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Stories That Have Predicted The Future (Or Will)

I’m a huge fan of science fiction in general and my favorite kind of science fiction is that of dystopian futures and cyberpunk adventures.  What I like most about these works is that they not only present slick, technology-driven visions of the future but that those same visions are also very much grounded in reality…..whether we realize it yet or not.

This list is in no particular order and contains no particular number of entries, but I wanted to talk a little bit about the stories that I enjoyed most that made me think about the future and also the ones that gave me a slight chuckle at just how ironically similar they are to today’s world.  Nerd-dom has come a long way in the last ten years or so but even still today science fiction is generally scoffed at.  However the truth is that much of science fiction is incredibly creative and can also be prophetic.  Check out these entries and I think you’ll agree.

Neuromancer series by William Gibson

I’m not sure if it’s entirely accurate to call it “the Neuromancer series” but these books all tie together with some of the same characters and they all take place in the same world.  The last two are technically sequels regardless.  Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive really don’t have to be read together or in a specific order but it helps the immersion.  It’s the future and hacking is as prevalent as ever.  The Sprawl serves basically as a black market and underground society for hackers to trick out their “decks” of equipment and use ice breakers to penetrate the toughest of virtual defenses.  Also we’re at the point where this isn’t all done by physically tapping a bunch of keys.  Everything is done in what is for all intents and purposes, virtual reality.

Personality-wise, hackers are much like they are today in these books:  social outcasts who usually break barriers for the thrill and underground notoriety more than anything else.  They’re also blackmailed to perform tough jobs by notorious people and sometimes even sought after by the good guys in the “if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em” sense.  These are pretty much your prototypical cyberpunk stories and the whole thing has a supercool, neon and razor-edged feel to it.  Hardcore sci-fi readers are sometimes hesitant to claim that Gibson invented cyberpunk or was the first to do it, but whatever the case these are great stories that move fairly quickly and have an air of adventure and also mystery.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

So it’s 1991 and Stephenson decides he’s going to write a book.  What about?  How about a pizza delivery guy who spends all his spare time in a storage unit (his place of residence) wearing virtual reality goggles and jumping around with a samurai sword?  Sounds like a good start.  Also this virtual world happens to have all kinds of real estate just like in real life, the only difference is you can make it whatever you want.  There’s a bar (owned by real users who bought the property with virtual currency) with gorillas in tuxedos as bouncers, and it’s not uncommon for people to walk down the virtual sidewalk in a all sorts of crazy costumes.  Virtual dating is a reality too, but it’s kind of a sham because everyone chooses the best looking avatars to use before they go out.  Sound at all familiar?

In my opinion, in 1991 Stephenson completely nailed down what the internet was going to be like by the time it exploded in popularity.  The only thing he got wrong is that it wouldn’t be nearly as cool as his vision.  Technically he’s actually still ahead of his time.  People take virtual drugs like Snow Crash that just happen to be a little too effective, wreaking havoc and usually killing them in the real world.  It’s my favorite novel in the cyberpunk genre because it’s much like Gibson’s works but with a little humor involved.  It’s arguably a little easier to read too, although none of the above are difficult reads.  Other books by Stephenson that I haven’t gotten around to but am highly interested in are Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver and The Diamond Age.

Blood Music by Greg Bear

This one is very straight forward conceptually.  A scientist discovers a genetic breakthrough that might be too dangerous for mankind’s own good.  His superiors shut the project down, but being on the verge of something incredibly ground-breaking he injects himself with it.

It’s a pretty great hook and as far as I know, a really original idea for a story.  Being on the run and feeling the effects of whatever may be inside his body, you never know what’s coming next.  A unique and nicely paced read.  Something you probably haven’t experienced before.

Permutation City by Greg Egan

I can’t really say it better than the back cover of the book itself, so here goes:

“The good news is that you have just awakened into Eternal Life. You are going to live forever. Immortality is a reality. A medical miracle? Not exactly.

The bad news is that you are a scrap of electronic code. The world you see around you, the you that is seeing it, has been digitized, scanned, and downloaded into a virtual reality program. You are a Copy that knows it is a copy.

The good news is that there is a way out. By law, every Copy has the option of terminating itself, and waking up to normal flesh-and-blood life again. The bail-out is on the utilities menu. You pull it down…

The bad news is that it doesn’t work. Someone has blocked the bail-out option. And you know who did it. You did. The other you. The real you. The one that wants to keep you here forever.”

Essentially this all revolves around a man who copies himself into a virtual computer program again and again.  The purpose is to see how the test subject (effectively himself) will react to certain tests and trials.  It’s a really interesting look at this kind of possible technology and how it would be tested/used.  Also, his copies pretty much hate him for doing this.  It’s full of fun, conflicting emotions because he’s doing it to himself……but not really.  I will warn people though:  the novel alternates between this storyline and another involving an incredibly technical science experiment or discovery that to be honest was pretty daunting for me.  It reads a lot like a research paper most of the time so if that kind of thing isn’t for you be careful.

Vurt by Jeff Noon

If there was such a thing as a novel that satisfied both the cyberpunk and stoner crowds, I guess this may be it.  Drugs aren’t my thing for the record and it’s not a story that makes you feel stupid if you’re like me, but this isn’t much like anything I’ve read before personally.  It revolves around a group of essentially cutting edge junkies and the futuristic drugs their lives revolve around.  These drugs come in the form of feathers you insert into the back of your throat, and different colored feathers take you to very different places.  Some create hallucinations crazier than anything you’ve ever heard about LSD, some force you to relive your past (or grant you the privilege), and one is dangerous as hell but promises the possibility of going to that virtual place many want to go to but few have come back from.

It’s one of those books where if you’re not liking my description check it out on Amazon or something and see what people are saying.  You can certainly look at it a little differently than me.  Quite the unusual tale but as cool as they come.

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

I’ll be up front:  this book is difficult to read.  It’s pretty slow and at times there doesn’t seem to be a particular plot, at least not one you’re immediately finding.  That being said here’s why I still list it without hesitation:  If Stephenson nailed cyberspace with Snow Crash, Brunner nailed the real world as we know it with Stand on Zanzibar. This was written in 1968 so the references to today are going to be a bit harder to pick out, but it’s downright scary how accurate Brunner was with how things would change and become what they are today.

It takes place in a future where 7 billion people crowd the earth and restrictions are put on how many children you can have and of which gender,  so we’re already halfway home in terms of Brunner knowing exactly where we’re headed.  Sure, his prediction of the internet basically comes down to a printer that spits out the daily news for you every morning but trust me the prophecies are there if you’re willing to find them.  His books are out of print at least in the US.  I got this one by mail but I’m not sure from where.  Amazon only has used copies.  The Sheep Look Up is also in the same vein as this book but also just as hard to secure a copy of.

Idoru by William Gibson

This certainly isn’t on the top of most Gibson enthusiasts lists of their favorites of his works but it’s definitely one of mine.  The idoru is a virtual pop star.  She’s not real but people worship her all the same.  When a member of a rock band named Rez plans to actually marry this virtual entity, a member of Rez’s fan club travels to Tokyo to cover the story.  It turns out there’s more to the idoru than just her celebrity, and her secrets serve as a springboard for political intrigue and deadly power grabs.  Colin Laney is an information security officer that ends up getting caught up in the whole thing.

It sounds so crazy yet not at all unlikely to happen in the next 50 years back here in real life.  It’s what I love about cyberpunk:  It’s whimsical and fantastical on the surface but the more you think about it the more you can see it happening for real, if not now then soon.  Other good books by Gibson include Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition.

“Repent Harlequin!”  Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison

This is my favorite short story of all time.  Everyone is ruled by time.  Not enough time, never enough, take your shift at work, leave, someone takes your place.  It’s so prophetic it’s uncanny.  It’s to the point where an agency keeps track of everyone’s time.  Your life amounts to a time card governing everything you do.  If you waste an extra minute shopping, it gets noted.  Waste too much time and you’re simply taken out of the equation….permanently.  The harlequin doesn’t care about any of that.  He flies around on a hovercraft goofing off and messing up all the schedules.  The ticktockman can’t stand this and therefore the harlequin becomes his nemesis and public enemy no. 1.  On the other hand it seems the public has no problem with the harlequin’s breaks of monotony.  They cheer him on passionately, until they’re reminded that lost time will have to be made up of course.

It’s a story of breaking out of the rat race, remembering when you were a kid, and sticking to your beliefs.  I’ve read it numerous times and will probably read it again once I’ve written all this.  If everyone did the same they’d probably stop and wonder why we do things the way we do.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis

Yes we’re in graphic novel territory now.  Bear with me.  The truth is I would say this is as close to a prophecy for 50-100 years in the future that you’re going to get.  A fictional version of New York City teeming with violence and designer drugs, a million channels on TV with puppet porn and other various insanities, and people walking around with surgical enhancements to make themselves into dogs, aliens, lizards, etc. is common to see on the sidewalk.  In fact all this is just a day in the life.  Spider Jerusalem is a crazy journalist who isn’t to be trusted by his editors, but he’s the best damned journalist there is and only speaks the truth.  Even if that truth is spelled out in keys from a smashed laptop and trashed neon billboards.

Ellis does an incredible job of not only creating this world but also taking it a step further and creating stories that would only happen naturally in a world this insane.  Humans who have injected themselves with alien genes demand to be recognized as a political entity and religious conventions have hundreds of booths each with beliefs that are crazier than the last one you visited.  Suffice to say things have gotten out of hand.  More to the point, PEOPLE have gotten out of hand.  It’s an insane ride of epic proportions, and the only thing that stops you from pointing and laughing is the fact that we’re closer to it here in our world than anyone would ever admit.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This last entry is definitely the most critically acclaimed of all that I’ve made mention of.  It may be my favorite novel of all time.  In the future people are bred, not born.  Everyone is created and then trained to be a certain class of citizen.  An E-Class citizen will probably scrub toilets their whole life and an A- or B-Class citizen will most likely hold a political office or manage others on a national or global scale.  If you pull a short straw it’s not a big deal though.  Just take some of the drug ‘soma’ when things get you down and you’ll be tip top in no time.  Everyone does it and no one really knows life without it.  You might deserve more than what you’ve been dealt, but that’s not even a factor.  Everyone is happy as a clam all the time and that’s the way it should be.

Or should it?  When a savage from a remote reservation is brought into this world he doesn’t quite know what to make of it.  These people aren’t permitted to do things like experience Shakespeare or feel how one feels walking on the beach at sunset.  But they don’t experience remorse or guilt or cancer either so it all evens out……….doesn’t it?

One thing I will say to close this entry is that if you happen to have stumbled onto this and you don’t read, please start.  It’s constantly shocking to me how many people simply don’t read books.  If you don’t like these find one that you do.  It’s like a joke Jerry Seinfeld once made: ” It always kills me when someone leaves a bookstore without buying anything.  It’s like ‘so you know EVERYthing?’  There’s nothing new that you haven’t already experienced???’ ”

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