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Techno Life 2020
Lois H. Gresh
ECW Press, 208 pages

Techno Life 2020
Lois H. Gresh
Lois H. Gresh is a freelance computer consultant and writer. She designs and codes corporate websites and CDs.

Lois H. Gresh Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Computers of Star Trek
SF Site Review: The Termination Node

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

We science fiction writers occasionally find ourselves in a dilemma: we have a great idea but no story to fit it. I'd bet serious coin that there isn't an SF writer on the planet who doesn't have a bulging idea file or two sitting in his or her filing cabinet, desk drawer or hard drive, full of character sketches, tidbits snipped from newspapers of magazines, or off-printed from a web page somewhere.

One of the ways out of the problem is to write an article, a piece of non-fiction, about life in a possible future. Back a few years ago, I reviewed a book for these pages called Prophecies: 2000, edited by one Matthew Bunson and published by Pocket Books in 1999. This slim volume was essentially a compendium of prognostications made by Nostradamus and Biblical scholars about terrible events slated to take place in 2000. It wasn't a very good book, and I said so. The review was never published because the SF Site editors agreed with me that the book wasn't really worth talking about. That's the sad fate of many books about the future. Why? Because the future keeps changing, making it damn hard for us to get a fix on it. When you're dealing with the psychedelic frenzies of Revelations or the vague poetry of Nostradamus, the problem is even worse.

In my (unpublished) review, I said:

"I just finished reading and reviewing the Utne Reader's Y2K Citizen's Action Guide, which has a lot more meat to it than this book does, though less flowery prose. But both books are doomed to suffer the same fate in the near future: total obscurity. And I don't need to be Nostradamus to foresee it."
Psychics in general do a lot of predicting to no great ends. I have a big collection of guff from various seers. Jeanne Dixon is probably the best known of the lot. Interestingly, some of her political predictions turned out correct: the partition of India, for example, and the stalemating of the Korean War. But I chalk that up to Dixon being a careful and astute reader of the news. She also made a bunch of really dumbass predictions, too, like the papacy ceasing to exist between 1979 and 2000, and the rise of telepathic communication.

But members of the Rand Corporation or GE's think tanks don't really have a much better track record, despite their scientific background. It's relatively easy to look at trends and extrapolate them, but everyone has his own agenda. Gerard O'Neill, a very intelligent man, was convinced that we'd have big orbiting space colonies in place by 1990. Would that it were true.

Science fiction writers may do a better job of predicting the future because they tend to be pretty widely read: dilettantes of many disciplines, if you will. However, they by no means hit a home run every time they're at bat. Remember Robert A. Heinlein's moving highways, for example -- "The Roads Must Roll" is a fine story but sadly dated. And it's still funny to read a story written in the 30s that talks about people in the 90s using slide rules.

H.G. Wells, who was pretty much the first out of the gate with a time travel story, never set his fictional adventures any closer to the present day than AD 2100. And even now, if you read about his futures, they look pretty creaky. He did better the further he got from the present day, so that by having his nameless time traveler drop down in AD 801,000-odd, he was able to make his points without having to eat crow about any near-term errors.

Like never seeing space travel coming, or computers, or the revolution in genetics.

But this is all by-the-way.

Another way of getting the idea file to work for you is to keep collecting snippets of information in hopes that one or two of them will initiate a synergistic effect and voila -- an idea will occur, and the writing of a story or novel will commence.

Lois Gresh has come on a third way: gather up a bunch of ideas, then write a story and an article about all the ideas in the story, then pitch the package to a publisher and sell both at once. Points for originality, Lois.

As I intimated above, she has marshaled a big pile of fascinating predictions about the future and woven them into the tale of an Everyman of the year 2020. I enjoyed the story, but I found the background information much more interesting and disturbing.

Essentially, she is saying that it will really suck to be poor, and probably still really suck to be rich, because you can't count on having a job for long. Moreover, if you have any sort of existing medical condition you'll be paying so much for health insurance and the like that you might as well be an indentured servant. Furthermore, genetic engineering will be able to produce big beautiful people but might screw them up in other ways, genetically or psychologically. And there will be a bunch of new sorts of animals and plants around in the future.

None of this will come as a surprise to a) readers of science fiction, or b) readers of the news, which is why the fiction part of the book didn't do all that much for me, despite being entertaining and fast-moving. The real meat of this book is in the second half, where Lois writes convincingly and with authority about the future that we are making for ourselves, and how fast it is barreling down on us.

She cites numerous sources both in print and on the web in a comprehensive reference section. This, plus the non-fiction second part of Techno Life 2020, are what make the book valuable, particularly for writers of science fiction. There are plenty of ideas here, well presented and waiting to be rearranged into new patterns.

Copyright © 2002 A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois has been reading and writing science fiction since he was in single digits. He is now closer to triple digits than he cares to think about. His personal site is at

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