“Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything” by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith (a scientist and a writer/cartoonist, respectively) is probably one of the best books on the market for the casual sci-fi/tech nerd who wants a break from fiction. The basic premise is exactly what the title states, focusing on ten different technologies we can see on the horizon. It breaks them down into where we currently are, where we’re going, what the technology could mean, and then how it could ruin everything. A liberal dose of background information, interviews, jokes, and short comics is sprinkled throughout, keeping the science-sections from getting too dense.
Probably the coolest part of the book, for me at least, was how they were able to take turn some incredibly difficult science into an informative book that people would be able to understand and enjoy. The metaphors for the more complex bits of physics when they wrote about space elevators are clear and fun. The examples used to illustrate (literally and metaphorically) their points about space travel are easily grasped and, from what I understand, surprisingly accurate. Even the comics sprinkled throughout add to the reader’s understanding in addition to delivering quick jokes.
The biggest downside was how hard it is to read in large chunks. There’s so much interesting information packed into each Chapter that I haven’t actually read more than one a chapter in a single sitting. I usually wind up taking a break so I can digest what I’m learning and let it get comfortable in my brain before I start reading the next chapter. Which isn’t to say it’s poorly written. The Weinersmiths did a great job of making the entire book a delight to read and I’m excited to read each and every chapter. I just wound up reading only one chapter a day and starting another, much simpler, book to read after my daily chapter.
The other side of the problem is that I have a lot more interesting conversation topics now that I’ve learned so much about space elevators, interstellar mining, and programmable matter. While these things don’t come up very much in my typical day-to-day conversation, I’ve now got a lot of excellent ammunition for the next time my friends and I decide to drink and talk about how cool the future could be. I’ve already used some of what I’ve learned to start a discussion at work, during a meeting, since one of my coworkers used to work for an elevator company and a few others just love talking about future technology over lunch. This book is easily worth getting just for the conversations it starts.
My favorite part of the book, and what I consider to be the reason the book is so delightful to read, is the sheer enthusiasm the Weinersmiths pumped into Soonish. Even after a few years of research, writing, revising, and editing, you can still feel just how excited they must have been to learn about everything they covered in the book and there are even a few panels of comics in the book that show it plainly. If you follow Zach Weinersmith’s comic, SMBC, you can see a bunch of comics he wrote about it, scattered throughout the past year, showing just how enthusiastic he and his wife were. Reading a work of passion is always a much better experience than reading something someone felt forced to write.
I suggest picking up a copy of the book for your coffee table or library. It is on sale pretty much everywhere, right now, so I suggest getting it now while its cheap. Or later, when it’s less cheap. This book is easily worth thirty bucks.