"Where's My Jetpack" | Beam me up ... oh, never mind
If the future can be found anywhere, Greater Seattle is the likeliest place to find it, with our area's involvement in software and high-tech industries.
Special to the Seattle Times
Daniel H. Wilson will
read from "Where's
My Jetpack," 7 p.m. Wednesday at Greenwood Space Travel Supply, 8414 Greenwood Ave., Seattle. Co-sponsored by 826 Seattle and University Book Store; free (206-634-3400; www.ubookstore.com).
"Where's My Jetpack: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived"
by Daniel H. Wilson
Bloomsbury, 192 pp., $14.95
If the future can be found anywhere, Greater Seattle is the likeliest place to find it, with our area's involvement in software and high-tech industries. Just look at the Space Needle, the monorail, the Downtown Public Library. Yet even here we have no anti-gravity belts, no robot butlers. In "Where's My Jetpack: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived," Daniel H. Wilson explores the puzzling lack of these and other amenities promised by past visionaries.
Though short (only 192 pages, many given over to nifty illustrations), the book deals with 30 different technological innovations gone astray, from the jetpack of the title to glass-domed colonies on the moon. Wilson's tone is humorous, yet he does justice to the science underlying his topic with quick, clear, sound explanations of nitrogen narcosis, ionized air columns and other geekly terms. In his section on "Smell-O-Vision" (movies with what might be called "scenttracks") Wilson writes that "Inside your nose at the top of your nasal passages is a postage-stamp-size patch of special neurons called olfactory receptors. These neurons have hairlike projections (called cilia) that directly bind with floating odor molecules. If your life is going well, this is the only part of your brain that is ever exposed directly to the atmosphere."
Daniel H. Wilson will read from "Where's My Jetpack," 7 p.m. Wednesday at Greenwood Space Travel Supply, 8414 Greenwood Ave., Seattle. Co-sponsored by 826 Seattle and University Book Store; free (206-634-3400; www.ubookstore.com).
While speculating on rush hours filled with flying cars and pondering the sociological effects of free-floating holographic ads, Wilson manages to do more than poke fun at the past's unrealistic expectations: He autopsies failures and tracks partial successes as well. Smell-O-Vision gave the people what they didn't actually want. Our lack of handheld laser blasters is due to inefficient diodes. (Lasers use diodes to convert electricity into light, but those currently available waste about 85 percent of their power as heat.)
On the other hand, moving sidewalks, the main mode of transport in Robert A. Heinlein's 1940 novel "The Roads Must Roll," are a common feature of today's airports. And, oddly, teleportation can still be counted among the more viable of science fiction's wild dreams, thanks to experiments with a weird physics phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. Referred to by Albert Einstein as "spooky action at a distance," this involves transporting information, not matter, but the outcome is supposedly the same. Too bad it only works on one particle at a time so far.
Wilson certainly seems to know what he's talking about. It's a shame he doesn't have a better handle on who he's talking to. In the "X-Ray Specs" section he refers to using these fabled devices to see under bikinis; worse, in "Invisible Camouflage" he warns his readers that even with state-of-the-art equipment they'd better not sneak into the women's locker room. As a nerd of the female persuasion, I was quite put off at being counted out of his assumed audience. Women, too, want to read minds and ride space elevators and breathe through artificial gills. Or at least, we'd like the same chances of doing these things as men.Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@ seattletimes.com. She is the Seattle Times book editor and a director of the National Book Critics Circle.
A review of the book "Where's My Jetpack?" originally published on April 13, was written by freelancer Nisi Shawl. The byline incorrectly attributed the article to Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn.