Skip to main content

Future Proof [You Call This the Future] – Nick Sagan ***

There’s something about future-gazing that is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. You just know it’s going to go horribly wrong. Although very little science fiction is really about predicting the future, science fiction writers are often portrayed as future visionaries – so, for instance, Arthur C. Clarke gets lots of brownie points for predicting the geostationary satellite. Sadly he gets less for 2001 A Space Odyssey. I’m not talking about the storyline, but more the technology in the Clarke/Kubrick film. Remember this was set in 2001, a good few years in the past. Not only do we have a talking computer with apparent consciousness we have full screen video phones, a manned mission to Jupiter’s moons and – best of all – PanAm operating a routine shuttle flight to a huge space station. Hands up who remembers PanAm?
In this glossy, well illustrated little book, Nick Sagan (yes, son of Carl) looks at some of the predictions of the future, giving references to science fiction occurrences, and shows how on the whole they haven’t come true. It’s a neat idea (not the first book to do this by any means), and well executed with some fun and interesting bits of technology as well as the yawn-makers like flying cars, but for some reason it doesn’t excite me. It probably would have appealed more to me when I was a teenager, but I did get a slight feeling of ‘yes, and?’ as I read.
There were one or two oddities in the contents too. The travel section inevitably included those iconic jet packs, but didn’t make reference to the juicy material provided by The Rocketbelt Caper. There were also one or two points where the facts got a bit wobbly. The section on teleportation got the whole business of quantum teleportation rather tangled up, commenting that quantum teleportation is only possible if the original is destroyed and that ‘This problem has not yet been resolved.’ This problem never could be resolved – leaving aside the no cloning requirement in quantum theory, there are only really two choices. Either you destroy the original, or you end up with two versions of the person – Nick Sagan seems to miss the entire point of teleportation. Similarly, the section on space tourism is hopelessly optimistic – Sagan seems not to have picked up the main theme of the book. As Richard Muller points out in Physics for Future Presidents, space travel with rocket technology is never going to be suitable for tourism – it’s just too dangerous.
Overall, then, a little frustrating. It is a good idea, but this book seems to going through the motions, rather than really delivering. There is some good stuff in there, it will appeal to geeky teenagers, but it doesn’t quite make the grade.
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…