On The Future by Martin Rees

Last night, I finished reading Martin Rees‘ book On The Future: Prospects for Humanity. Before I get into a rundown of the book, some background is needed here.

This book’s title caught my eye because of a recent interest, for personal storytelling purposes, in learning more about the science behind future humans, or the future of human evolution.

If you’ve been here a little while, you know that the fiction of James S.A. Corey is a huge influence on my view of scifi writing and what it could/should be. One of the areas that I think they excel in is the indirect study of humanity’s future evolution into, more or less, four different strains due to space travel and the settlement of planetary and space station based colonies.

During my graduate studies at the University of Missouri, St Louis (UMSL), I encountered the area of literary criticism known as Literary Darwinism and one of its chief advocates, Joseph Carroll. A quick oversimplified description of the field is it uses evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology, with a focus on gene-culture co-evolution, to study the motivations behind character actions in literature.

Rees’ book carried praise quotes from Edward O. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist, and Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist. In the field of Literary Darwinism, these are probably the single two most referenced authorities after Dr Carroll. And that is how the book ended up in my hands.

Rees offers some interesting insights into what he believes the future might hold for humanity. While not as pessimistic on artificial intelligence and alien contact as his University of Cambridge colleague, Stephen Hawking, Rees remains cautiously optimistic in his approach.

Unfortunately, Rees’ look into future human evolution gets somewhat lost between an almost obsessive view of posthumans in the forms of technology-enhanced human cyborgs and computer-based human uploads and a concern for human-driven climate change that overrides most of the books other discussions.

While Rees’ book didn’t meet my own storytelling goals, I think there’s still a lot to digest for others. Cyberpunk and Post Cyberpunk readers and writers will definitely find a lot of background to populate future stories. Writers with AI characters will also find some scientific source material here. For the Literary Darwinism academics, this definitely belongs on the bookshelf for future reference.

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