Artistic license: how far can we take it?

I was working on one of my sci-fi stories last night and had an odd thought.  The society I had designed complimented the technology I was using, neatly allowing me to show-case it to the best effect.  I mean, who doesn’t like space-ships?  But turn that technology into something that every-day people use to make a living…….it seemed like an awesome read.

Then I got to thinking about it.  The society wasn’t shown in glaring detail, but there were instances where I’d revealed important bits and pieces.  After reading through my draft a few times, I knew the idea read well and the atmosphere fit.  But I’d taken some serious liberties with possibility.

The idea of the story was that it could take place sometime in the next fifty years or so, maybe a little more.  The basis for the science is already in the works, the theories definitely possible, with the right advances in technology.  That was never in question.  But I’d stretched my social atmosphere.  A reader isn’t likely to notice it, but anyone who actually thought about it for long would notice.

The society was the society of 75 years ago, one in which capitalism was the prime mover in technological advancement.  That society isn’t really like that any more and by 2060, it’ll probably be even less like that.  So, the question is; how far can I bend reality before I break the reader’s interest?

Skirting the line between fantastical imagination and overkill is tough at the best of times.  The more fantastic the story, the more interesting it is to the reader.  You only have to look at scientist’s fascination with outer space, paleontology, artificial intelligence, or a dozen other disciplines to know that humans love the odd and incredible.  But too much of it will “throw” the reader.  He’ll concentrate on the impossibility of the idea, rather than focusing on the “what if this were actually possible” of the concept.

When that happens, you no longer have a reader, you have a critic.  There’s a line between “just right” and “too much”.  How well can you walk that line?

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