Lots of the really coolest things you can do with Sci-fi have to do with speculation on what might be, extrapolating trends and commenting on how we behave right now. In constructing a civilization of the distant future I spent a lot of time comparing the present to the distant past. In attempting to construct a science and technology that might exist two thousand years from now I asked myself things like, “How would Aristotle have reacted to quantum mechanics?” This is the physics that tells us that the only reason we don’t fly through the ceiling right now is that we probably won’t. That there are things in the world that can either be defined by their location or their energy level, but not both. That not only do you not know what some things are until you look at them, but they in fact need you to look at them in order to become what they are. Would Aristotle have said, “Oh, yes. I see,” or would he have said, “What are you, NUTS?” Then I tried to come up with things that would make scientists of the present react the same way.
As fun as that is, what is even more fun is extrapolating social behavior and attitudes. I took the idea that, at one time or another, people are placed in situations where they have the opportunity to actually do the things they usually just talk about doing. Some of these things are very nice. Some of them are appallingly awful. And all of them are rationalized to the point that the people doing them think they are doing the right thing, or at least the best possible thing under the circumstances. I’m not really interested in “good” people (boring) or “evil” people (predictable). What piques my interest is how reg’lar ol’ people deal with difficult moral dilemmas, where strength becomes intransigence, courage becomes arrogance, love becomes obsession, belief becomes bigotry.
Then I toss in a few rocket ships and ray guns and see what happens.