The Future is Weird in J.D. Robb’s “In Death” Series

Lately I’ve been listening to the audiobooks of J.D. Robb’s In Death series. (That’s Nora Roberts, in fact.) It’s a science fiction romance series that’s actually more murder mystery than anything. The main character is Eve Dallas, a homicide detective who falls in love with a billionaire industrialist (or something like that) named Roarke. He also happens to be Irish.

While I wouldn’t recommend this series to just anyone — you need to enjoy romance, and expect entertainment rather than a windstorm of stellar writing — there are quite a few things that are keeping me hooked on it. It’s the perfect series to keep my mind occupied (yet unburdened!) while I’m on my commute every day. And I finish about a book a week; the last one I listened to was the fourth in the series.

The most charming aspect of the series is its depiction of the near future: the 2050’s. These books were written back in the 1990’s, so we’re already a lot closer to this future. But the author’s predictions can sometimes be fascinating — or totally off-the-mark. It makes for an interesting world, anyway!

Here are a few of the author’s predictions…

Soy Dogs and Veggie Hash

coffee.jpgAccording to the In Death series, the future of food is pretty grim. People stop eating meat on the regular, so soy dogs and veggie hash are the norm. If you want coffee, don’t expect real, rich coffee beans — everything is a fake, or some altered version of what the food or drink used to be. Because Roarke is so wealthy, Eve is able to enjoy fresh lobster, chicken, wine, and coffee with him. She always seems surprised that it’s “the real thing,” and indulging herself at his place spoils her until she can’t stomach the coffee at the cop headquarters anymore.

Now, I’m personally of the belief that in the future, we will be able to print our food — but I do wonder what it will taste like. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, people use replicators to produce food, but Captain Sisko’s dad was a chef, and he enjoys cooking with real ingredients for the quality of the flavor. I’m guessing we’ll be able to notice the difference between the real thing and “printed” food in the future!

However, while I limit my own diet in respect for animals and the fact that we don’t need to hunt like our ancestors did for food and nutrients, I also don’t think we’re going to be eating soy dogs in the future. Meat will always be on the menu, and I’m personally excited at the prospect of printing it someday. Because I miss it.

There’s also the issue of Eve never taking the time to properly feed herself. Roarke has to remind her to eat, and he sometimes gives her protein drinks or other health concoctions, which she forces down grumpily. Roarke’s interest in nutrition reminds me of how we are today, going gluten free and trying diets like the Whole30.

But Eve’s idea of a meal on the job is a candy bar and a coffee — lots and lots of coffee. This would have been a funny trait in the past, but given how health-conscious we are as a society now, I have to doubt that candy bars and coffee will still be regular vices in the future. On the other hand, In Death does mention health warnings on foods, and smoking tobacco seems to be out in favor of “healthy” cigarettes…

Flying Cars

Eve is a cop in New York City, and apparently flying cars are a thing. So is traffic. It sounds like it’s as bad as ever, as Eve is frequently stuck in it — either on the ground or in the air. She also complains about the noise pollution in the city, which is interesting. I guess as the world population booms, so does the population in the big cities.

2365_4I can’t say I believe the flying cars idea will ever get off the ground (hehe). It seems to be a favorite concept of sci-fi writers of the past (and, like, Star Wars), but as the years go on and new technologies come out, having personal flying cars just seems extremely far-fetched. This is one part of the In Death series that feels campy.

What I do enjoy is hearing about how beat-up Eve’s car is. I can relate to that.

Pick-Me-Ups and Tranqs

While Eve prefers not to partake in medications other than way too much coffee, In Death makes many mentions of people using tranquilizers to sleep better or pick-me-ups to get them through the day. There’s a pill to pop that makes you more alert; Eve takes sober-up pills when she’s called to duty during a night of drinking.

The third book in the series focuses on people trying to create and push a drug that gives you energy and confidence while making you look more youthful. I can’t say that’s far-fetched — who wouldn’t want that today?

This is one concept I really enjoy. The idea of taking a pill that instantly makes you sober? I can totally see people using that someday. And we already love our pills to sleep and anything that’s supposed to help us lose weight, burn more calories at the gym, or relieve our hangovers. If we’re addicted to coffee, is it crazy to think we’ll someday take a pill to keep our energy up, if it’s legal? I think it’s going to happen.

VR Goggles

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAW1AAAAJGVhNzFmYzY1LTkyOGItNGY2OS1iYTFiLTQ5MzA3ZTQwY2NlNA.jpgThe fact that they’re called VR goggles makes me giggle, but otherwise, the virtual reality in In Death is really interesting. It taps into your brain chemistry so that you actually feel the things you’re seeing through the goggles. This makes something like, say, VR porn feel pretty real. While Eve encounters some of that type of VR, most that she finds — and uses herself — are relaxation programs, like sitting on a beach or floating in water. VR seems like the primary way for people to unwind in the future, and it’s mentioned that over 90% of households own at least one set of VR goggles.

It’s interesting that VR features so prominently in the series, as I believe this is definitely going to be the case in our real future. However, I wonder how it will develop. I think the idea of a headset that affects your brain enough to make you feel physical things is pretty intriguing. Right now, it seems to be more of a visual getaway — and the only way to get “real” is to create androids and a whole other world a la Westworld

Subliminal Messaging

Rapture in death.jpgThe latest book in the series that I have read, Rapture in Death, is intriguing for its exploration of subliminal messaging. A music producer is able to tap into people’s brains enough through subliminal notes to make them feel different moods. He thinks this could be a billion dollar idea — and he’s probably right.

It would be interesting — if dangerous, as this book notes — to have programs or music we can listen to someday that will enhance our mood, making us feel more confident, more awake, more aroused, less hungry if we’re dieting… There are all kinds of implementations, if we trust it.

Fast Travel

Roarke frequently has business meetings in faraway places like London, and sometimes he and Eve fly to Los Angeles for a night out, or take a vacation in Mexico as if it’s no big deal. Roarke will say he’s going to Europe for business and he’ll be back by dinner. Travel is so quick in the future, there are no barriers to people traveling the globe whenever they want, for any amount of time.

I believe this is in our future, though I wonder how far away it is. High speed trains — even those that “hover” — or a tunnel under the ocean from America to Europe are sometimes talked about, yet I don’t know what kind of progress is being made here. It’s a fanciful idea that may not be getting enough attention for speedy development, compared to other technologies. Still, I’m sure that someday this kind of fast travel will become real.


Those are the main future curiosities that have interested me in the In Death series so far. You have to take the worldbuilding with a grain of salt, as it’s fun rather than meant to be taken super seriously. Still, I’m excited to keep reading to see what else comes up!

— Ashley

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