Always do, at a minimum, a brief fact-check on everything you write in a work of fiction with a non-fantastical/far future setting. Otherwise you will be sorry.
We who write fiction are in the business of telling entertaining lies for money. If the lies don't entertain, we don't get paid: more to the point, if our audience can see through the lies, they don't entertain. Fiction relies upon the reader's willing suspension of disbelief — if you're immersed in a novel, it helps not to be jerked up short every ten seconds by the realization that the setup is nonsensical.
I just had a collapse of suspension of disbelief — a cognitive toe-stubbing — in the first two pages of a novel, so I thought I'd share it with you while it's still fresh. What makes it annoying is that one minute with wikipedia (no need for a serious research library here!) would have enabled the author to avoid it.
The author is (roll of drums, please), Carrie Vaughn, and the book is her recent novel, Discord's Apple. Which I picked up to read because I need something relatively lightweight to distract myself with on a long train journey.
I don't want to single Carrie out; all of us make these mistakes from time to time. She's a smart, thoughtful writer and most of the time she gets things right. Unfortunately for me, she left a landmine buried in the first couple of pages, and I'm enough of an obsessive-compulsive nerd to shriek "owwww!" and post a ranting blog entry rather than mutter "whatever" and turn the page.
For context, our protagonist is on the phone to a co-worker. Who command-detonated my suspension of disbelief with the following:
"The Kremlin's been bombed. Obliterated. A Cessna filled with drums of kerosene rammed it. They're thinking it's Mongolian rebels."Let me anatomize the wrongness of this paragraph ...
This isn't obviously a novel set in a bizarro-world alternate history; it's a fantasy, but so far so realist. In this time line, "The Kremlin" is usually shorthand for the Moscow Kremlin (Kremlin being Russian for "Citadel").
What tripped me up? First, a word: "obliterated". (Then, the dawning realization that someone is wrong on the internet.)
You see, if you follow the wikipedia link to the Moscow Kremlin (above), the Kremlin is ... not small. In fact, at 68 of those weird colonial Acre things, the Kremlin is more than twice the area of The Pentagon building in Washington DC, the largest office complex on the planet (by area). More Kremlin facts: it contains three cathedrals, and is surrounded by 20 towers and 2.2 kilometres of walls between 3.5 and 6.5 metres thick.
You probably could obliterate the Moscow Kremlin from the air, but you'd do better to take something bigger than a Cessna. About the biggest thing Cessna ever made is the Citation Columbus, a small biz-jet with a maximum payload of 880 kilograms. Fill one with kerosene — and fill up its fuel tanks — and it'd certainly make a dent in one of Kremlin buildings. But it's less than a tenth the size of a real airliner like, say, the Boeing 757 that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and failed to collapse more than one wing of it.
To take out the Kremlin, you'd do better to take a fully-laden 747 or A380. But even then, that might not be enough. (The Kremlin is big.)
Finally there's the Mongolian bit. Which left me puzzled as to why Mongolian rebels would be attacking the seat of the head of state of a different nation rather than, say, the Presidential Palace in Ulan Bator.
Chechen rebels I could buy, but Mongolian rebels are attacking the wrong country: It's a bit like writing about separatists from New Mexico trying to attack the Presidential palace in Mexico City in order to rebel against the United States of America. It is so far at odds with what we know of politics, world affairs, and the news headlines that it simply does not make sense. And not making sense is the one thing guaranteed to throw a reader out of their willing suspension of disbelief.
Let me tell you what happened here. $AUTHOR needs a conversation between protagonist and co-worker, to sketch in our protag's life (of which employment is a part, because our book opens in realist mode). Some disruption has occurred back at the office, and our heroine is being updated by her co-worker. What kind of disruption? Quick! Let's think of something that throws a current project out of whack! Our protag is involved in the entertainment biz, scripting a popular show, so let's play the ever-popular "something newsworthy has gone wrong with our next setting" card. And at this point $AUTHOR puts fingers into gear without pausing to sanity-check their trivial throw-away plot point because, in the grand scheme of things, it's a really insignificant part of the novel they're trying to write — a disposable single-paragraph throw-away to justify a phone call.
Alas, for those readers who have any kind of familiarity with the contents of the throw-away, it's a tripwire. Something is wrong. And if something is wrong with one part of the world-building, there are probably loose ends elsewhere.
Which is why, if I'm going to throw in side-references to stuff I'm not intimately familiar with, I at least poke at wikipedia to ensure I haven't gotten them completely wrong. (And even if I am familiar with the subject, I try to fact-check before I pull the trigger.)