As an editor, I read a lot of sci-fi that leans too heavily on worldbuilding tropes of the past. Every starship and space station I read about has the same old rigid hulls, single-use environments, and clunky, intrusive computing elements that seem designed to abandon users when their need is greatest. Science fiction is lately wanting in the ‘imaginative applications of materials science’ department.
Fortunately, there has recently been no shortage of interesting advances in that field. To make inspiration convenient for writers too busy to seek out new science and boldly go where no fiction has gone before, I have gathered together a few examples of research into novel materials that could rock your worldbuilding.
In space, everyone’s a janitor. Scum grows everywhere, all the time, catastrophically unmitigated by ‘normal’ gravity and the sort of biological processes that we take for granted on Earth. So writers had better equip all their characters with impressive arrays of scrub brushes, or start coating surfaces in biofilm-resistant technology.
Nothing’s perfect, especially not plumbing. In the far future, people will still struggle with sweating, dripping, seeping, oozing, bursting pipes of one kind or another. Scarcity is bad enough on Earth, especially when it comes to potable water, but resource management in space is even more urgently a matter of life and death. Depending on the location and the gas or liquid involved in a leak, people could find themselves facing a fire or flood or drought that could wipe out all life in their fragile tin-can biome. The future needs plumbers with advanced leak detection capabilities.
Just like the vacuum in your house, the vacuum of space is crowded with dust and the universe’s other castoffs. But in space, all the never-ending clouds of specks and chunks are traveling at incredible speeds. They’re hot, cold, radioactive, magnetized, and our pathetic little ships are on collision courses with every mote and rock between their origins and their destinations. Even if sensors and navigation are sophisticated enough to let us detect and dodge the worst encounters, our hulls will eventually erode and fail. Unless we think to cover them in snakeskin…
I could go on like this for volumes, there’s such an abundance of clever ideas out there for how to transform the most inefficient and woefully humdrum materials we use on Earth into believable support for above average science fiction.