Help me construct a typology of fictional (but familiar) technological epochs -- along with the genre-conventions and stock-elements that characterize each.
posted by foursentences to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here are some technological epochs that really did exist: stone age, metal ages, dark ages, age of rail, electrical age, nuclear age, computer age.
Each of these technological epochs, as portrayed in fiction, carries with it a large array of tropes and stock characters. For example:
cavemen, the invention of fire or the wheel, a tribal shaman with fancier fur clothes than anyone else, volcanoes, maybe some fights with dinosaurs, end on some portentous moment that heralds a bright future for humanity.
feudalism, knights, chivalry, princesses fair, the high king, maybe even wizards and goblins.
FIRST INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
coal-streaked London urchins, river-powered mills owned by fatcat industrialists, ironic contrasts between high society and the Cockney unwashed.
AGE OF RAIL
steamer chests full of banknotes, Bowie knives, Civil War veterans, the realization of manifest destiny, unnamed heroes who ride into the sunset, Mark Twain, pince-nez glasses, panning for gold, it turns out the narrator was a young Theodore Roosevelt all along.
spies and counterspies, hornrimmed pocket-protected Manhattan Project scientists, starving Muscovites huddled against the cold, good-hearted rough-hewn blue-collar Joe Everydays from someplace like Pittsburgh, main characters who glopehop among exotic third-world locations that serve as backdrops for chase scenes or honey traps, scheming Soviet commissars, the femme fatale named Svetlana who smokes one of those long cigarettes.
I am interested in compiling a list of purely imaginary technological epochs -- preferably with their own analogous sets of instantly-recognizable tropes in fictional portrayals. Crucially, I DON'T just mean specific imaginary technologies: "rail guns" isn't the kind of answer I have in mind. I mean entire recognizable settings in which multiple technologies have all been imagined around the same core aesthetic or motif.
What I have so far:
DISTANT-FUTURE SPACE AGE
laser guns, faster-than-light spaceships, exploratory excursions to the surfaces of uncharted but conveniently-inhabitable planets, intergalactic diplomacy, plucky jumpsuited itinerants with improbably cool names like "Zip Zilligan" or "Captain Archer", intelligent robots, recognizable military-esque hierarchies, evil alien space emperors.
AGE OF STEAMPUNK
great bronzed automata bristling with steam valves and beautiful external gears, H.G. Wells, wondrous wooden submersibles, monacles and top hats, widespread zeppelins, the Royal Science Society.
AGE OF ALCHEMY
lead-and-gold-and-mercury, poorly-understood elements, astrological predictions, untrustworthy viziers, demons summoned into magical circles on the floor, smoke-spewing braziers.
AGE OF CYBERPUNK
endemic body modification, dubious slang, dystopian society, hacking into the global mainframe, unexpectedly sentient supercomputers, teenage protagonists who are pathetic or thuggish in the real world but terrifyingly competent online.
AGE OF MECHS
enormous walking doom robots, remote-control wars, robots which detach from or combine with one another, personal jetpacks with which to mount one's mech robot.
The following two types of suggestion are are equally interesting to me:
- established tropes that have been taken up by many authors
- original and creative entries unique to a specific author.
But it's not sufficient that it just be the idiosyncratic vision of some single creator. I'm looking for examples such that -- once you had listed a few of the associated tropes -- people steeped in modern culture would understand exactly the setting you had in mind, and would be able to supply additional details more or less correctly.
For bonus points, list a few of the tropes associated with your answer so we know we're on the same page?
(My ultimate goal here is to write an academic paper about the real-world conditions during which these now-universally-familiar settings first emerge.)