Home » Fantasy/SciFi » Codification, Re-Codification, and Alternate Future History

Codification, Re-Codification, and Alternate Future History

7 September 2016

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.


20 Comments to “Codification, Re-Codification, and Alternate Future History”

  1. It’ll be a couple hundred years before they figure out how wrong (or right — it could happen) I was! 😉

  2. My basic premise is all fiction is set in alternate realities.
    No just SF or fantasy.

    That way I don’t worry my not so pretty little head over the divergence from the world we know. Comes in most handy with the hardest of hard SF, which can become dated at the drop of a hat.

  3. After that grammar article a week or so ago, I can’t stop noticing the “alternate” when it should be “alternative.”

    As a non-native speaker of English, I was guilty of this for a long time because everyone else was misusing the word.

    But even so, I have no idea what kind of messed up matrix we’re dealing with when we add futures to the mix. “Alternative future history” = WTF??LOL

  4. Laura’s novels are a cool mix of space law and SF. Although her new series is mil-SF, with some awesome twists!


    • I just realized I saw that one on E-BookSoda today and didn’t get a chance to investigate. It’s on sale right now for anyone who needs an extra nudge …

    • Thanks, JM!

      JM and I roomed together in college and found each other again here at TPV. This is a good place, and PG was very kind to link to my new blog.

  5. I saw the reference to Firestar and thought, “Oh what a coincidence, Laura Montgomery just mentioned that book in a comment here.” I was hoping this post would have the skinny on when “Firestar” will show up on Kindle … never heard of it and it sounds interesting.

    A space attorney, eh? Next to “astronaut” that’s probably one of the cooler titles to reveal at parties.

    • I couldn’t believe that Firestar isn’t available on kindle. Fortunately, and I don’t know why, I seem to have two copies in paperback. There are four books in the series, and the first is my favorite.

  6. This is how I regard Star trek yes.

    TOS, for example, refers to 20th-century events which never happened. They use computer tech which never happened.

    I see that timeline as having split from ours in the 1930s, and generally ignore later attempts to tell stories in our timeline instead of theirs.

    • It’s all McCoy’s fault.
      Keeler didn’t die quite the right way and the butterfly effect took over.

      Or, you could blame Gary Seven.

      • It has something to do with the moon being blasted out of orbit in 1999.

      • McCoy’s fault? I was figuring it was because Scotty gave the formula for transparent aluminum to some guy in San Francisco when they had to save those two humpback whales…oh wait. That would have changed THEIR future, not ours…

        • You do know transparent aluminum is real, right?
          It’s just trademarked as GORILLA GLASS. 😉


          • Less well known is aluminum oxynitride:


          • I didn’t actually know about Gorilla Glass, but in dentistry we use a material called lithium disilicate (was originally marketed as “Dicor”). Most of the crowns I do are milled from blocks of lithium disilicate and are called eMax crowns. So I’m not surprised by the fact that there is transparent aluminum silicate compound. We use lots of weird stuff in dentistry, where we have to mimic the translucency of enamel with our dental materials. (But we don’t have a use for Gorilla Glass yet, far as I know, so I don’t know much about it…) 🙂

            • Modern glasses and ceramics are great stuff.
              And there’s even greater stuff cooking Scotty never heard of. Nanotech is letting us custom build all sorts of “miracle” materials. There’s about a dozen roads being explored that will give us true superbatteries. At least one will pan out and very soon.

              That will change all sorts of games.

  7. And are comments subscriptions not working for everyone, or is it just me?

    • You have a couple of extra steps now.

      Make a comment and check the ‘Notify me of follow-up comments by email.’ box before hitting ‘submit’.

      Then in your email open and confirm that you are subscribing to it. (You won’t get any of the comments made before you confirmed it.)

      You have to do this for each story you wish to follow.

    • I deactivated the Subscribe to Comments plugin and am using WP’s built-in comment subscription manager.

      Still looking for a solution that works well for everyone.

  8. The mistake many people make is assuming that this Reality is the one true original. Nope. We are a copy of a copy of a copy.

    One website keeps track of all the changes. Mandela Effect. Here is one page to start.


    What’s interesting is that the site will probably move because of the large volume of traffic, so it will become different as well.

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