need. Technology and social development only go as far as what people do with them.

  10. Martin says:

    Hey there!
    I am working on a research paper, which focuses on “Romances of the Archive”, a umbrella term that Suzanne Keen has formulated for, as it is obvious from the title, romances that engage in archives.
    First Keen’s analysis was restricted to British contemporary novels, as archives are linked to history/heritage and therefore to memories of an imperial past. But as genre boundaries blur, American contributions are also welcome…:-)

    But to make a long story short: Keen’s “perfect” example, that fits all her criterias, is A.S. Byatt’s “Possessions”:

    # character-researchers, endowed with the corporality and “round” psychology of the realistic novel
    # romance adventure stories, in which ‘research’ features as a kernel plot action, resulting in strong closure, with climactic discoveries and rewards
    # discomforts and inconveniences suffered in the service of knowledge (actually part of the romance plot, but so played up as to deserve separate emphasis)
    # sex and physical pleasure gained as a result of questing (these stories about “brains” are always also stories about bodies)
    # settings and locations (such as libraries and country houses) that contain archives of actual papers
    # material traces of the past revealing the truth
    # and evocation of history, looking back from a post-imperial context

    taken from:

    My question those of you who are engaged in Futuristic Romances: Do you have come across any example of science fiction/futuristic writing that blends in with romance? For me, the major problem seems to be the archive-setting: what do we need it for in the future when ‘almost every’ information might be submitted via the internet…? But than the archive is THE primearily setting for this genre (as is Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code…) and is hard to be left out.

    If you have read any romances that might, even if only in some respect, fit into my request, please fell free to contact me:

    Your help would be very much appreciated. Sorry for my bad English as I have the burden of not being a native speaker. Thanks for reading – and hope to read from you! All the best – martin

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