Friday, 17 February 2012

How do you guess the future? by Karen King

When George Orwell wrote his famous book Nineteen Eighty-Four about a dystopian future he didn’t have to contend with the continuous changes in technology that we authors have to today. In 1949, television was a recent invention and one that most homes didn’t possess, computers, mobiles, iphones, X-boxes and Wiis hadn’t even been dreamt of. He could invent away as much as he liked safe in the knowledge that none of his imaginary inventions would come to fruition for years, if ever.

It’s a whole new ball game now as I discovered when I started writing my dystopian novel Perfect Summer, which is set 20-30 years in the future when society is so obsessed by perfection that the government gives ‘personal perfection’ grants to everyone and anyone who isn’t ‘perfect’ is considered freaky. Although that’s only a small part of the book. It’s also about a girl called Morgan and her friend Summer, who seems to have a perfect life. Then Morgan's little brother Josh gets kidnapped and she finds out just how obsessed with perfection people are and that Summer's life isn't so perfect after all. The main problem I’ve had with writing the book is how fast technology is changing. When I first started it passwords were the norm for securing computers, now they are almost out, fingerprint scanning is being replaced by iris scanning and face recognition software is on the way in. So what will be used 20-30 years from now?  

Will everyone still be using mobiles? If so what will they call them and what will they be able to do with them? What will computers be like? Transport? How will technology have changed the world we live in?

I’ve had to go back and revise Perfect Summer many times because I've learnt of new advances in technology. Recently I read an article stating that robots are being designed with realistic hair and skin so they look more human and another article saying that in the future we might have flying cars or jet packs to help us get around quicker I can see me tweaking this novel for many months to come!

So what I want to know is if you’re writing a dystopian novel how do you guess the future? What do you think the world will be like in 20-30 years time?

Karen King writes all sorts of books for children. Check out her website at You can download her children's ebook, Firstborn at


Elen C said...

My partner recently pointed out that the newest 'smart' tellies are pretty much what Orwell imagined in 1984 - they don't switch off, they're always watching you and interpreting your speech and movement... eek!

Rachel Ward said...

It's a tricky one! For my second and third books, which are 16 and 18 years in the future I opted to include small, but believable things, like microchipping and increased surveillance, rather than rocket boots and flying cars (although it would have been fun to write about the latter). I think whatever you do has to have the ring of plausibility about it - it could be true (even if it doesn't turn out that way in real life). Best of luck wrestling with this...

Rosalind Adam said...

I've come to the conclusion that the only way we can be sure to get our technological facts correct is to write historical fiction. It's so frustrating when you write a contemporary novel and in the first few chapters your characters are, for example, tapping out text messages on a mobile. By the time you're writing the second half of the book you realise that few people are doing that any more. We now swype our text messages on our iphones.

Linda Strachan said...

I think the most exciting part of writing about the future is trying to extrapolate what technology might have conjured up for us. Of course it will never be completely right but it may be some predictor of the future and you can never expect to get it all right.

What people often forget is that we are human beings and we want to feel comfortable physically, but we have a certain nostalgia for the past.

All this plays into what the future might hold. There will always be people who embrace all technology even if it is not particularly easy to use, but also those who hate it all and want to revert to an older (often over sentimentalised) view of the past.

Just dream big and possibly setting it further in the future might be a thought?

Miriam Halahmy said...

First of all, the book sounds great Karen and I look forward to reading it. But I think you are very brave to take on the very near future. Things are changing so quickly, even when we are writing a contemporary novel, the gap between the initial draft and publication can be so long that things such as political situations can change beneath our feet. Good luck with the book!

Stroppy Author said...

I wrote something set in 2017. The only technological innovations I added were tiny video cameras police attached to lamp-posts to monitor who comes and goes from a house, and digital posters they could change easily with live info.

It's good fun, writing the future - but dangerous to go overboard!

Stroppy Author said...

By the way, the person who was best at it was H G Wells!