Should a science fiction that wants to stand the test of time go into detailed daily life of the city it is set on, with all it's modern references that might become outdated?

An example would be a group of university students that later find themselves trapped in another planet through whatever plot events. Should the life of the students in their local reality, in their particular real-world existing university and city, with the socializing and the partying involved, be narrated for atmosphere and background, or would that get in the way of the story being timeless? This supposes the author lives in that reality and is able to give an accurate insider's rich picture of it. How much of it is relevant to a broader topic of science fiction? I'm looking for this compromise.

2 Answers 2


If you set any part of your story in a place and time which your readers will recognize, that part will eventually be dated. That's simply fact. Look at The Invisible Man or The Time Machine or The First Men in the Moon. Those are all classics of scifi, but the parts set in the "present" feel, clearly, of that time.

The question is whether the non-Earth part will seem dated fifty years from now. Your readers can accept that "University students from 1957 Milwaukee find themselves on 2057 Mars" or "University students from 2011 Philadelphia find themselves on 2057 Mars" equally, because the point is what the students do when they're on Mars.

The "dated" part of your setting will primarily be to establish your characters. An English major from 1957 Milwaukee will not be the same person as an English major from 2011 Philadelphia, so those two people wouldn't have the same reaction to 2057 Mars.

I don't think you need to dwell on the "current" setting for chapters on end unless it's a major part of the plot, but I do think you need to present it, just to give the reader a sense of who your characters are, where/when they come from, what lives they have, what their attitudes are, and so on. It will save you a lot of infodump later if we've already seen them in their natural habitat, so to speak.

If it bothers you that much, then you have to remove your characters from any contemporary milieu whatsoever. They would have to start in "2057 Loki City" and end up on "2257 Mars," and then you can make up both ends however it suits you.


Details will always date, but you should add whatever details you feel bring a sense of truthfulness. Take The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur Dent starts off in southern England. There is a muddy driveway, a dressing gown, a pub, salted peanuts, a leather satchel, 3 pints of beer at lunchtime and then ten minutes later he's on a Vorgon sparecraft and everything's mental. It works perfectly and it is dated but it doesn't matter because it's great writing and that's what makes it a classic.

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