It is always fun to read science fiction and see how the author predicts the future. This is especially true for older books. Not only was our technology not nearly as advanced back then, but we can also truly see how it all turned out. For instance, a lot of writers still had us using cassette tape forever. Now there are plenty of blogs and articles out there that will give you a list of books that made “predictions” that came true. I am going to go in a slightly different route and just talk about some books that I have read and what wonders I found in them. Some you will have heard of, and some you probably haven’t. Hopefully some of them you will want to read.
Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984). It is an eerie feeling when you read something like this and realize just how close he came. Gibson’s protagonist Case is a former computer hacker and current petty criminal. Drug addicted and despondent, he searches for a way out and gets caught up in a tangled scheme that allows him to once again use his Internet skills. Now, look at that summary again and notice the publication date of the book. Although it is called the “Matrix” in the book, it really is the Internet. He coined the term cyberspace, after all.
Neuromancer isn’t always an easy read (although it is a very good read), and cyberpunk isn’t that popular of a genre, but it is an important book. It is one of those that you kind of feel embarrassed about not having read, so if you haven’t already please add it to your list.
Impossible Things by Connie Willis (1986-1992). I suppose you could say that in a short story collection the author has more chances to hit a successful prediction. Whether that is true or not, I found a few interesting ones in here. “Last of the Winnebagos” has characters accessing the “Lifeline” to pull up info on people, such as their schooling and employment history and hobbies. Sounds a bit like Facebook to me. “Even the Queen” has tablet computers, which isn’t that noteworthy since Arthur C. Clarke had those in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). But it also features a Mandela led South African government, and optional genetic surgery.
You also get things like a Humane Society run amok, PC (political correctness) run amok, and ruminations on who really wrote Shakespeare’s play, which is a debate (of sorts) that still goes on. The fact that there are multiple award winning stories in the book means that you shouldn’t read it for the predictions but for the great writing.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959). Video games are something this blog hasn’t talked about enough. One of the premiere game franchises of recent times is Halo. When I read the first chapter of Starship Troopers I thought to myself “this is Halo”. Then I checked the copyright on the book and had one of those stereotypical jaw dropping to the floor moments. The beginning of the book details a human attack on an alien city, with soldiers wearing fully mechanized armor complete with an onboard computer system and multiple weapon packages. Just like in Halo. And the movie is better than you remember.
Star Trek. The many TV series and movies has become well known for using many types of technology that have become reality. Let me point you to a couple of pieces on that, here and here. I think it is a good reminder about how wonderful it is to live in this day and age and to have access to this stuff. 3D printing technology, for instance, is truly amazing and is revolutionizing the way people do things. And remember, there are lots of great Star Trek novels, such as Imzadi and Spock’s World.
The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics. Okay, so they don’t always get it right. Popular Mechanics started out in 1902, and over the years gave many scientists and writers a chance to predict the future. This fun book compiles many of the misses, and gives credits to some of the hits too. You can get more recent issues of Popular Mechanics at the library.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. This is a classic, and while the main new technology in it, teleportation, hasn’t come into reality it is very interesting to think about the ramifications of such a thing. In the book it causes economic disruption substantial enough to start wars. Similarly, when reading newer scifi it is interesting to contemplate how the fictional technologies portrayed might affect us if (or when) they become real.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. Vogt. Besides the tech predictions it is fun to read books that inspired future stories. Such is the case with this one, which like many books of its time was actually a compilation of four stories originally published in magazines. The Ixtl seems awfully familiar to those who have seen the Alien movies. In fact it was familiar enough that Vogt sued. The Couerl has appeared in many Final Fantasy games, and also became the Displacer Beast in Dungeons & Dragons. Classic fantasy is rife with elements that made their way into D&D, as is evident by reading authors such as Vance, Moorcock, Howard, and of course Tolkien (which also led to litigation), but I suppose that is a conversation for a future blog.