Where’s My Jetpack (book, 2007)

A review of a non-fiction book by Daniel Wilson, author of Robopocalypse. From Death Ray 8.

Daniel H Wilson, PhD/Bloomsbury

Well informed, yet overly chirpy insight into the current state of yesterday’s future today. If you see what I mean…

A timely book this, for I have, more than once, wondered where my jetpack was. This book reminds me that life is a big swizz. Why? When I was a kid, in the 1970s, the future was all going to be space hotels and robots and food pills. After patiently waiting, I found it just simply isn’t.

For this, I feel aggrieved.

Wilson’s book is precisely for people who, like me, wonder what happened to the shiny tomorrow we were promised. Don’t worry, it’s coming, it just got delayed by that old pain in the arse, reality.

Wilson looks at a number of SF standards, drawn from the more genuinely speculative arm of the genre, among them smart houses, moon bases, hoverboards, suspended animation, robots, and, indeed, death rays. He tells us where the tech is now, who’s working on what, and when – if – we’ll ever see any of it.

If you spend time on Live Science, Space.com or other such websites, you’ll see that this is pretty exhaustive, and condenses hours worth of surfing into one handy book. It’s got plenty of random facts – like the human brain having the consistency of room-temperature butter – quotes and other informational nuggets.

Great then if you can get past the hideous, eye-wounding typeface and the annoying “humorous” patter affected by the author. Each chapter is set up with a weak joke, and peppered with similar, like “Let’s just hope that NASA doesn’t use the dreadful HAL 9000 computer – that guy has a terrible safety record.” Wokka wokka wokka! Some of it’s funny, the majority of the time you feel like you’re listening to a carnival huckster with a degree. Or Fozzy Bear with book smarts.

This slender volume does come with two pieces of good news. The first is that, besides picking the scab off the uncomfortable knowledge that you never did get a jetpack, it also reminds you that a second future promised in the 1970s, nuclear annihilation, also did not come to pass. The other good news is that some of the technology of the George Jetson lifestyle could be just round the corner.

That’s if we don’t pollute ourselves out of existence first.


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