The Future is Now

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The Future is Now

On New Year's Eve in the year 2000, my father and I sat down to watch the classic science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. While watching it, we commented on how many of the technologies in the movie had either been surpassed or were still too fanciful to have occurred. We decided, in short, that we were living in the future. With each new generation, the future changes but even more fantastic ideas get presented in science fiction. Take for instance, the comparison of communicators in the original Star Trek TV series to iPhones. We see smartphones as commonplace today, yet the iPhone was not a thing that Gene Roddenberry could have imagined in 1966 when Star Trek premiered or in 2001 when the last syndicated Star Trek series Enterprise began (this series ended before the iPhone was even introduced!).  Take a look below for more great futuristic - or not so futuristic - sci fi. 

Series like Star Trek are part of the core of science fiction. In 2012, John Scalzi wrote a book that a is delightfully dark comedy lampooning the original Star Trek series entitled Redshirts. The title comes from the unfortunate proclivity of the starship Enterprise's security staff, who always wore red shirts, to die within the first few minutes of an episode, usually to create drama. In Redshirts, the Universal Union (UU) is the dominant power in the galaxy, exploring the cosmos and collecting scientific information. The UU flagship, the Intrepid, seems to have a very high turnover in staff due to the numerous deaths it accrues, mostly during away missions. When the junior staff starts to compare notes, a pattern begins that appears to be quite sinister with just a touch of gross incompetence. The truth is far worse than they could have imagined. For a real treat, listen to the audiobook version of Redshirts. It's read by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame and so feels particularly ironic.

Star Trek takes place in the future, often the norm for science fiction stories. But Star Wars is set in the past. The events depicted in Star Wars have already happened, according to the opening words of every movie. The most recent film in set in the Star Wars universe is a one-shot story called Rogue One. As a fan of Star Wars for a very long time, I was intrigued to see a copy of Rogue One novelization on the shelves and was not disappointed. The book by Alexander Freed follows the script almost exactly but adds more details. Set during the final construction of the first Death Star and ending just before the opening of Episode IV, Rogue One is the story of how the Death Star's plans were acquired by the Rebellion. There is betrayal, there is redemption, there is action, there is tenderness. And there are little things. Like the carefully laid plan of the engineer, the motivation that comes from love, and the will to succeed when failure seems a certainty. If you saw the movie, this book will go fast, but it is well worth the read to give more depth to the movie.

John Scalzi has said that he likes "the idea of humans dealing with aliens not on a 'first contact' level but on a '2,344,756th contact' level - that is, when it's not anything new anymore." Agent to the Stars is one of his works that breaks that rule in a hilarious sort of way. Tom Stein is one of the most up-and-coming movie agents in the business. After landing the biggest deal of his young career, Tom's boss assigns him a new project: helping the first alien race humans have encountered with their image problem. That's the thing with Yherajk; they have an appearance similar to tuna-scented snot (one Yherajk opines that "all the cool aliens have spines.") Without the assistance of anyone else, Tom must find a way to introduce the Yherajk to humanity without worldwide chaos while also maintaining a normal life. What could possibly go wrong?

Virtual reality has been a topic of many science fiction books and shows since the idea was first presented. Depictions of virtual reality have varied from the blocky graphics from the Second Life video game to the (artificial) perfectly rendered world of The Matrix. Like The Matrix, the world of the OASIS in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One permeates every aspect of the life of the main character, Wade Watts. Known as Parzival in the virtual world, Watts is a poor kid who dreams of finding the legendary Easter Egg hidden within the OASIS by its creator before he died with no one to pass his fortune on to. After finding a significant clue, Parzival is sucked into the cut-throat arena of the search for the egg with people hunting him in the virtual world and the real one. Filled with references to 1980s culture, video games, and music, Ready Player One is an exciting read.

Not all science fiction is meant to be fanciful. Some authors work hard to present realism in their stories. One such team of authors, writing under the combined name of James. S. A. Corey, are Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, creators of The Expanse. The first novel, entitled Leviathan Wakes, is set more than 200 years in the future when humanity has worked hard to colonize much of the solar system. Mars is now an independent political body and is the rival of the United Nations, who control Earth and the Moon. Together, the Earth and Mars coalition navy has enforced a strict peace on the worlds beyond the asteroid belt, with Ceres Station being the main port of call. When a stealth warship destroys a civilian ice-hauler, there are only five survivors, one of whom is James Holden, a former UN navel officer. Working with a detective named Miller from Ceres Station, Holden discovers a plot by one of the system's mega-corporations to use an unknown agent to fundamentally change the balance of power in the solar system and possibly change the nature of humanity itself.

Science fiction has the benefit of being able to draw upon the works of others. Cinder is the debut novel of Marissa Meyer and is the first story in the Lunar Chronicles. Loosely based on the fairy tale Cinderella, Cinder follows the life of a cyborg mechanic named Cinder. Though she is treated as  second-class citizen by her step-mother because of her cybernetic nature, Cinder's life becomes intertwined with that of Kai, crown prince of the Eastern Commonwealth, when she fixes his personal android. After her step-sister dies from Letumosis, a disease created by the lunar colony, Cinder is volunteered by her step-mother to be an unwilling test subject in fighting the disease. Will Cinder's cybernetic secret save her or make her a target?