Because I enjoy reading Science Fiction, I'm thinking of writing a Sci-Fi novel myself. I'm interested in 'hard' (related to the engineering sciences) science fiction with a military bent (think The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell or Old Man's War by John Scalzi), so this will be my genre of choice.

However, it strikes me that, despite being Software Developer by trade, I don't know enough about the hard sciences to make my novel realistic. Plus, future technology may well be more advanced than that of today.

So, before I get started, my question is: how do I go about researching future technology for a science fiction Novel?

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    Have you been worldbuilding.stackexchange.com? I wouldn't call it research but it's a great resource!
    – Liath
    Jul 2, 2018 at 13:42
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    one of the biggest problems we had in the early days was keeping the breadth of questions down. As a result a lot of the questions now are "how could this have happened" or "what's the most realistic way that X could work"
    – Liath
    Jul 2, 2018 at 13:52
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    Liath is right, this sort of thing is exactly what Worldbuilding is for. Don't be scared about asking small questions to "tweak one corner" of the world. Questions that are overly broad tend to be a much bigger problem on Worldbuilding! You are better off doing basic research first though and then coming to WB with a specific question but just browsing that science based and hard science Q&A there could give a lot of inspiration and give you a headstart on that research!
    – Tim B
    Jul 2, 2018 at 15:52
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    There are two closely related, but distinct questions. One is "What technologies would dominate in the near to mid term future?" and the other is "I am thinking about possible technology X - is it realistic?" Worldbuilding stackexchange would discourage the former, but definitely can help with the latter.
    – Alexander
    Jul 2, 2018 at 16:46
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    First thing to do is get a time machine...
    – aslum
    Jul 2, 2018 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


The search term you're looking for is "Emerging technology". Focus on the field(s) that are of interest to you, since there are too many technologies to keep track of everything. Read up on the technologies that look interesting.

You can also look into what futurologists write, since it's their job to try and understand where emerging technologies are going, and what their implications are going to be. I have found this blog, by futures studies researcher Roey Tzezana, helpful. You can try looking for others.

Look also at popular science magazines, like "Scientific American". They would give you an idea of the research being done right now, and the developments it could lead to.

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    I would be wary of popular science anything. While I find it doubtful that they'd outright lie, they do tend to overpredict, so take what you read with a few grains of salt.
    – anon
    Jul 2, 2018 at 20:22

There are free academic studies to help you learn about the *diffusion of science into common use, both for scientific communities and the public. See, for example, The Diffusion of Scientific Innovations: A Role Typology, or this article The science of diffusion and the spread of public policy

If you use a search engine; you may have to go to later pages because the scientific concept of "diffusion" e.g. a material in a liquid will dominate the early hits.

Here is a Wiki on Diffusion of Innovations that may be helpful, and another on The Rising Speed of Technological Adoption.

50 years from inkling to saturation.

As a general rule; following the laws of adoption given in Diffusion of Innovations (which do not specify a timespan but how different types of people vary in the time it takes them to adopt new things), but figure it takes 50 years to get from "cool scientific discovery" to full exploitation in modern society (whatever that means for the particular discovery).

Beyond that fifty year span; the tech is up to you. The tech of 200 years from now (if society does not collapse) will appear to be like magic. But in science fiction you must root the explanations into something scientifically plausible anyway. For example, a compact fusion reactor the size of a pocket watch is actually plausible if we have some technology to control atoms and force cold fusion of individual nuclei; the force required to do so is minuscule if it could be focused. Hot fusion relies on random chance and the statistics of large numbers; heat atoms up and they vibrate wildly, contain them somehow and their vibrations will cause some of them to collide with enough force to fuse and release energetic particles. There is no explanation in Star Trek for how a replicator works, but in particular it would never be attributed to "magic," the writers would make something up about using a template to fire certain atomic ingredients into the right places to form chemicals and compounds that are present in an ice cream sundae or a rib-eye steak.

So you just need to develop some sense of what is scientifically plausible BS and what is not!

For recent scientific advances in all fields; I'd recommend New Scientist; London based UK monthly magazine. Costs money. I've subscribed to a dozen such magazines and that is my favorite by far for clear explanations that don't trigger my bullshit detector.

  • I'm pretty sure that attempts at explanations for how replicators work and what type of things it didn't work on have actually been written about multiple times. Jul 2, 2018 at 18:08
  • @MichaelRichardson Perhaps. I don't recall them; probably because if they were given they were 'blah blah blah' fake physics and science. It's always a problem for a scientist to watch science fiction; my threshold for BS disrupting my suspension of disbelief is pretty low. Although I am the first to assert that Quantum Physics, General Relativity and the non-theory String Theory have a dozen fatal flaws and we need a breakthrough that seems ever more elusive, that doesn't make me ready to embrace straight up frikkin' magic!
    – Amadeus
    Jul 2, 2018 at 18:56

Jack Campbell's work was a good place to start for Hard Sci-fi, I'd suggest having a look at this list of works that helped to define the sub-genre that is "Hard" Science Fiction. Also and particularly at semi-fictional works like Wil McCarthy's Hacking Matter and Larry Niven's Bigger than Worlds which both speak to some mathematically possible but, especially in the case of Hacking Matter, very strange technological possibilities.

Preemptive TV Tropes warning. A lot of stories that use the one big lie format use a lot of hard science around that one big violation of "life as we know it" and are worth a look if you want to look at realistic future tech.

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