Just finished reading Schismatrix Plus, by Bruce Sterling. What a great read.
This main novel takes place over the course of 200 years or so in the future of humanity. Earth has stagnated and sealed itself off, and the true future of mankind is in space habitats, orbital stations and asteriod colonies. Humanity is divided into two factions: the Shapers, who rely on genetic engineering and biotechnology for advancement, and the Machinists, who rely upon cybernetic enhancements and robotics to enhance their capabilities. One man, Abelard Lindsay, makes his way between the two, and in his own way, changes history.
The thing I love about this book is that it's plausible; this isn't space opera, it's a future that could happen. And these developments, for the most part, are things that it kills me that I won't live to see. The detail work that goes into these the concept is what's key here.
When I was younger, I never read any fiction other than science fiction. My rationale was "my life is so dull, why waste time reading about other people who live in this dull time and place?" I've since softened my stance, as I've realized the setting doesn't have to be interesting, as long as he characters are interesting. The triumph of Schismatrix is that the characters are as interesting as the setting. However, that having been said, this book made me feel kind of sad. We've barely taken baby step into the larger universe.
In the 1930s to 1950s, the future looked bright. We were all going to live in huge arcologies, drive flying cars, and vacation on the moon. We would colonize the moons of Jupiter and have bases on the moon and Mars. There was no limit to the dreams of humanity then. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were hungry, we had to beat the Russians, and take space by storm. In the 1980s, we lost our nerve. The Challenger disaster broke the back of the American space program, and the Russian program was dying... how can you afford to send men into space when you can't even feed your people? We had a bright future looking at us, and we dropped the ball.
Now we're stuck on this planet, with a dwindling fleet of falling apart shuttles, state of the art technology for 1978, but looking a little long in the tooth in 2004. We've made some amazing advances in technology in the past 20 years... the internet, personal computer technology, cellular phones, etc., but these are small revolutions. They don't have the sort of life changing, uplifting implications that expanding humanity out into space would have.
So here we are talking about a fuel crisis, when we're only a few AUs from Jupiter... a virtually limitless source of hydrogen. Why rely on expesive, polluting, politically charged foreign oil, when we can power our cars with cheap, clean hydrogen fuel cell technology. Here we are worrying about water, when there's plenty of huge chunks of fresh water to be had in the rings of Saturn. Plenty of resources. there for the taking. All it takes is the courage and boldness to take it.
That's the kind of can-do society you see in Scismatrix. That's the kind of world I expected to grow up in. I'm amazed by this modern world, but this is not The Future.
Didn't mean to ramble, just this book made me think.