Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

By Ed Finn

Rating: 3 stars

This anthology has an interesting gestation. It came about after Neal Stephenson published an essay called Innovation Starvation and was on a panel with Arizona State University president Michael Crow. Crow challenged Stephenson on his essay and so Project Hieroglyph was born, to create a space where writers and scientists could mingle and share ideas, ideally hopeful ideas for a better future. The first output from this project is this anthology of stories.

Mostly the stories are plausible in a near-ish future, and they tend to have some sort of optimistic thread or conclusion to them, harking back to the Golden Age SF days where the future was a great thing that we wanted to happen, rather than the dystopic dread that so much of modern SF is.

Stephenson’s own contribution, Atmosph√¶ra Incognita kicks the collection off starts as it means to go on, with an entrepreneur deciding to build a tower twenty kilometres high, the challenges and rewards of such a structure. Of all the stories, I think only Lee Konstantinou didn’t get the memo about being optimistic. His Johnny Appledrone vs the FAA has a sort of grimness to it that was missing from the other stories, although I can see a sort of hope in its conclusion.

Highlights included David Brin’s Transition Generation about how technology that is innate and obvious to one generation is difficult and alien to the previous; and Bruce Sterling’s Tall Tower about a guy and his horse who climb the Tall Tower on the way to the Ascended uploaded humans in the stars. This feels very much like a fable and it’s a lovely story that washes over you. Lots of fun.

A decent collection all in all, and each story had URLs at the end linking to discussions and further reading at Project Hieroglyph. I must confess that I didn’t follow many of these, but it’s good that they’re there. (It would have been nice if the links had been shorter though).

Book details

ISBN: 9780062204691
Publisher: William Morrow
Year of publication: 2014

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