From Ground Based Space Matters:
Sometimes when you are reading science fiction you find that the story’s future is in our past. What could have happened clearly didn’t because that future is over. The emotionally satisfying convention here is to treat the story as an alternate future history, an alternate timeline. This way we can continue to enjoy classics like Robert Heinlein’s Door into Summer, despite the lack of cold sleep in 1970.
A lot of people use the easy method to determine whether the writer must have been describing a time line that branched off from our own. They will notice—without error—that the ‘90’s are over. There are other, more subtle ways to catch on to the creation of invisible timelines. Space law can help you out here.
Michael Flynn’s Firestar series contains those kinds of clues. The books are set in the near-future for the time he wrote them; but in 2016, we are looking at the 1990’s in the rearview mirror. The books are a rollicking read, a bit of a soap opera, and sprawl from the New Jersey suburbs to orbital construction. The series tells the tale of a commercial titan who kickstarts the industrialization of space out of fear that an asteroid might hit Earth. This being fiction, it’s a good thing she does, because….. Let’s just say it’s good someone’s getting ready for the sky to fall.
When I read the books, I’d been working at the FAA for years, helping draft regulations to implement what is popularly referred to as the Commercial Space Launch Act, which was then located, sensibly enough, in Title 49 of the United States Code in chapter 701 (aka 49 USC ch. 701).
. . . .
Anyway, back to Firestar. Our heroes are recruiting youngsters for space (and fixing the education system while they’re at it), building rockets in Brazil, selecting the first person to pilot the new vehicle, and making mysterious references to the U.S. government’s application of Chapter 35. In my defense, I was engrossed in the story and didn’t rush off to look up this Chapter 35, and even if I’d thought to do so, what title would I have looked in? Then it happened. I got to the part where the unduly burdensome government shows up to enforce Chapter 35. What is Chapter 35? It’s the Commercial Space Launch Act. But Flynn was not wrong. He was just in an alternate timeline.
. . . .
Firestar takes place in 1999. In that universe, the Commercial Space Launch Act still resides in Chapter 35. In other words, no one codified this law, and an alternate universe sprang into being. The story was in our past, the writer’s future, and no longer matches our reality, so it’s alternate future history. I hope this is clear.
Link to the rest at Ground Based Space Matters
The author of the post is space attorney (how cool is that?) Laura Montgomery. Laura also writes science fiction. Here’s a link to her books.