April 26, 2007

Dregni, Eric & Jonathan. Follies of science: 20th century visions of our fantastic future. Denver: Speck Press, 2006. 127pp.

I don't have to much to say of a deep or profound nature to say about this book. It's one of those "Whatever happened to the future with all the flying cars and robot butlers you science guys promised me!" books. And, as such, it's very successful in that it doesn't take itself too seriously. This book is just plain fun.

The chapters basically run the gamut of all the promises that futurists have made over the decades. Chapter One is about transportation, talking about the dreams of jet packs and flying cars, zeppelins and atomic airplanes. Chapter Two is about our great friends, the computer and thier great friend, robots. Utopian and dystopian, it's interesting to see our love-hate relationship with computers goes way back. Are they are friends or will they take over the world? Chapter Three is about how we will progress as a species beyond the need for war. An interesting idea, this, one that seems tragically flawed. Can machines replace us in the trenches? Will amazing super-weapons make war obsolete?

Chapter Four is on the cities of the future, gleaming, perfect and full of labour saving devices, perfectly planned, domed or doomed? Zeppeling highways, weather controlled with hanging gardens. Chapter Five is full of medical marvels: the end of pain, using radioactive skin creme, atomic farming, an extremely bizarre section on "marital aids", drinking your pee, living forever and human experimentation. Chapter Six is about that most perfect of fantasies of the future, space colonies! Rockets powered by steam, mad scientists faster than light, finding buxom alien babes on Mars! Finally, Chapter Seven is a series of predictions for our own future! Taken from Hank Lederer, we see that by 2015 we'll have foldout computer screens; 2035, implantable organs and limbs; 2030, smart paper; 2040, immortality; 2050, a food creator; 2060, poverty eliminated and 2100, space colonies!

I have to say that you really don't want this book for the explanatory text anyways. You really want it for the fantastic illustrations and the lively presentation. The book makes heavy use of old sf pulp covers and old catalogue illustrations; the captions are often quite funny as well. One complaint is that the illustrations aren't very well credited. There are a few sf art books in the bibliography (a treasure trove for amusing popular science collection development, by the way) and a mention of the use of old catalogues, but I wish there was better citing. At very least, the artists for a lot of the science fiction illustrations would have been nice.

In the end, I can't really recommend this book for academic collections, there's just not enough substance. However, public libraries would find a ready audience for a colourful book like this, as would most school libraries. It would also make a great holiday or birthday present for the science fiction loving techy gal/guy in your family.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

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