A crucial tool in the spec fic author's toolbox is the speculative element. This can be future/alternative technology and/or science, magic, or any other supernatural element. It is imperative, however, that the speculative element(s) be fully integrated into the story. Without this, the story is not truly speculative fiction.
To illustrate my point, I examine Charles Stross' 2007 technology-laden novel, Halting State (HS). Stross has fully integrated future technology into his novel; for example, the novel's inciting incident is a crime that has been committed in virtual reality. Thus, the investigators must go into virtual reality to investigate and solve the cybercrime. In so investigating, the protagonists discover serious implications for cryptographic keys and the entire European computer network.
The references to computer jargon, cryptography, MMORPGs and virtual worlds are prevalent, e.g. Jack says during his job interview, "We were implementing a swarm-based algorithm for resolving combat between ad hoc groups with position input from their real-world locations--" (HS p66) And in his follow-up interview he says, "Zone games don't run on a central server, they run on distributed-processing nodes using a shared network file system. To stop people meddling with the contents, everything is locked using a cryptographic authorization system. ...It's based on the old DigiCash protocol, invented by a crytographer called David Chaum...." (HS p90) Near the conclusion, Jack realizes, "And there are much worse things a black hat troupe on a capture-the-flag rampage can do these days than just grabbing passwords and borking hospital networks. Lots of critical engineering systems rely on encrypted tunnels running over the Internet, lots of SCADA systems and worse..." (HS p288)
How does Stross integrate technology into his science fiction? He starts with the big picture. First and foremost, Stross claims "SF, at its best, is an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don't currently exist...", and real SF is "...a disruptive literature that focuses intently on revolutionary change..." (www.antipope.org)
Therefore Stross' method is to "...start by trying to draw a cognitive map of a culture, and then establish a handful of characters who are products of (and producers of) that culture. The culture in question differs from our own: there will be knowledge or techniques or tools that we don't have, and these have social effects and the social effects have second order effects...And then I have to work with characters who arise naturally from this culture and take this stuff for granted, and try and think myself inside their heads. Then I start looking for a source of conflict, and work out what cognitive or technological tools my protagonists will likely turn to to deal with it." (www.antipope.org)
Stross actually criticizes some media SF for handling technology poorly: "The scriptwriters and producers have thrown away the key tool that makes SF interesting and useful in the first place, by relegating 'tech' to a token afterthought rather than an integral part of plot and characterization." (www.antipope.org) So, he is careful to always make sure his tech is an integral part of the plot and characterization. Kudos, Mr. Stross.