21 February 2011

Alternative Pathways ~ Mix of SF and Imagination!

While reading about Victorian genius engineer Brunel, I wondered about his big ideas which did not succeed, including his atmospheric railway. Suppose he could have iterated and improved and ultimately made it work? What alternative pathways would humanity now be on? This got me thinking about what if Charles Babbage had succeeded in building his mechanical computer. That's such a ripe theme that science fiction authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling wrote an alternate history SF novel exploring it, The Difference Engine, a world where both Industrial and Information Revolutions happen together and human progress is accelerated. Several comic/novelist/movies have taken up variations on this theme as well, including the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Wild Wild West and even the polychronic Back to the Future. One of my favorites is from the WAKE graphic novel series by Jean-David Morvan and Philippe Buchet when lead character Navee visits a strangely steampunk world in volume 3, Gearing Up. Perhaps the most intriguing of this genre, though, is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age set in a future when sophisticated nanotechnology and AI prevail and enable a wild mixing of sociomes, including a curiously neo-Victorian culture. What this genre especially allows is exploring what is central to being human in the face of vastly differing technologies. Epic!

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