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Let's suppose the Doctor is friendly enough to give you the free run of a wardrobe so that you are reasonably turned-out for a person of your gender, age, and status in that time and place: and a wallet containing enough cash to live comfortably for a week (to rent a room in a B&B and to eat, and to do a bit of judicious tourism: not enough to invest in a start-up business and disrupt the time stream; meddling is strictly forbidden). The architecture and layout of cities will be vaguely familiar, especially if you're British (our buildings tend to be old and well-maintained).

You can make an argument for writing SF in this mode in that it allows the lazy reader to ignore the enculturation issue and dive straight into the adventure yarn for which the SFnal trappings are just a brightly-coloured wrapper.

The gender politics, religious framework, ideologies, fashions(!

) and attitudes of today—specifically, of a type of Anglophone developed-world middle class lifestyle that lots of folks aspire to—has become a universal norm. In "Pandora's Star" there is at least the fig-leaf explanation of rejuvenation technology, allowing the wealthy to return themselves to physical youth every few decades (while the poor presumably die, senile and in pain in a gutter—but this is glossed over).

These are not bad authors and they don't write terrible books: that's part of what makes the problem so jarring for me. It's that the stories they're telling are set in a far future (hundreds to thousands of years hence), in an interstellar human polity (gifted with interstellar transportation technologies that are notably within the reach of ordinary people).

And yet the civilization they portray can best be described as "Essex suburbia goes interstellar" in the case of "Pandora's Star" or, in Mc Devitt's case, Whitebread Middle American Suburbia to the Stars.

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