Skip to main content

Future Proof [You Call This the Future] – Nick Sagan ***

There’s something about future-gazing that is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. You just know it’s going to go horribly wrong. Although very little science fiction is really about predicting the future, science fiction writers are often portrayed as future visionaries – so, for instance, Arthur C. Clarke gets lots of brownie points for predicting the geostationary satellite. Sadly he gets less for 2001 A Space Odyssey. I’m not talking about the storyline, but more the technology in the Clarke/Kubrick film. Remember this was set in 2001, a good few years in the past. Not only do we have a talking computer with apparent consciousness we have full screen video phones, a manned mission to Jupiter’s moons and – best of all – PanAm operating a routine shuttle flight to a huge space station. Hands up who remembers PanAm?
In this glossy, well illustrated little book, Nick Sagan (yes, son of Carl) looks at some of the predictions of the future, giving references to science fiction occurrences, and shows how on the whole they haven’t come true. It’s a neat idea (not the first book to do this by any means), and well executed with some fun and interesting bits of technology as well as the yawn-makers like flying cars, but for some reason it doesn’t excite me. It probably would have appealed more to me when I was a teenager, but I did get a slight feeling of ‘yes, and?’ as I read.
There were one or two oddities in the contents too. The travel section inevitably included those iconic jet packs, but didn’t make reference to the juicy material provided by The Rocketbelt Caper. There were also one or two points where the facts got a bit wobbly. The section on teleportation got the whole business of quantum teleportation rather tangled up, commenting that quantum teleportation is only possible if the original is destroyed and that ‘This problem has not yet been resolved.’ This problem never could be resolved – leaving aside the no cloning requirement in quantum theory, there are only really two choices. Either you destroy the original, or you end up with two versions of the person – Nick Sagan seems to miss the entire point of teleportation. Similarly, the section on space tourism is hopelessly optimistic – Sagan seems not to have picked up the main theme of the book. As Richard Muller points out in Physics for Future Presidents, space travel with rocket technology is never going to be suitable for tourism – it’s just too dangerous.
Overall, then, a little frustrating. It is a good idea, but this book seems to going through the motions, rather than really delivering. There is some good stuff in there, it will appeal to geeky teenagers, but it doesn’t quite make the grade.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…