Writing Future History – Am I Writing Historical? Or Science Fiction?

The great science fiction writer Robert A Heinlein first used the term “Future History” as a title for his short work published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941.

The term itself is used for works that are written as a history book about a future time. There are countless examples, but that meaning isn’t what I’m talking about today. I want to talk about the process of creating a ‘history of the future’.  

Fantasy writers do this all the time – it’s called worldbuilding. Worlds have to include loads of detail that never actually makes it into a book, but that colors the way characters think, behave and interact. Religion, politics, education, geography, technology, travel, communications… all these facets need to be at least considered, in order to build a realistic and layered world. In my newest series, which will appear on shelves from March 2018, I need to create 170 years of human history that hasn’t yet occurred.

I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t need to create an entire new species or an entire new planet. 

I only need to create 170 years of human ‘history’.

So, the first thing I did was to go back 170 years, to see what we’ve accomplished since then. 1847. What’s happened since 1847? Not so much, really…

Jan 1 Michigan is 1st US state to abolish capital punishment
Jan 4 Samuel Colt sells his first revolver pistol to the United States government
Jan 30 Yerba Buena renamed San Francisco
Feb 4 1st US telegraph company established in Maryland
Feb 11 Thomas Edison born
Feb 25 State University of Iowa is approved
Mar 3 Alexander Graham Bell born
Mar 10 1st money minted in Hawaii
Mar 14 Premiere of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence
Mar 18 1st Dutch public telegram
Mar 25 Pope Pius IX encyclical “On aid for Ireland”
Apr 14 Persia & Ottoman Turkey sign 2nd Treaty of Erzurum
Apr 28 George B Vashon becomes 1st black to enter NY State Bar
May 5 American Medical Association organized (Philadelphia)
May 8 Scot Robert Thompson patents rubber tyre
May 24 German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt is awarded the Patron’s Medal by the Royal Geographical Society, London in recognition of ‘the increased knowledge of the great continent of Australia’ gained by his Moreton Bay-Port Essington journey
May 31 Rotterdam-Hague Railway opens
Jun 10 Chicago Tribune begins publishing
Jun 14 Robert Bunsen invents the Bunsen burner
Jun 22 First ring doughnut supposedly created by Hanson Gregory
Jun 27 New York & Boston linked by telegraph wires
Jul 1 1st US postage stamps go on sale, 5 cent Franklin & 10 cent Washington, NYC
Jul 2 Envelope bearing 1st US 10 cent stamps used (still exists today)
Jul 20 German astronomer Theodor Johann Christian Ambders Brorsen discovers the Brorsen-Metcalf comet
Jul 24 Brigham Young & his Mormon followers arrive at Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 24 Rotary-type printing press patents by Richard March Hoe, NYC
Jul 26 Moses Garrish Farmer builds 1st miniature train for children to ride
Jul 26 The Liberian Declaration of Independence is signed making Liberia a sovereign nation, independent from the American Colonization Society
Aug 24 Charlotte Brontë finishes manuscript of “Jane Eyre”
Sep 5 Jesse James born
Sep 10 1st theater opens in Hawaii
Sep 11 1st singing of Stephen Foster’s “Susanna” (in Pittsburgh)
Sep 16 Shakespeare Birthplace Trust buys bard’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon
Oct 1 German inventor and industrialist Werner von Siemens founds Siemens AG & Halske
Oct 16 Charlotte Brontë’s book “Jane Eyre” published
Oct 20 12 year old English boy William Nelman poisons his grandpa with arsenic, would become famous court case
Nov 10 The passenger ship Stephen Whitney is wrecked in thick fog off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 92 of the 110 on board. The disaster results in the construction the Fastnet Rock lighthouse.
Nov 12 Sir James Young Simpson, a British physician, is the first to use chloroform as an anaesthetic.
Nov 21 Steamer “Phoenix” is lost on Lake Michigan, kills 200
Nov 26 Alfred de Mussets “Un Caprice” premieres in Paris

Wait, that wasn’t what we’ve done SINCE 1847. That was what we did IN 1847…

Each year, we do more and more amazing things. I’m not sure that it would be possible for me to fathom everything that has been done by people and to people in the past 170 years.

So, as an author, I have no real choice but to choose a few strands of history, and expand just on those. For example, while it’s fascinating that on July 20th, Theodor discovered the Brorsen-Metcalf comet, it wouldn’t have had much effect on the day to day lives of the men and women on the street. However, the postage stamps and envelopes that went on sale on July 1st and 2nd would have had immediate effect, and would probably still have a knock on effect until even now – we still use postage stamps. What will the postage of the future look like? Will we even still use stamps? Or will all communcations be digitized?

Nostalgic Bree hopes not. But practical Bree thinks paper, ink and stamp will be relegated to use by the extremely wealthy, by government only, or will be made totally obsolete by that time. If that’s the case, what DO people use to communicate? Or to create records of things? Or send notes across the schoolroom? How will the phone, tablet and computer use of the future look? If there is paper, what it is made of? Are pens and pencils manufactured in such limitless supply as they are now? Do people still hanker for the ‘old days’ of sending someone a letter? Or is sending letters a distant memory 170 years in the future?

You can see how much of a rabbit hole even just this one facet can create.

It would be so easy to get lost in daydreaming about how the future will work. 

But there are books to be writ!

I have a 5-subject notebook that is slowly filling up with all my ideas about how the future will look. It will be my guide – my ‘bible’ – for the behavior of the future people in my novels, the changes in the world and when they occurred. I suspect it might spill into another 5-subject notebook shortly. After all, fitting 170 years of history into one 250-page book is a pretty difficult thing to do! But I’m imposing a limit. Once those books are filled, that’s it. That’s enough detail. It will be enough to be able to write the books.

And if I do forget something? 

Eh, I’ll just wing it 🙂

Happy reading!


Writing Future History – Am I Writing Historical? Or Science Fiction?
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