Sunday, 6 July 2008
‘FutureWorld’ – Professor Mark L. Brake & Reverend Neil Hook (Boxtree)
These days most (if not all) of my reading is purely for entertainment and escapism. There’s still a lot to be learned from such books but I’ll quite happily admit to steering well clear of anything that’s more factual and likely to make me ‘learn’ something, nothing wrong with these books but that’s just not what I’m about at the moment.
I felt a little strange then to see a copy of ‘FutureWorld’ come through the door, a book that sets out to tell its reader how much of Science Fiction is now ‘Science Fact’ (as well as all the little sci-fi snippets that will become possible in the near future). Dammit; I want my sci-fi reading to help me escape from the real world, not tie me into it even more!
Having read it though my mind has been changed to an extent. Although I feel like the book has crept into my head and killed tiny parts of my imagination it does make for a fascinating and entertaining read…
‘FutureWorld’ is divided up into four themes (space, time, machine and monster) which examine various sci-fi staples and tell the reader how close these are to becoming reality, if they haven’t already. Do you want to know when you will be able to buy a real functioning light-saber? It’s not going to happen anytime soon I’m afraid. How about an instantaneous translator? There’s one in development but it doesn’t look anything like C3-P0… ‘FutureWorld’ is crammed full of things like this and I found it fun to get into because of the way that everything was tied back to things like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Doctor Who’ etc as well as the light-hearted manner in which the authors speak about their subject. For example the entry for ‘The End of the World’ ends with the sentence “Still, if we do mess up this planet we can always travel into space, find another one and start again.’ Any reference book where the entry for ‘entropy’ ends with the phrase ‘Happy Days…’ isn’t taking it’s presentation too seriously and, as a result, becomes just that little bit more accessible to the casual reader.
It’s not just the subject matter that’s interesting but also the little asides that show the work that has gone into the book as well as showing the reader that science-fiction, as a genre, has been around for a lot longer than we think.
For example, ‘FutureWorld’ tells us that it was H.G. Wells that first came up with the concept of the Atomic Bomb in his novel ‘The World Set Free’ (although different entries in ‘FutureWorld’ give different publication dates for this work). If you didn’t know it already (some of which I didn’t) it’s also interesting to see that Mary Shelley was writing science-fiction in the nineteenth century and that legend speaks of the first ‘laser weapon’ being used by Archimedes to attack a Roman fleet invading Syracuse…
As I’ve said, I felt that a little bit of the magic has gone out of my sci-fi reading now I’ve had it reinforced that a lot of the concepts are now becoming reality. Despite this, ‘FutureWorld’ is one of those books where you can have great fun flicking to random pages and finding out just how far the human race has come in terms of things like time travel, optical camouflage and space tourism…
Nine out of Ten