Monday, November 15, 2010

The Past Envisions the Future

LOOKING back at mid-century optimism is always both fascinating and depressing. All the labor-saving devices and exotic holidays -- weekends on the moon! -- we were going to get by now.

The science-fiction writer Gregory Benford, who teaches at UC/Irvine, and the editors of Popular Mechanics have put together hundreds of these predictions, from asbestos dresses to personal jetpacks, along with the original art which accompanied them in the magazine. Here is my story from Sunday's LA Times on The Wonderful Future That Never Was.

Benford, who also teaches physics, writes insightful essays that puts the whole future-looking enterprise into context. As any close reader of science fiction knows, we can tell a lot about an era by how it envisions its future.

Benford has also recently co-edited a tribute to science-fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke, whose powers of predictions, especially re satellite communication, he praises. Sentinels: In Honor of Arthur C. Clarke, edited with George Zebrokwski, includes essays on the writer himself as well as stories by Heinlein and Asimov that speak to Clarke's ambitions. (It's published by Hadley Rille Books.)


Deborah Atherton said...

What fun! I enjoyed your article on the book - and it made me a little sad for the future we didn't get. I am still waiting for my housecleaning robot - but I guess Rosie and her ilk are no longer part of the dream.

dan reines said...

Scott, not having read this story yet, are these guys in any way associated with this, one of my favorite blogs?

Pete Bilderback said...

Of course the flip side of this coin is the horrible distopian futures predicted at the same time that never came to pass either. Human beings are horrible at envisioning the future. The only thing that can be said with any confidence is that the future will neither be as wonderful as some predict, nor as horrible as others imagine.