Whether you’re reading a near future dystopia or science fiction adventure far in the future and equally far from Earth, odds are that you’re going to read about someone paying in credits. Why?

First, credits are universal. It plays on the word “credit card” and “line of credit”, so everyone knows it represents money or value. You can simply call the alien currency “Alien empire’s credits”. And the human Federation can have their own credits. You don’t have to invent currency names people have to remember. You don’t have to explain its meaning to the reader like gold-pressed latinum in Star Trek. It is simple shorthand that works in any work of fiction. Then you have more grace for inventing new words to refer to places, technologies and people.

Second, credits save you from asking people to suspend disbelief for a minor detail in the fictional universe. One example of this are the scenes in “” where they’re referring to food in high prices while calling dollars “Ds”. Do the prices seem impossible? Does the attempt to make the world real through the invention of slang end up hurting it? Just use “new government name credits” instead. New government, new currency, and you can go with simple prices like two credits for bread, a thousand for rent. You avoid the accidental hilarity of “Snow Crash” pricing American goods as if they’re Japanese yen or Venezuelan dollars. You also avoid the inability to suspend disbelief because you’re invoking the currency of a government that no longer exists. One example would be post-apocalyptic works that invoke European currencies that have been replaced by the Euro. Or bottle caps, if you’re into the video game Fallout.

Third, credits are an easy way to prove you’re in a new society without having to provide the backstory. “Kid, this isn’t Earth, so pay me in Martian credits.” The replacing old currency with new currencies is an obvious example of regime change, too.

Learning this can tell the reader that the person returning home is out of place. Want to make a groggy time traveler realize he’s not in modern Kansas anymore? “Your dollars are not even worth it as toilet paper, so pay me in credits or leave.” One of the more interesting examples of this was “Job” by Heinlein; every alternate reality was different, and sometimes you realized it when your dollars were no good because they demanded American pesos.


Photo by Sarah Mirk