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3 SF novels of the not-too-distant future

A vacation for me is physical activity combined with extended opportunities to sit and read, guilt-free, books of my choice. The recent bike trip was perfect. (I found myself reading a good deal on the small but easy to carry screen of my iPhone.)

If my books this summer have had a theme, it's been science fiction of the near future, one of my favorite genres. Carrying current trends to their logical ends is great fun. I've even tried my hand at this when writing professionally. See Miles's Library.

Here are three quite different, but all recommendable novels that stretched my thinking.

Rainbows End by veteran sci-fi author Vernor Vinge is basically a Rip VanWinkle story set in 2025. Poet (and world class ass) Robert Gu is revived from a Alzheimer's coma after 20 years to find a population continuously connected to data, networks and each other through wearable computing devices. Contact lenses, clothing and gestures have replaced monitors, computers and keyboards - except among old-timers who cannot adjust to the change. Augmented reality allows for playing World of Warcraft type games in physical settings, books are not being just scanned but shredded, and jobs revolve around information creation.

There is a hackneyed, rather confusing plot regarding an international conspiracy to create a mega-virus, but the very credible world Vinge creates is the real reason to read this book. If you have teachers who can't adopt to technology, gaming and social networking now, they would be in really deep doo-doo in this not-too-distant world.

Comedian Albert Brooks's 2030: The Read Story of What Happens to America might better be called social fiction than science fiction. While there are self-piloting cars and planes in this future, the only real scientific change has been in medicine: a cure for cancer. This leads to a dramatic population rise in the geriatric set who suck resources from an America that is already more financially bankrupt than that of today. The first Jewish president has his hands full with an increasingly violent younger generation that feels hopeless, a catastrophic earthquake that levels Los Angles leading to its sale to China, a growing divide between the uber-rich and the rest of us, and his own crush on one of his financial advisors. Don't look for great writing. inventive science or nail-biting suspense, but just an interesting, rather credible multi-POV tale of today - but just a little more so.

As I was reading this, I watched 60 and 70 year-old bicyclists zip past me on 40-60 mile rides all last week. It seems that a certain population devotes its retirement to physical fitness. Maybe it won't take a cure for cancer to make Brooks's dystopia reality. One elderly biker had a heart attack and died on last week's ride. In my mind, it was a great way to go as opposed to draining financial resources laying in a hospice with a tube up one's nose - and other places. I think my family knows I will die happy if I kick the bucket with my hiking boots or biking shoes.

Daniel H. Wison channels a little I, Robot and a little World War Z in the fast-moving and fast-reading Robopcalypse. Set only a few? years in the future (the US is still in Afghanistan), a scientist creates a self-aware program called Archos that uses the artificial intelligence and networking built into everyday devices to wipe out humans - and pretty much succeeds. The stories of half-a-dozen individuals and families that play major parts in the war against Archos are told episodically in this suspenseful story written, I believe, for the big screen.

When Asimov wrote I, Robot in the 40s, each device stood on its own and if his Three Laws of Robotics were somehow compromised, only one robot had to be dealt with. With every device - cell phones, automobiles, elevators, military drones, and even children's toys networked, a single amoral program can now create a world-wide genocide.

I am feeling a little guilty now for buying my grandsons Roboraptors and iPods.

Oh, if the light on your Roomba starts glowing red, run like hell.

Your suggestions for novels of the not-too-distant future?

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Reader Comments (4)

I recently read, World Made by Hand by Jim Kunstler. This book depicts life in rural upstate NY after the collapse of the United States economy and government. Gone are the days of instant information, instant communication and anything digital or even electric. The characters are left to rebuild a society from the ground up. A very different, but not so impossible, look at the not so distant future.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Torrens

Hi Meg,

Sounds like a good one. I remember reading The Earth Abides with a similar scenario but set in Florida when I was a kid!


July 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi- Large corporations have unleashed engineered viruses that wipe out traditional crops so only genetically modified crops can grow, thus guaranteeing huge corporate profits. Mix in political intrigue, economic espionage, and catastrophic climate change and you get a very exciting story. Very well written.

Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi- Bacigalupi sticks with the eco-disaster theme in this YA novel about a boy who struggles to survive on the U.S. gulf coast working on a crew that strips materials from grounded freighters. Fossil fuels are prohibitively expensive so the rich travel in new, luxurious clipper ships. When he discovers a wrecked clipper after a storm he thinks he has found the salvage mother lode but there is a survivor and he must decide between money and compassion.

Directive 51 by John Barnes- A diverse group of well organized anti-government, anti-corporation, anti technology types scattered around the world plot to use bio-engineered bacteria, nano-technology, and nukes to bring down the "big system", A government threat assessment specialist figures out the plot but too late to stop it. Now she has to try to somehow salvage a functioning government from the resulting chaos.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Doyle

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for the suggestions. I started Wind-up Girl and couldn't get into it. But perhaps it deserves a second try.


August 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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