In the nineteen-eighties when I first had a go at writing technology didn’t play much of a role. Yes, I had a state-of-the-art writing tool – an electric typewriter that was about the size of a laptop (though about four times as thick) and was designed to be portable. It could even run off of batteries. There was a tiny LCD screen that would show the current sentence so you could correct it before it was on paper. Instead of using dot-matrix and needing special paper like most machines of it’s era it used regular paper, because it used plotter pens and would draw each individual letter as you typed. It was super-cool. I’d make typos because I was watching it write.
It was particularly useful that it was portable because of the way we had to do research in those days. When I needed to check on something I’d consult my books and magazines. If the information wasn’t on-hand then I had to go to the library. This could be a bit of a pain, but at least I could minimize the lost time by taking the typewriter with me and continuing in-situ.
I wrote two games on that little typewriter, a set of rules for a fantasy-roleplaying game and a tabletop war-game called ‘Armor 2050.’ This second of these was a rebellion against Robotech and similar games which were basically stupid. I worked with armored combat vehicles in the Army and was aware of the capabilities of them. Robotech was set oogledy-bajillion years in the future and had giant robots slugging it out, which was kinda’ cool. But if you had taken one of their Regimental Combat Teams from the far future and plonked them down in front of mid-1980’s NATO forces the super-advanced mechs from the far future would have been slaughtered wholesale. The creator’s of Robotech were aware of this and tried to rationalize it in various ways that were never really convincing.
This got me thinking about what would armored combat look like in the future, which prompted me to write Armor 2050, a hard-science projection of the effects of emerging technologies on armored warfare in the future. This meant a lot of life-and-death confrontations with my old nemesis– Math. It also meant a lot of research, which brings us full-circle.
In a weird sort of way Armor 2050 is still alive and well. The game eventually led to me writing the first short story that I sold in 1991- ‘The Killing Machine.’ On a different electric typewriter. Years later after I went back to writing fiction we found this story and discovered that it had aged remarkably well. That spurred another Armor 2050 based short story, ‘What Happens in Dubai…’ The two of these, in modified form, became the basis of ‘Rage of Angels.’
While Armor 2050 continues to inform our work even after all of these years research has changed a great deal. Very little consulting books, and no trips to the library. Instead internet and software do yeoman service. One has to be more careful and check sources a bit more diligently, but generally any information that you want is literally at your fingertips.
Need to learn about asteroid mining? Tab out of the story and do a quick search on Bing. Futuristic air transport? Another search. Need to know where to make an emergency landing in an antiquated C17 cargo plane in upstate New York, or where to set up an ambush on a column of light armored vehicles? Fire up Google Earth. get what you need and get right back to the story.
It’s sort of interesting that the technology of writing has changed more than the core technologies of that first short story.