Brenda Cooper is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her next novel is The Creative Fire from Pyr Books, a story that explores revolution on a generation ship through the eyes of a young woman who helps bring her people to freedom through the power of her voice. Find out more about The Creative Fire and Brenda’s other works at www.Brenda-cooper.com.
While science fiction is not always either an accurate predictor or creator of the future, some books lend themselves particularly well to exploration of possible futures. As someone who is both a futurist and a science fiction writer, I often delight in the careful and well-researched futures that show up as setting and story in modern SF. I’m going to explore three books that do this well. One is freshly out from a major publisher, anther is a bit older, and a third is a self-published collection of stories that appeared in Analog.
Let’s start with Existence, by David Brin (Tor Books). I’m actually in the middle of this book (I just started part 5), and I’m pretty sure I’ll be listing it as recommended reading and talking about it as a story over on my website when I finish it. In the meantime, I’m enchanted with David’s multi-layered world building. He created a believable world that surprises. He fills it with people from multiple layers of society. He has a reporter who uses her high credibility rating to obtain help from a flashmob at a crucial moment, a man who searches the ruins of drowned mansions for scarce treasure and finds more than he bargained for, a junk collector in space, and a rich flyboy who sounds a lot like skydiver Felix Baumgartner. Brin’s characters – and the technology they use – all feel so authentic that David might be a time-traveller sent back to us from the future. For a little bit more, take a look at an interview I did with David as a guest-blogger over on Futurist.com. For a short taste, “Her eyes flick-examined several overlayers, trolling for correlations and news stories at street level. Once a pastime that became a vocation, till her cred scores vaulted over all the hungry amateurs and semi-pros out there, scratching to be noticed.”
The slightly older book that I still recommend highly is Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, which won the Hugo and Locus awards in 2007 for best novel (also a Tor Book). All three books deal with ubiquitous computing that expands the senses, and Rainbows End may in fact be the most interesting on this level. For a taste: “Pyramid Hill had all the latest touchy-feely gear. These were not just phantoms painted by your contact lenses in the back of your eyeball. On Pyramid Hill, there were games…” Vinge plays with the techno-geek possibility of the singularity, and yet brings home the humanity of medical advances by letting us watch a man recover from Alzheimer’s.
The third book I want to talk about, Phantom Sense and Other Stories, is available electronically in the Kindle Store and for the Nook, and has four excellent, touching collaborative shorts by Richard A. Lovett and Mark Niemann-Ross. All the stories originally appeared in Analog. They are emotionally touching, with the title story, Phantom Sense, and the last story, Net Puppets, the best of four really enjoyable reads. As a bonus, there’s an introduction by Hugo-winning writer David D. Levine and some excellent research notes and story commentary contributed by the authors. Even more than the other two books, these stories made me feel the future world through the emotional lens of people living there. For a snippet of the first story, “The Sense is a of of things. It lets you see around corners or into any room with a crack big enough for an insect to seep through. But it’s more than seeing….The data bits disappear and you wind up with things you simply know on a par with it’s raining or I’m on a tropical beach.”
These are books that provide the reader with glimpses into futures that we may be far nearer to than we imagine today, with all of the joy and foible of humanity existing. They observe our future selves feeling our way through a brand new world splashed so full of technology that the very edges of humanity blur. The characters become more than we are today, augmented and strengthened (and weakened) by close relationships with the tools of tomorrow. They are all great reads.
Character-driven, social science fiction inspired by the life of Evita Peron. Nothing can match the power of a single voice… Ruby Martin expects to spend her days repairing robots while avoiding the dangerous peacekeeping forces that roam the corridors of the generation ship the Creative Fire. The social structure of the ship is rigidly divided, with Ruby and her friends on the bottom. Then a ship-wide accident gives Ruby a chance to fight for the freedom she craves. Her enemies are numerous, well armed, and knowledgeable. Her weapons are a fabulous voice, a quick mind, and a deep stubbornness. Complicating it all—an unreliable AI and an enigmatic man she met—and kissed—exactly once—who may hold the key to her success. If Ruby can’t transform from a rebellious teen to the leader of a revolution, she and all her friends will lose all say in their future. Like the historical Evita Peron, Ruby rises from the dregs of society to hold incredible popularity and power. Her story is about love and lust and need and a thirst for knowledge and influence so deep that it burns.