Saturday, February 6, 2010

Year Million, ed by Damien Broderick, a review.

Hi all,

I've finally gotten around to reviewing the non-fiction book Year Million edited by Damien Broderick.

Damien Broderick is one of Australia's more prolific writers. I've enjoyed a number of his novels and thought his short story collection The Dark Between the Stars the best single author science fiction collection that I've read, but it was his non-fiction book The Spike that had a big effect on my thinking about the future: humanity might survive after all with the technology singularity of the Spike saving us from ourselves.

The Year Million is a collection a essays from scientists about what they think humanity might be like approaching the year million. Some of the scientists are also science fiction writers. None of them thought we would be extinct, which would have made for a shorter book, but Gregory Benford did point out that protons would decay in 10 to the power of 34 years.

As a science fiction writer, I had hoped that I would glean some ideas for future stories from the book's 14 essays, this didn't really turn out to be the case, but perhaps one day I will write a story where virtual lifeforms try to escape from a collapsing Dyson Sphere (a computer that surrounds a star). In his essay, Robert Bradbury thinks giant computers or Matrioskha Brains attached to solar sails and orbiting stars would be far safer than Dyson Spheres; so our future might involve living as virtual entities in virtual worlds contained in Matrioskha Brains. Not according to Rudy Rucker who says that creating a virtual world with all the randomness of the real world would require all the resources of a real world and more.

Jim Holt questions whether SETI research is on the right track in sending out mathematical signals containing prime numbers, as more evolved civilisations might find prime numbers and the maths revolving around them overly simplistic and ignore such messages.

Robin Hanson's essay is about the rush to colonise space as various groups compete for new resources. He says that people who colonise a planet and decide to stay put will fall behind in the technology stakes.

Some of what the other authors had to say had been covered in the above mentioned The Spike and The Last Mortal Generation, also written by Damien Broderick, so their ideas did not stand out as something memorable and new to me.

I would suggest that Year Million not be read just before bed, when tiredness can cause some of the technical aspects of some of the essays to be confusing. My scientific education ends at year 12 physics and I did find some sections of a few of the essays hard to understand.

Overall, I felt a bit disappointed with the book as I wanted a more tangible picture of what they thought a day in the life of an entity might be like in a million years time.



Ninja said...

I picked up Year Million a little while ago after reading The Spike.
Been sitting on the short list for awhile as I still haven't gotten around to reading it, though I've had the occasional flick through it to gauge the general topics and timeframes they're talking about.
Wasn't really expecting a day-in-the-life of, so I don't think I'll be disappointed there.
Still looking forward to reading it. Someday :-)

Anonymous said...

Robin Hanson is not a she.

Graham Clements said...

I've just changed Robin Hanson back to the correct gender.

AnthonyjLangford said...

Sounds fascinating.. i dont seem to read my sci fi anymore but this sounds like it might be worthwhile