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Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years Hardcover – December 17, 2002

3.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sterling is best known for writing social satires disguised as science fiction, but over a decade ago, The Hacker Crackdown demonstrated his ability to apply his firm grasp on the cultural forces shaping today's world to nonfiction as well. Now those analytical skills take on the future; although he can't tell readers what will happen when, he does share good ideas about how to deal with it when it does. After a primer on the various forms of futurism, Sterling offers a seven-part consideration of the 21st century, with a conceptual structure inspired by the "seven ages of man" speech from Shakespeare's As You Like It. Taking the infant, the student, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon and "mere oblivion" each in turn, this sweeping vision encompasses everything from genetic engineering and ubiquitous computing to the real threats to world peace. (Sterling says we shouldn't be as worried about ideological terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who create momentary disruptions, as about opportunistic thugs, such as Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, who, according to Sterling, will gladly exploit chaos for profit.) There are constant reminders that progress is rarely, if ever, orderly and efficient, because "in the real world, technology ducks, dodges, and limps" its way forward. But steady, reliable technocratic societies, if they approach the future with "flexibility and patience," should be able to weather even the most radical technological and cultural changes. Sterling's breezy tone and insightful speculations reposition this "cyberpunk" hero as a fun hybrid of Robert Kaplan and Faith Popcorn, ready to join the punditocracy and reach out to a broader readership.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Science fiction writer Sterling offers his unique nonfiction assessment of the future. Borrowing the seven stages of humanity cited by Shakespeare in As You Like It, he addresses the probable future of human beings as infants, students, lovers, soldiers, politicians, businessmen, and geriatrics. Issues discussed include genetics and reproduction, information networks, postindustrial design, the new world order, media and politics, information economics, and our ongoing struggle with mortality. Rather than predicting awesome and unheard-of wonders, Sterling believes that futurism consists of "recognizing and describing a small apparent oddity that is destined to become a great commonplace." Using that definition as a springboard, he provides a variety of potential possibilities grounded in both common sense and present reality. Often surprising, always humorous, Sterling's individual slant on what may evolve serves as a visionary overview of the twenty-first century. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (December 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679463224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679463221
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,848,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is about today, of course. As every science fiction writer knows, any futuristic venture, either in fiction or nonfiction, is an extrapolation from the present. How prescient the writer is depends partly on how well he understands and observes the present and on how lucky he is. I don't know how lucky sci-fi novelist Bruce Sterling is going to be as a visionary, but he definitely has a keen insight into the present. To use his words, "the victorious futurist is not a prophet. He or she does not defeat the future but predicts the present." (p. xvii)
I have read recently, Pierre Baldi's The Shattered Self: The End of Natural Evolution (2001); Howard Bloom's Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000); The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century (2002), a collection of essays edited by John Brockman; Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (2002); Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999), and others; and I can tell you this is as impressive (in its own way of course) as any of those very impressive books, and has the considerable virtue of being beautifully and compellingly written in a style that is polished, lively and sparkles with deft turns of phrase and a cornucopia of bon mots and apt neologisms. Furthermore, Sterling really is a visionary of the present in that he sees connections and developments that most of us miss. Here are some examples:
"The sense of wonder has a short shelf life." (p. xvii)
Speaking of SUVs and cross-training shoes: "Modern devices are overstuffed with functionality..." (p.
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Format: Hardcover
The cover and slipjacket of the book smell of terabyte hard drives and organic cell phones. But that's about it. I didn't buy this book---got it from the library. Feel like I didn't waste money, but I did waste time. There are gems...the section on biotech is really provocative and well-written.
But the rest?
Filler. The ideas about the importance of networks in the future (whether cell based terrorist groups, or profiteers) are covered in more depth in both sterling's fictional DISTRACTION and Rheingold's SMART MOBS. The critique of education is pedantic, as is the discussion about the future of politics.
I get the sense that these pieces were just lying around on the hard drive, and he realized there was a book in there. He was almost right...some tight editing would've been very helpful.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know and admire the author, whose other non-fiction book, "Hacker Crackdown" was an extraordinary contribution to social understanding, of both the abuse of uninformed government power, and the potential enlightenment that could be achieved by hackers (who are like astronauts, pushing the envelope in cyberspace).
This book is uneven. There are some truly brilliant gems, but there is also a lot of rambling, and I fear that the author's brilliance as a science fiction writer may have intimidated the publisher and editor into settling for what they got, instead of what the author is truly capable of producing when diligently managed. However, after thoroughly reviewing the book to write the review, I ended up going for 5 instead of 4 stars because this kind of writing is uncommon and provocative and my lack of patience may be the external limiting factor.
There are a number of gifted turns of phrase and ideas, and so I do recommend this book for purchase, for reading, and for recurring review.
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Format: Hardcover
I like Bruce's work a lot, both his SF and his punditry/journalism on the Viridian list and elsewhere. So I had pretty high hopes for this, but unfortunately came away unsatisfied. Years ago, Bruce said that cyberpunk aimed for "crammed prose" - a density of ideas, impressions and telling details which his own SF novels provide brilliantly. "Tomorrow Now" is far from crammed - it's padded. While there are cool, convincing ideas (cloned babies will grow up to be the world's most angry adolescents) on past evidence I'd expect about 10x more of them per page. I haven't read a lot of futurology books, so this may compare more favorably to most of them. But for Sterling fans this is thin stuff.
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Format: Hardcover
Tomorrow Now is essentially a long and brilliant essay by Bruce Sterling, a noted science fiction writer and futurist covering some of his ideas of what the future may hold. Sterling very cleverly breaks the book into seven parts based upon a soliloquoy from Shakespeare covering the ages of man from birth to death, and wittily prophesies what life may shape itself into in our near future.

Two things struck me about this book. The first is that it is not nearly as focused on the next fifty years as the title purports. There is a fair deal of what the future may hold, but there is also a great deal of the present thrown in (especially in the soldier section), and some futurism that is more than 50 years out. Surprisingly this didn't bother me at all because his analysis of the present, especially an exposition on three different terrorists warlords, was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. This book ranges far and wide, and colors outside the lines of the 50 years stated, but I was glad it did as I read.

The second thing that struck me was that this is one of the most amazingly well-written books I've ever read. I am not sure I have ever read something as engaging, fascinating, informative and so easy to read at the same time. I have always enjoyed Sterling's fiction work but, frankly, the quality of this non-fiction book trumps his fictional stories. His writing style is very chatty, more or less as if you are sitting across the table from him, and at first this threw me. It's not something you expect in a science book. Yet once I adjusted I realized that this may be one of the clearest pieces of writing I have ever had the pleasure to read. When I say "pleasure to read" I actually mean it.
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