future When it comes to technological advances, I’ll admit I’m not the most creative. I don’t have too many ideas for improvements or new inventions. Speculating about the future is hard for me – which is why I’m fascinated by J. D. Robb’s vision of the world in 2060. I dragged my heels for a long time before reading the In Death series, simply because the futuristic element didn’t appeal to me. Well, once I decided to try it, I didn’t look back, and I’m now in the middle of my annual re-read of the series.

This time around, I’ve found myself paying more and more attention to the plausibility of certain advances or legal changes. Before I started, I assumed the series would be too science-fiction-y, but it’s surprisingly realistic. It’s been fun for me to look back to where we were 50 years, and then to look forward to where we might be. It must have been as difficult for 1960s Americans to imagine the Internet as it is for us to visualize the computer systems and programs of Eve Dallas’s world.

Can I imagine the shuttles that cross the Atlantic in an hour? Yes (and oh, I can’t wait until that happens). Legalized prostitution? In 50 years, I can see our country getting there. The outlaw of guns? No way—the NRA is way too powerful for that to happen, now or fifty years from now. Off-planet colonies and droids that – almost—have minds of their owns? There’s too much science fiction there for me to imagine that actually happening in my lifetime. I’ve found myself far more intrigued by the social and political changes than the technological ones. I don’t think Robb has ever fully explained the Urban Wars, but I would really love to hear the “history” behind it. I remember getting a jolt when I first read Loyalty in Death and the World Trade Center was a potential location for a bomb during the climax—and then in a book published after Sept. 11, it’s mentioned in passing that the Flatiron Building is the only skyscraper left in the city. Another reference is made to the “third woman president of the United States.” What’s the story behind the first? One of the things that make the series authentic is that it isn’t like a fictionalized history book. As much as I’d like to know the stories behind the Urban Wars, and the gun ban, and the presidency, I’m glad Robb doesn’t explain it all in big, distracting info dumps.

I’m not the only one for whom the futuristic nature of the In Death series has been both a detractor and a draw. Fellow AAR reviewer Katie Mack shares many of my thoughts. “The only futuristic books I’ve read are the ‘In Death’ series. I almost didn’t start reading them for that reason, but everybody raved about them so
I thought, ‘What the hell.’ It took me a couple of books to get used to the futuristic world, but I eventually did and now I slip right into it without thinking. (If I’ve gone on a Robb binge sometimes I forget that links and autochefs don’t really exist. 😉 ) I think Roberts/Robb has created a fascinating world, and a lot of the new technology and social norms she has are not so far out of the realm as to be unbelievable.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I tried to remember if a particular slang term or product name was real, or if it had come from the book series.

One of AAR’s publishers, Rachel Potter, has read another futuristic book. “I almost never read futuristics, but there’s a book called Promised Landby Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice that is set in some distant future where it’s possible to commute between planets. The heroine, who has been sent away and educated off planet in some fancy girls’ school, comes home to her more backwoods home where her education is rendered kind of pointless by the primitive conditions of life there. I totally bought the setting I think because it makes sense to me that “civilization” would not always be cost effective to export. Also, as on Firefly, there’s always going to be a frontier where things aren’t settled and nailed down yet. Plus it was a really sweet story, kind an arranged marriage. I love those.” Jean Wan, another AAR reviewer, also is intrigued by the sociopolitical changes of future societies. “[Nalini Singh’s psy/changling series] might be classified as alternate futuristic (because if you don’t buy into the shapeshifters and psychic talents then her series doesn’t fall within your realm of
“reality”), but I find her world fascinating nonetheless. Even if the idea of a future of psychic-controlled America with shapeshifters and humans rebelling doesn’t appeal to you, there are so many parallels of our present society and politics that I think the series, as a metaphor, is as relevant as it is plausible (within your imagination).”

Jean also found the 2176 series interesting. She stated that, “I think it was the brainchild of Susan Grant, who imagined a future, year 2176, constructed of three superpowers…Australia is now the world’s dumping ground again (no mention of New Zealand)….The 2176 premise is that the original American ideals — freedom, liberty, Paul Revere, democracy, etc. — have been perverted in America’s[United Colonies of Earth] (inadvertant) quest for dominance and world influence, driven by its economic and industrial supremacy, and the 2176 America is nothing more than a totalitarian dictatorship. Do I think it’s plausible? In some ways, no, because I don’t believe America and China would ever exist in a balance of power. Too unstable. But it was an interesting thought.”

My question for you is: what elements of futuristic romances do you think could happen? Where do you think the author’s imagination has gone a bit too far? For those of you who read the “In Death” series, what do you think about cancer vaccines, AutoChefs, aerial driving, the “Revised Miranda,” vocal computer commands, probability searches, or anything else? Is there anything you think is missing? What about the 2176 series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Promised Land, or other futuristic stories?

-Jane Granville