This month on Science Fiction Theater!
The settings we came up with were interesting, and we talked about some good writing craft in the form of the interaction of theme and setting, characters and plot. Then things got weird.
Michael: I got to thinking about camping and Ren Fairs and how people always want to pretend to do things the old fashioned way until they get tired and go home to their modern appliances.
What if a sect of space-faring humans decided to play-act ancient cultures on what is essentially a planet-wide Renaissance Fair? An interdiction field would block certain laws of physics so that the technology level is stopped at the period you’re playing. But certain nanotech works if you have clearance for it.
But then what if something went wrong and you could never leave? Even worse, the tech level is reset at pre-XVII century Earth for everyone. Several generations pass and you have a techno-capable aristocracy living in palaces and castles with all of the information comfort they would ever need at their fingertips and… everyone else. But Da Vinci like mechanics work (except maybe that weird helicopter). So after several hundred years it becomes a mishmash of historical cultures on a world that was supposed to provide for vacationers who wanted to play cowboys and Indians, landsknechts and Benin-Romans, even up to 1920’s New York mobsters.
I’ve already got pages and pages of notes on African Empires and dryland agriculture and nanotech magi but I can’t figure a story arc that’s worth a damn.
Dan: Your story reminds me of Implied Spaces, Terminal World, The Book of the Long Sun, and of course Missile Gap and Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Oh, there’s also the Virga books where a no-high-tech-zone is maintained as a means of protecting the culture of a pre-singularity civilization (like a nature refuge). Of course all this stuff hearkens back to Vernor Vinge and Fire Upon the Deep, in which different “zones” of technological potential segregate the galaxy.
As for making your world into a story, here are two questions:
(1) Why did some people keep the ability to use nanotechnology but not others? (it shouldn’t be an accident)
(2) How can they fix the world and let high technology work again? (and do they want to?)
Answering those questions will give you a conflict, and with people on each side of the conflict, you’ll get your characters. You even have a theme: should we set limits of technological development? And a climactic battle in which it turns out that : No, We Shouldn’t (or Yes, We Should depending on your opinion).
Does that help?