Where's My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived
by Daniel H. Wilson
Published by Bloomsbury
93 pages, 2007
Buy it online
From Silly to Serious
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Finally, a book that answers all our questions about the extremely disappointing 21st century. Why don't we have dinner pills? Where's the house robot that takes care of all the boring stuff? And the critical one -- the title question -- where's my personal rocket pack that can zoom me anywhere above the mundane crowd and land me safely at the office?
This seemingly goofy little book from Bloomsbury, with its fancy blue, black and silver cover -- oooh, shiny -- takes a pretty silly topic but supplies some interesting and relatively serious answers. The author (and while I tend to roll my eyes at books where the author's Ph.D. is noted on the cover, Wilson does have the chops. The doctorate is in robotics, after all, from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon.)
What Wilson does in Where's My Jetpack? is take a topic that those of us in the Baby Boomer generation saw in comics, movies, read in novels, watched on television, dreamed of and saw at the Smithsonian or the World's Fair. He explains what exactly it would take for the ideas to become reality and the state of development of about 30 futuristic ideas ranging from underwater cities to space elevators, from teleportation to x-ray specs. He explains that some of these out-of-this-world ideas absolutely do exist. The first one is zeppelins and we've all seen those. But we sure haven't seen artificial gills or teleportation, darn it. And I want that transporter.
Wilson devotes a few pages to each idea, talking about how Superman had x-ray vision and where are we with the development of x-ray specs and that the universal translator we encountered in television shows like Star Trek has been created, in a fashion. He explains some of the complications that go with the dreamed-of technology and leaves you hoping, at least in some areas, that you will see some of these items in your lifetime.
The house-cleaning robot is a reality (and a very cute one too) but right now it's basically a vacuum or a lawn mower. I've seen the ads for "ASIMO" but I gotta say, I'm so dismayed to learn that it's "remotely operated by a person hiding behind a curtain." ASIMO is the Great and Powerful OZ?
The author describes holography and then gives an update on the science and its applications. Sadly in this case it's about advertising right now. But over and over we get told what to expect if or when. Many of the applications are for warfare, which can get big development bucks, but anyone who reads science fiction has read about enormous, self-contained skyscraper cities of the future. Once we wreck the air, apparently, we can still move into safe zones.
So is the future here? It might not look quite like it did on the Jetsons or in the World of Tomorrow exhibit, but vat-grown food and nutrient patches exist or are in development. Moving sidewalks exist, even if they're only in those airports that seem to stretch for endless miles across the wastelands of Denver ... oh, oops ... of some unnamed city. And the same week as I wrote this review came the news that Dr. Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who lives with ALS, got to go up and experience weightlessness, just like certain NASA astronauts, and the occasional billionaire, so the chapter on "Space Vacations" isn't that ludicrous, now is it?
We're not there yet, but we're working on it. The recent announcement of a new kind of alleged non-lethal weapon could be the prototype for a ray gun, if you want to think of it that way. And there are still people out there trying to train dolphins to perform military functions. It's not so ludicrous as we might think. That seems true of a majority of the topics in the book.
For all its gosh-wow appeal, Where's My Jetpack is a little hard on the hands. It's got very stiff covers and paper (and the ends are coated with metallic blue. It really does look very cool, but it's difficult to keep your place and hold it open to find that perfect quote. The illustrations by Richard Horne (also responsible for Robot Uprising) are spot on... and is that Sulu in that unisex jumpsuit?
The only question that Dr. Wilson (the author of the equally silly How to Survive a Robot Uprising. So glad to see that doctorate being used) does not include here is one I'd hoped to see as a fan of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. Soon after we entered the new millennium, Calvin ventured out one day with his faithful tiger companion and was flabbergasted that here we were, smack in the new modern century and he complained "we still have weather!" I would have liked to hear the author explain why we couldn't get rid of the inconvenience of weather (it probably involves underground cities and such, I don't know but I would have welcomed an explanation). As he says to "all the scientists, inventors and tinkerers out there, Please hurry up." | May 2007
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.