The “sci” in my “fi” – futuristic technology in Blackjack Interstellar

Blackjack Interstellar (BJI), the space opera novel I’m currently working on is set in the distant future where humans have formed an alliance with alien races and colonised far corners of the galaxy. It’s by no means meant to be hard science fiction, but science and technology are still important cornerstones of my world-building.

I drew inspiration from all the science fiction I grew up on, researched technologies used in various fictional worlds and the “real” science of how these may or may not work. It’s easy to get carried away when building your own world I tried to keep explanations, short, simple, and relevant to my plot. Here are my top five futuristic technologies that are central to BJI’s plot, with the level of detail you won’t see in the book:

1. Faster Than Light (FTL) interstellar travel

Interstellar travel is very accessible in BJI. A one-man spaceship can reach distant star systems within days. This would never be possible in the real world with what we currently know about physics, so any theory I used had to be very speculative. 

I chose antimatter-powered hyperdrives that propel spaceships through hyperspace, which is kind of like another dimension. I felt readers would be comfortable with this concept because of how much it was popularised by Star Wars. Exits from hyperspace, landings and departures need to be well-coordinated by spaceports to avoid accidents. Fortunately, the landing and departure queues are mostly automated, except maybe on Blackjack, the asteroid, where one perpetually drunk guy runs all ground control ops.

2. Galactic Maps

Hyperdrives present a number of limitations, particularly around navigation. Because the galaxy is in constant motion, it is not enough to plot a static space route. The calculations need to be constantly updated — that’s why they have droids in Star Wars.

In BJI however, there are no droids. There is, however, the Standard Union Galactic Map, which has a limited number of main routes that are constantly updated with calculations by the Galactic Union government. Unbeknownst to most people, there is also something called the Shadow Map, but that’s it’s own plot point and I won’t go into further detail here.

2. Quantum Entanglement FTL Communication 

While quantum entanglement (QE) is a real physics phenomenon, its use for faster than light communication is hypothetical but frequently used in science fiction. Entanglement is when two subatomic particles continue to impact one another even when separated. So, the speculative idea is that if you had two quantum computers with entangled particles on different ends of the galaxy, they’d be communicating with one another in real time. The limitation is that entanglement is a one-to-one not one-to-many process. I have several pieces of technology in BJI that use QE for communication purposes, two are listed next.

3. The InStarNet

Yes, that name is “highly original”. The book doesn’t go into much detail on how the InStarNet works, but I can tell you that it uses a network of quantum satellites to transfer data to various inhabited planets. To cross the one-to-many barrier, the data from users would get transmitted to ordinary satellites, presumably via ordinary radio signal, and then to the quantum satellite, where it would be redirected to the next quantum satellite, and so on. Once it reaches the intended planet, it would again be transferred to individual user devices via ordinary satellite internet. Is this scientific? No. Is it logical? I hope so… The InStarNet works for communication between planets but not between ships in hyperspace that can’t pick up radio signals from satellites (due to being in hyperspace).

4. The Ansible

The term “ansible” was coined by Le Guin in a 1966 novel and has since been used by countless others. I’d thought about changing its name, but so far, have decided against it. As a sci-fi reader, I welcome familiar references in modern sci-fi that, makes me feel like the the author and I are on the same page, geeking out about the same things.

Ansibles in BJI also use QE tech to enable communication with travelling spaceships, bypassing the satellites. Each ship needs to be “entangled” with at least one major spaceport and each spaceport is “entangled” with the other spaceports. There’s a finite number of ports and space-tech manufacturers (and production of ships is regulated), so this is technically possible.  Ansibles can only be used for specific purposes. They do not enable ships to communicate with the main InStarNet network and do not allow file transfers. Their intended use is mostly for emergencies and landing requests.

Ships within close range of each other communicate using ordinary radio-waves, not entanglement. Ships also have lidars and other sensors.

5. VirtEgo personal communicators

A virtEgo (not to be confused with “Vertigo”, not a miss-spelling and also shortened to virt) is basically a smartphone on steroids. It’s super practical and it’s the last gadget you’ll ever need. You can wear it on your wrist like a watch, you can expand it to the size of a personal computer, you can project and manipulate holographic objects and exchange them with others. In addition to calls and messages, you’d use a virt for identification, security, to pay for things and to open doors. It’s the only wallet and key that you’ll ever it. Obviously if you’re an adult without a virtEgo, you’re screwed.

It took me ages to come up with a name for it. In A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine calls her wearable personal communication devices “cloud hooks”. In Five Lightyears to the Firesnake, by my friend Rayner Ye, personal devices are called airSpheres. I thought both of those sounded extremely cool, but I wanted something really short like… “phone” but not like a phone… Recently I’ve been describing it to someone, saying the gadget is like an extension of yourself, your virtual self, your… And then it hit me: “virtual ego –virtEgo”… how did I not think of this earlier?

The virt pairs with other devices like your spaceship’s onboard computer or other wearable tech. It stores data either locally, on data cards, or on “nebula servers” (get it? I’m so clever with naming things 🤣). I can’t wait to get a virtEgo in real life, although I think our distant future will be far more augmented. 

Special Mentions

That’s it. Some other futuristic tech mentioned in BJI that didn’t make it into my top 5 includes:  terraformation processes, cryogenics, robots, cyborgs and an alien translation device known as “the cube”.

Do you get as excited by thinking about the future of technology as I do? Or maybe it’s magic that floats your boat? What are some of your favourite fictional gadgets, devices or artefacts?