Sunday, 2 November 2014

Book Review - Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future

Big Ideas Real Science Great Stories

( all of the above lifted from the Hieroglyph websites - and )

I first heard about the science fiction anthology, Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future, on  a podcast, from the TWiT network, called Triangluation where the host, Leo Laporte, interviewed Lawrence M. Krauss.

Dr Krauss wrote the foreword to Hieroglyph, and his description of the novel peaked my interest, especially in the assertion that it was science fiction for scientists ( not to say that it's not suitable for every reader ), where all/most of the science referenced is based upon what exists today, or what can be extrapolated from in-flight projects.

In addition, most of the stories are written in the light of the environmental crises ( overpopulation, global warming, resource depletion etc. ), and most show how science can save us.

Despite Dr Krauss' assertion, warp drive does sneak into one of the stories - all right, it's a FTL drive, but that is not the main point of the story. In other words, humans can't just just into FTL ships and use matter transporters to save humanity. The solutions proposed will take longer to develop, require much more commitment from humankind, and take longer to implement.

Edited by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn, the book contains stories by a number of authors, including Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, Gregory Benford, Elizabeth Bear, David Brin and Bruce Sterling.

I've got a fair few sci-fi books by Neal Stephenson, and have been impressed with what I've read by Cory Doctorow. The others were authors that I've heard of and, in some cases, read, albeit in the past ( well, obviously ).

To mis-quote the advert, I was so impressed with the pitch that I bought the book, despite needing to pre-order it from Wordery in the US and pay a relatively hefty price of more than 13 English pounds :-)

Worse still, I then had to wait several weeks for it to arrive :-)

In this world of "I need it, I want it, I have it", waiting for a book to arrive was actually quite old-skool.

So, once the book finally made it into the house, it joined the queue of books needing to be read. I was in the middle of the last book in the Game of Thrones series ( well, the last to date, namely Dance with Dragons - After the Feast ), and also snuck in a brief Lee ChildThe Visitor ).

However, I started Hieroglyph about a week ago, and have galloped through it since then.

As with all anthologies, I had favourite stories, specifically Atmosphæra Incognita ( by Neal Stephenson ), Girl In Wave : Wave in Girl ( by Kathleen Ann Goonan ), The Man Who Sold the Moon ( by Cory Doctorow ), Degrees of Freedom ( by Karl Schroeder ), Elephant Angels ( by Brenda Cooper ) and The Man Who Sold the Stars ( by Gregory Benford ).

However, this is a book that I will definitely re-read, and almost certainly get more out of it with each subsequent reading. Whilst there were some stories that didn't grab my attention ( and these were typically a lot more left field, more fantasy than fiction ), they will all get a revisit further down the 'pike.

So, in conclusion, this IS a book that I would gladly recommend to anyone and everyone, despite their interest, or lack therein, in science. Whilst it is most definitely science fiction ( or to put it another way, fiction with a large dollop of science ), that should NOT put one off.

PS When I say science, I mean the science of everything - so-called 3D printers, space travel, assisted learning, drones, the Internet, big data etc. etc. etc.

Want to know more ? Then read the book already ......


Strewth, the thing that prompted me to write this review, apart from actually reading the darn book, was the terrible incident that brought down the Virgin Galactic test flight in California this weekend. Even though I'm unlikely to be able to afford the initial fees ( ~£250K ) for a flight, I'd still volunteer to fly with VG or, in the future, any other service offering spaceflight, even after these most recent and horrendous events.

For me, humankind absolutely must break free of the boundaries of this single planet. As an IT consultant, I know about Single Points of Failure or, as my granny would've said, putting all of ones eggs in a single basket.

Therefore, space travel MUST form part of our future, hopefully sooner rather than later, partly to give humanity an outlet to a Plan B ( and Plan C and Plan D .... ) future, and also to help remove the resource constraints under which we've placed ourselves.

Some of the stories in Project Hieroglyph make this very very clear. The solar system, let alone the rest of the universe, is a resource-rich environment, and we've known since the 1940s that the first 100 miles ( or so ) are the hardest.

Let's get out there .......


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