Technology in a novel grounds readers in the world. Certain science is defined by the book’s era, e.g. Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Modern and Space etc. A quick description of tech will instantly identify the time period of the novel. People in power, or with the most money, will have the most advanced technology. Class is defined by this tech.
Cultures will develop technology at different rates. Having every civilisation with the same level of science in a novel is unrealistic. It’s why empires could defeat and enslave other cultures. You can reflect this in a culture’s architecture. Some will be content with simple mud huts, others with tall, spiralling glass sculptures. Things like floating cities are possible with the right technology.
When it comes to science, most technological projects are funded by the military in an effort to gain an advantage against the enemy. A soldier with a musket will beat one with a sword, but will be destroyed by one with a tank. Higher levels of technology lead to supremacy of one civilisation over another, and to escalation.Weapons, shields, ships; all of these need to be explained. Gunpowder changed the world, because it changed tactics as well as technology. This is especially relevant for sci-fi and fantasy novels, as there is bound to be some fighting in their somewhere.
Nuclear energy, wind power or steam effects technlogical developments. Lack of it limits certain things like transport. It depends on both science and resources. The invention of navigation meant that civilisations could cross oceans. Straight Roman roads led to armies being able to travel great distances at speed. But not speed as we’d consider it now, of course – because now we have cars and planes. Star Trek (should’ve known I’d get a Trekkie reference in there somewhere) has teleportation and warp drive.The more volatile, dangerous forms of energy often have a detrimental effect on the planet, encouraged by numerous tests and military operations.
As diseases and viruses spread and adapt, so too must their cure. As soon as an illness evolves, research begins into a potential cure. I’d say this it probably the next area after the military to receive decent funding into its science and technology systems. Also to remember is that when medicines evolve so too does the tool or system used to dispense it. Currently we don’t have much use for liquid cures, most treatments are in tablet form or injection. Then there’s more extensive treatments like radio and chemotherapy. Medicine often keeps pace with the military – all the better to heal its soldiers.
The printing press changed literature for the world. Previous tales told in oral form or handwritten by individuals could be circulated internationally at low cost. Whereas before only monks might have been able to read and write, the printing press would have increased literacy rates exponentially.
Lots more to think about in terms of technology. It gets really interesting the further into the future you go. What do you think? Anything else to consider when worldbuilding a novel’s technology?
- Worldbuilding 101 (lemedlock.com)
- Worldbuilding 101: Topography or How to Craft a Planet (lemedlock.com)
- 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding (geekqueenblog.wordpress.com)