Mark Brake, Neil Hook FutureWorld
Boxtree/Science Museum 2008
FutureWorld is a popular account of the interaction between science fiction and pure science, published in association with the Science Museum in London and aimed at a general audience. Structured by division into four broad themes — space, time, machine and monster — the book’s main thesis is that bold imaginative concepts have to precede insights into real science, and that science fiction, of whatever period and whatever label, both stimulates scientific investigation and the developments of technologies while itself being stimulated in its turn by science and technology.
This being a Science Museum publication, it is primarily designed to communicate science to the public in an entertaining way without literally blinding them with science, and what better way to hook that public than with themes from popular culture. To that end there is no end of references to popular SF books, films, TV shows and games, with one hundred short entries broken up by wittily-captioned photos and illustrations.
The whole builds on the increasing realisation that we are living in an world where no sooner is a notion which feels SF expressed than the fiction becomes fact, and that within the span of a very few decades most of us are living in what we would have described not so long ago as a science fiction world. What Futureworld tries to do is maintain that sense of wonder before it becomes blunted by the fantastic becoming mundane and everyday. And in amongst the text’s 120-odd pages is the reminder that the best science fiction, while thinking the unthinkable, also gives us warnings of the implications that untrammelled innovation could have on our present and future lives without serious consideration, discussion and regulation.
This is an attractive book, easy to read and well-illustrated, though it does fizzle out without a real conclusion. The authors are enthusiasts in their field and that comes through in the writing. Neil Hook is in the Science Communication Research Unit of the University of Glamorgan where he lectures on the MSc programme in Communicating Science; perhaps unexpectedly he is a also a practising Anglican priest researching the relationship between science fiction and theology. His co-author, Mark Brake, formerly professor of science communication at the same university though now working as a freelance author and broadcaster, gained fame for helping initiate at the University of Glamorgan the first undergraduate course on the relationship between science fiction and science. Unfortunately, after this book was published he gained notoriety when it emerged he had made a false PhD claim when applying for a grant, which rather takes the shine off the merits of this book.