Spaceships and lasers! No, actually I insist on character growth in a positive direction. Plot continuity, and a continually evolving goal. If it has all that, I'm happy. If it manages to surprise me as well, then I'm ecstatic!
I think it always comes down to will good triumph over evil, is the plot interesting, can the characters grow, and there better be babes LOL
Science Fiction novels in particular (as common in a lot of fiction) include parables or archetypes of spiritual figures/religions/ lifestyles and disciplines.
In Star Wars, Obi Wan Kenobi plays the role of the father/mentor where Luke Skywalker redeems his father's tragic history (common theme in religion, especially in Gnosticism.)
Another famous example is Frank Herbert's "Dune." A very spiritual coming of age story. The unique aspects of the customs of the "alien" societies were actually synthesized existing religious practices on Earth. The character of Paul Atreides is like the falling/rising God in many religions.
In terms of technology, the idea is convenience. We have a lot of useful gadgets today but there are still problems. Imagine an abstract but plausible solution as a mechanical device and make it graceful and flashy!
Perhaps you might also base a section of the book on a current event that is of great significance to you. Ex.: What would happen if the earth ran low on resources, how would we prepare, etc.
THE MINDS EYE VIEW OF MIND SET SOCIETY AND WHAT COULD BE IF SUCH THINGS AS ALIENISTIC PREVAILANCE BECAME MORETHAN FIGHTING FOR SUBSISTANCE. WHAT IF WE FOUGHT FOR IMAGINARY HEROES ETC. FEAR FACTOR MADE MORE UNIVERSAL, DEFINED ALIENISTIC LIVING. UNKNOWN AND MISUNDERSTOOD COMMUNICATIONS. DEFINED ALIEN HOPES AND DREAMS. THE EMMERGENCE OF THE IMAGINATION UNBRIDLED, AND OF COURSE ROBOTIC INFLUENCES.
The very first element, in my opinio, is world-building. The reader must feel himself transported into a fantastic world that one could plausibly, in his wildest imagination, imagine being able to work.
World -building is absolutely crucial. If this is not done well, I think, nothing else matters no one will read a series with a crappy world.
The Dune series is a brilliant example of world-building. A history of how that state of affairs came to be, so it seems "organic" not manufactured. Its a world I would like to visit; and a certain optimism seems to underpin it -- nuclear weapons have been banned in the "world" which is actually an empire of one million worlds.
One thing I like about the world of Dune is that the series does not depend on "aliens" to make things exotic and interesting. At the same time it explores the potential evolutionary variety of the human species. The Bene Tleixu are humans so strange they might as well be "aliens."
The other thing I would add here is that, having created such an elaborate world, you have to have a story BIG enough to fill it. I guess what I mean by that is that Dune wouldn't have worked if the story was too small for the world in which it was set; nothing should be wasted -- no element, no created technology, no astronomical phenomena, no characters, nothing.
Some might disagree with me here, but I think a smooth, rhythmic prose writing style is essential.
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