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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Books that foretold the future...

Posted by Alana T.

It has often been said that science fiction foretells the future.  Certainly, there are many examples of seemingly fantastical inventions (for their time) that are commonplace today: videophones (Skype, anyone?), instant foods and stretchy clothing. Then, there are the things that are supposed to be everywhere in the 21st century, but haven't yet materialized (darn) - a colony on the moon and my own personal rocket jetpack. 

Sometimes though, science fiction is more subtle.  It isn't the do-dads that are important, it's the political or cultural atmosphere imagined in a novel that foretells the future.  Think of our lives today, electronic everything, corporate this & that, mixed with a general feeling that things were somehow better in the past.  Three of the best examples of this are described below.  If you don't usually read science fiction, give one of these a try.

Neuromancer by William Gibson  Written in 1984, this book introduced us to the term cyberspace and won the Hugo, Nebula, and Phillip K. Dick Awards.  Basically a crime thriller, this is a many layered, gritty story featuring flawed characters and a complex social/technological future.  The protagonist, Case, is a burnt-out (literally) hacker hired by a mysterious employer for an equally mysterious job.  Because of previous cybercrimes, Case has been given a neurotoxin that prevents him from jacking into cyberspace; his employer promises to reverse the damage.  Case takes the job and everything spirals out of control.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson  Written in 1992, this book presaged the emergence of the avatar, online gaming and governmental outsourcing taken to an extreme.  The main character is a pizza delivery guy who 'lives' his life on the metaverse (known to us as the internet) selling his coding skills to get by.  He witnesses a crime while plugged in that has serious implications in real-life (an online virus that causes a coma).  The storyline ties in with Sumerian mythology and the concept of language being hardwired in our brains (and idea pretty much accepted by biologists today).

Noir by K.W. Jeter.  To cope with the depressing reality in which he lives, the main character has a surgeon implant a device that allows him to view everything as if it were a noir film from the 40's.  Set in the not too distant future where the rich are very rich and everyone else struggles (sound familiar?), corporations own everything and copyright issues related to computer software are all important. This a missing persons/murder mystery and very well written.  Thankfully, banks in the real world have yet found a way to reanimate a person after death so he can work for pennies a day to pay credit card debts.  Unfortunately, many of the other, then imagined, details about the banking industry are all too real today.

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