What Science Fiction Books Does A Futurist Read? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

What Science Fiction Books Does A Futurist Read?

One of science fiction's jobs is to give humanity a map of where we're headed. From Jules Verne to William Gibson, sci-fi authors have described their versions of the future, and how people might live in it.

Those ideas came up in a recent conversation I had with Brian David Johnson, who works for Intel as a futurist — a title that gives him one of the tech world's cooler business cards.

Johnson says that his job lies at the intersection of science fiction and science fact. With that in mind, I asked him to name some of his favorite sci-fi books. His list is below, with stock summaries of the books. If you scroll below the list, you can read what Johnson thinks of them:

Johnson started out with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, calling it "a foundational classic. One of the first ever, and still very, very important for today."

He also includes Isaac Asimov. "The Robot series was one of the first times where logic was brought in to science fiction, there was actually a logic system — you know: The robot would do this, or wouldn't do this."

Many readers will know that those rules centered on a central idea: that robots were forbidden from harming humans. And many of those rules were first laid out in Asimov's I, Robot.

Johnson also recommends Arthur C. Clarke's The Sentinel, a short story that is often cited as holding the seeds of his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. The story centers around the discovery of a pyramid-like relic on Earth's Moon.

Moving on to writers working today, Johnson mentions Cory Doctorow, whose Little Brother "gets into some of the messy ideas around surveillance, and around ubiquitous computational power — and what does that mean."

"Charlie Stross has some really interesting books that look at near-future technology. He wrote a book called Halting State, which is really interesting. It looks at device connectivity, especially around policing."

"I'm always a huge fan of Vernor Vinge. Vernor came up with the term 'singularity.' He always has a really good eye for this stuff," Johnson says. "He wrote a great book called Rainbow's End, where he was looking about 10-15 years out, and what that future might look like."

Rainbow's End, Johnson says, is "kind of a mystery novel," in which a man wakes up from a coma to find himself in a world full of new advances. To be specific, the protagonist, who had been an Alzheimer's patient, wakes up in the San Diego of 2025.

In telling his story, Vinge "has some fun - he makes fun of laptops, he makes fun of a lot of things," Johnson says. "What I love about Rainbow's End is that it's a small book that really has an interesting view of technology."

If you'd like even more suggestions to help you read some interesting sci-fi, you might want to check out NPR's voluminous Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books, suggested by our readers.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Passages' Author Reflects On Her Own Life Journey

Gail Sheehy is famous for her in-depth profiles of influential people, as well as her 1976 book on common adult life crises. Now she turns her eye inward, in her new memoir Daring: My Passages.
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Go To The Border To Court Voters

Republicans have won every statewide office in Texas for 20 years, but the growing Hispanic population tends to vote Democrat, and the GOP's survival may depend on recruiting Hispanic supporters.
NPR

In San Diego, A Bootcamp For Data Junkies

Natasha Balac runs a two-day boot camp out of the San Diego Supercomputer Center for people from all types of industries to learn the tools and algorithms to help them analyze data and spot patterns in their work.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.