I’m working on another hard sci fi story again. It’s a genre that I often make a conscious effort to branch out from–part of me feels much more drawn to writing absurdist Borgesian stories, or “The New Weird,” or whatever it’s being called these days. Yet something else draws me back, again and again, to writing hard science fiction, the stuff of space elevators and pressure domes and transhumanism.
One thing about hard sci fi that makes me feel out of my depth is the sheer volume of research that a serious hard sci fi reader expects from a story. And the research is wide ranging: it doesn’t matter whether I happen to know a little about genetic engineering; a good hard sci fi story also demands that I know something about AI and cryptography and planetary physics and orbital insertions.
That’s part of the fun, being able to research Martian concrete one day and asteroid mining the next. It’s also a little daunting to read the hard sci fi work of some of the current masters, folks like Linda Nagata and Ian McDonald and Gwyneth Jones, and see just how deeply researched their futures are, to see how offhandedly they predict something transformational about humanity 200 years in the future and make me wish I had thought of that.
Here’s a simple, dumb example. I’m writing a story set on a Mars colony between 100-200 years in the future. What do people drink there? I have a scene set in a bar, a kind of hangout that might remind people of an underground dive full of beer and curly fries. But it’s occurred to me in the last day or so that beer is a highly unlikely drink for colonists living under pressure domes on Mars: any staple crops like wheat or barley or oats would very likely be used for solid food, not beer. I’m fairly confident people will still want to drink alcohol 200 years in the future on Mars, but if it’s Martian hooch I would guess they’ll want something that yields a lot of alcohol from a relatively small biomass. What would that be? Fruit brandy? Potato vodka? Mezcal?
I still like the idea of a bunch of Martian undergrads downing beers and curly fries, so I may just leave those details in even though they make little sense. One of the characters in the scene is happy to see a Kentucky Bourbon on the menu–I suppose any society that can send 60,000 emigrants to Mars can also export Kentucky Bourbon, which makes more sense than exporting kegs of Earth beer over months and months and at fantastic weight. I’m not sure what to call the cocktail the character orders. Right now I just call the drink an offworlder, which seems a decent enough name, but I’m hoping to find a name with a little more zazz.
What do you think? What would you call a Martian cocktail made with Kentucky Bourbon, perhaps distantly related to an old-fashioned?