In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.
One of the most difficult types of science fiction to write is a tale set in the immediate future, since it involves attempting to see what things will be like right around the corner from the present day. While broad trends might meet expectations, specific events are harder to guess at. Over the past decades, technological innovations have been especially difficult to extrapolate, with some expected breakthroughs stalling out, and others coming from seemingly out of nowhere. I recently ran across a Spider Robinson book that predicted a technology allowing direct stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain. As you might expect, that turns out to be anything but a boon for mankind. I decided to see how well the book has held up in the decades since it was written in 1982. So, let’s examine how the author did in creating his predictions for Mindkiller, a tale that takes place in the mid- to late-1990s.