Tomorrow Happens, David Brin

NESFA, 2003, 219 pages, US$25.00 hc, ISBN 1-886778-43-4

Most people tend to roll their eyes and make little “crazy!” hand/head signals when you tell them that much of your philosophy comes from reading science-fiction. That’s all right; they themselves don’t realize how poorer their lives are without a healthy dose of Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. I myself would be tempted to add David Brin to my list of intellectual influences, regardless of the nasty glares this may earn me.

There’s a reason why “philosophy” is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Tomorrow Happens. Brin’s work proudly promotes a number of ideas that, taken together, could be branded as “techno-optimism”. Loosely summarized, Brin’s message is that things are getting better, humans learn from their mistakes and the future is likely to be even more wonderful than the present, even as the present is far more wonderful than the past. (Anyone who wishes to dispute this last assertion is welcome to go spend some time in a century without anaesthesia and proper dental care.)

Given that Tomorrow Happens is a collection of Brin’s fiction and essays, it naturally takes the form of a book-length discussion of Brin’s natural areas of interest. Much like his previous collection Otherness, Tomorrow Happens contains both provocative essays (such as “Do we really want immortality?”) and short stories on roughly the same themes. It’s a bit exhausting if read in rapid succession, but it’s a darn good immersion in Brin’s thought-space.

The Jim Burns cover, reminiscent of his own classic illustration for Brin’s Startide Rising, suggests a strong similarity to the “Uplift” novels, and so few will be surprised to find out that the opening piece of the book, “Aficionado”, is an early prequel to the “Uplift” series. Such links are not uncommon, of course. As suggested above, Tomorrow Happens feels a lot like Otherness, and Brin’s ideas are common to his entire oeuvre. Some essays prefigure ideas what he would explore in books like The Transparent Society or even the Hugo-nominated novel Kiln People.

David Brin has made a number of, er, un-friends in the SF field, mostly thanks to the same character traits that make Tomorrow Happens such a joy to read for his fans: He is unbelievable self-confident, playful with his ideas yet utterly unshakable in his themes. He often returns time and time again to the same topics and he’s never above a truckload of lousy puns. His style is clear and direct like few others: it’s hard not to feel the joy of his mindset through the words he sets down. Taken together, the stories and essays show why he inherited Larry Niven’s reputation as the SF writer having the most fun with the ideas, themes and possibilities not just of science-fiction, but the whole future.

Tomorrow Happens is an oddball book, once that may not have been published if it wasn’t for the efforts of NESFA press, the dedicated small-scale publisher run by the same group of Boston-area fans responsible for such fine things as the Boskone and Norseacon4 conventions. The book itself is indistinguishable from the works of bigger publishers (as it should be!) and is cleverly tuned to what Brin fans expect from his work. A fine, fine book, and one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone with an interest is Science Fiction as the herald of a bright future.

I know that Brin’s techno-optimism may not resonate well with some of the most mentally down-trodden members of today’s society. But that’s exactly why Brin is so important and often so right. The present is better than the past. The Future will be better than the present. There is a lovely implicit challenge in this book’s title: Tomorrow happens; what are going to do about it? Tomorrow happens, are you ready?

Hell yeah. And I like to think that writer/philosophers like David Brin are part of the reason why I look forward to what will happen tomorrow.

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