Once in a great while a science fiction story is so visionary, yet so close to impending scientific developments that it becomes not only an accurate predictor, but itself the locus for new discoveries and development. True Names by Vernor Vinge, first published in 1981, is such a work.
Here is a feast of articles by computer scientists and journalists on the cutting edge of the field, writing about innovations and developments of the Internet, including, among others:
Danny Hillis: Founder of thinking machines and the first Disney Fellow.
Timothy C. May: former chief scientist at Intela major insider in the field of computers and technology.
Marvin Minsky: Cofounder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer: Codevelopers of habitat, the first real computer interactive environment.
Mark Pesce: Cocreator of VRML and the author of the Playful World: How Technology Transforms Our Imagination.
Richard M. Stallman: Research affiliate with MIT; the founder of the Free Software Movement.
This remarkable anthology reprints Hugo winner Vinge's (The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge) "True Names" (1981), the story that began SF's cyberpunk revolution, with 11 essays showing its effect on science as well as fiction. The best are the testimonials by pioneers in virtual reality, cryptography and artificial intelligence. The most famous contributors, Marvin Minsky and Danny Hillis, also show the deepest understanding of Vinge's vision. The weakest pieces are science-fictional, appearing pale in the shadow of Vinge's story. Fellow SF author John M. Ford's essay is lightweight, while a stunted attempt at storytelling by Richard Stallman quickly reverts to polemic. The overall problem with the collection is its wildly unbalanced political stance. A quarter of the essayists are "crypto-anarchists," who see the ability of individuals to act secretly as the only defense against a totalitarian surveillance state. Their claim that the response to public tragedy is always a call to restrict civil rights seems sadly prescient, but their antisocial antidote sits poorly after September 11; the crypto-anarchists' beloved secrecy lets both terrorists and tyrants flourish. More socially responsible uses of cryptography exist that could, like the camcorder, give the power of surveillance to the people. It's a shame that editor Frenkel didn't seek out alternate voices such as Bruce Sterling or David Gelernter, but the book is still a testament to SF's power to shape the future and give us advance warning of the rocky issues ahead. (Jan. 2) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.