Recently I was reading National Geographic and its lengthy issue on space. Of particular interest to me was the colonization of Mars and the approximately thousand year long terraforming process which got me thinking (again) about the future of mankind among the stars.
I have been an avid reader of science fiction since I was young from books like Star Hatchling or the young adult Star Wars novels like the Galaxy of Fear series. I graduated on to reading the works of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and wonderful novels like Dune, Starship Troopers, or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I loved the series and I was eventually reading the Halo novels which were very well done. Since then I've always had heady visions of space colonization and space battles.
Most recently I've been reading the Honor Harrington series which has really captured my interest. The series is extremely technical giving immense details on the technical data of the science behind the universe, and almost as importantly, the immense distances involved in travel among the stars and the vast distances that occupy even a single star system.
It has been immensely helpful for the opening stages of my own science fiction novel. Especially for some pivotal scenes involving space pirates thus far.
Establishing a proper timeline for the story has been a bit trickier, especially because of my thoughts on interstellar travel. Faster than light travel is something that we currently don't possess so making a viable means either relies on technobabble jargon or by extrapolating on currently shaky sciences. Since mankind has yet to travel well beyond earths orbit (in any manned capacity that is) I have come down to using more vague terms for my own science fiction such as 'hyper space' and 'jump drives' to describe the process.
The way I see it to have a decent history for an interstellar star nation one needs to have at least three centuries of colonization, which if you want to set it in something like the year 2600 or so requires mankind to have some decent terraforming technology and an adequete FTL technolgy else you have to rely on generational ships and an increase in earth-like planets (which while not impossible, it is still highly unlikely to have them concentrated in any nice dense array without a little push from the human race in my opinion). Mind you the previous thought is best regulated to 'hard' science fiction, while mine is going to be on the softer side, I am trying to make it as semi-realistic of possible to help with the suspension of disbelief.
You see in my science fiction (the Service to the State series as the name is thus far) I have developed a fairly intricate backstory for the nation of the Commonwealth, its worlds having been settled five hundred years before the current story line and then clawing their way to independence in order to form their own nation. The galaxy shattering events which lead to their independence (various wars and revolutions) all require FTL in a reliable shape so that they can carry out interplanetary war on a realistic scale. It needs to be both relatively easy to aquire and maintain, but difficult enough that it has some drawbacks and disadvantages to keep it from being a sort of easy way out for ships in a jam. I have no real grasp of the advanced sciences required though so I have to avoid the 'info-dumps' of the Honor Harrington series and rely more on characters, events, and conflict rather than the interesting hard sciences to keep people reading!
The problems with mapping a decent timeline this presents are large. Due to many realisations of both scale, and realism I have revised my initial timeline at least three times now. I'm sure I'll be forced to do this more in the future as I attempt to make the story as 'hard' as I can. Thus far though, both the story and the timeline are progressing well. I hope to have a rough draft for the entire story in place by the end of the year.