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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Soonish, a book about science making things better and/or worse

By Phil Plait

[tl;dr: Pre-order this book now or face a life of eternal regrets.]

I occasionally am asked to participate on panels or interviews about the future of science and technology. What big discovery will be next? What technology is coming? Where will we be in 50 years?

Not being a fool, I decline such offers. Why? Because no one knows what the answers are, and moreover no one has any idea what the answers are. The only time futurists are right is by coincidence*.

Which brings me to the book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything, written by Zach and Kelly Weinersmith (available for pre-order now before its October 17th release). Kelly is a professional biologist who studies how parasites can change the behavior of the hosts (the main reason I never accept food from her), and Zach draws the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic.

Zach and Kelly aren’t fools, either, which is why they took a different angle on this book. They look at 10 newish technologies and see 1) if they’re plausible, and b) what kind of effect they could have on society and science. This way, they aren’t culpable if the tech doesn’t pan out, and, I’m sure more importantly, they won’t get sued.

This book is both extremely funny and extremely interesting. I laughed a lot while reading it, even as I learned things. To be fair, not only am I quoted in the book, I also wrote a blurb for it (“I love this book so much I 3D printed myself a second heart so I could love it more.”)††. I also was a science consultant on the first two chapters, dealing with space elevators and asteroid mining.

Despite that, those chapters are interesting and highly amusing. I mean, seriously, if you like SMBC (and you’d better) you’ll like this book. Zach and Kelly went to great lengths to interview a lot of very smart people who are doing research and creating technology that most certainly will have profound effects on humanity, even if in difficult-to-predict ways (which didn’t stop Zach from making a lot of illustrations about these timelines, as well as many about the reactions of the scientists to some of their odder questions).

Bio for Zach and Kelly

Have you ever wondered if we could have precision medicine? Or 3D print meat? Or what would really happen if you could connect your brain to a computer via some sort of super-advanced HDMI cable (one possible answer: you might have to travel into the fourth dimension)? Each chapter goes into some serious depth about the tech involved, informed by both the brilliance and silliness of the two authors.

If you have even a passing familiarity with Zach and Kelly then you already know you want this book. And if you don’t, then I have good news for you: You get to find their stuff for the first time. So do yourself a favor and pre-order this book.

And if you don’t like it, hey, don’t blame me. I can’t predict the future.

* Beware the Texas sharpshooter fallacy!

Full disclosure: Zach and Kelly are friends of mine. In fact, Zach and I wrote a book together called 2^7 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect, which is a collection of 128 intellectual insults (it comes with an appendix explaining them all). Zach has also drawn me a few times in his comic, generally speaking planning some nefarious activity (and, for some reason, this exists). This should give you an idea of our level of mutual respect.

†† Zach drew an SMBC comic about the book, and the last panel is in no way indiciative of how they actually got me to write the blurb, or indiciative of my present state:

Phil Plait on SMBC