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, Atmosphæra 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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