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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Reading the Future

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Ive liked reading about the future ever since I could read. As I remember, My Weekly Reader often would run small articles like Your Own Personal Helicopter by 1980! or People of the Future will be Eating Bee-burgers. As a fourth grader, I was both excited and worried about the future.

While I am still waiting for both my personal helicopter and bee-burgers, I still like reading about the future especially when the future comes packaged as science fiction.

Im fussy about my sci-fi. Once held in thrall of bug-eyed aliens and death rays, Im currently more interested in the writers who forecast the social ramifications of information technology in the near term. Interesting things happening because of computers and networking seem much more likely than flying saucers zapping my garage.

Heres a short list of my all time favorites in the social sci-fi category:

  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson, was my first look at an online world that felt as real as the physical one. Bruce Sterlings Islands in the Net further explores life in the virtual world. If you liked the Matrix movies, look for books described as cyberpunk.
  • Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card, demonstrates learning through gaming. This is one of my all-time favorite books for many reasons, but how the protagonist learns through both computerized and physical simulations may be a view of our own schools in a few years. Oh, Card accurately predicts the political power of the Internet in this 1985 book.
  • The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, explores the possibilities of real e-books on a childs life. Set in a neo-Victorian near future, nanotechnology is used to create the ultimate online tutorial.

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    Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake; Atwood is a worthy successor to George Orwell, describing dystopian worlds. Her books are about fringe political movements of today going mainstream in the future.
  • Futureland, by Walter Mosley of Easy Rawlings mystery fame, is a series of linked short stories exploring corporate power taken to the extreme and what society might be like in a post-literate world.
  • Many books by Michael Crichton explore the social ramifications of science using a readable, often exciting plotline. Nanotechnology (Prey), genetic engineering (Next), global warming (State of Fear) and even time travel (Timeline) all become a little more understandable through his writings.
  • Ive recently devoured Dan Simmons Hyperion/Endymion series, but mostly for the fine writing, action, and imagination. The social commentary is there, but its not at the forefront. Read it for fun.
  • Finally, I will recommend a nonfiction book that reads like science fiction -- Ray Kurzweils Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Yes, hes written more recent books, but this remains his most readable and exciting, predicting the results of massive computing power on our lives.

Good social science fiction should warn us about the actions we are taking today that might lead to a darker future for our children. But it should excite us about the possibilities as well. And above all, it should inform and entertain us. Get your kids hooked on the genre.

I would be most grateful for any recommendations for high-quality science fiction that lets me peer into the future -- at least a little way. I guess I am still both excited and worried about the future.

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032/06/2007