Beta-Life: Stories from an A-Life Future is a collection of stories written by authors collaborating with scientist consultants in leading research areas of artificial life, future technology and unconventional computing. All the stories in the collection are set in or around 2070. I was delighted to contribute a story, 'The Bactogarden', working closely with my fantastic consultant Prof. Martyn Amos.
Now I finally have my hands on a copy, it is fascinating to see how other writers have taken on the project, particularly their perception of the world in 2070. It is intriguing how certain things recur in the stories (quinoa, video walls, climate refugees...) Perhaps we've all been watching the same SF/ futuristic films or have somehow synchronised our google research paths. But predicting the future and keeping it in hand through a narrative was something I found delightfully challenging with this project. Perhaps that is why I particularly admire Martyn Bedford's story, 'The Sayer of the Sooth' which not only creates a very convincing portrayal of the world in 2070, but also riffs against it in a self-aware primary narrative, the story effectively folding back on itself. It is hugely inventive, without compromising the grit of the central story. I also love Claire Dean's story 'Making Sandcastles' which explores human issues around personal fabricating technology, and Zoe Lambert's story 'Keynote' which deals with collective consciousness. Adam Marek's story 'Growing Skyscrapers' is another of my favourites so far in the collection, imagining a world where high rise buildings are grown organically, like trees.
At times during this process, trying to imagine the world in 60 years time has left me blundering dangerously close to something that resembled the Jetsons, and eventually coming to the conclusion, with the brilliant editorial support of Ra Page and consultant Martyn Amos, that in many ways things won't be that different to now; ultimately humans are humans are humans... regardless of location, situation, technology advances or time frame. We have the same motivations, desires and drives. Predicting what the future looks like is tricky. I recently remembered an episode of that dire 70's sitcom Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em where Frank and Betty are staying in a futuristic house belonging to Betty's brother. It's all sliding doors, retracting TV screens and hammy rotating storage. Predictably, with Frank around, chaos ensues. The technological advances were, clearly, less predictable - and laughable now. In 2070, I will be 90 years old. I wonder if I will look back on the stories in the Beta-Life collection in my old age and smile to myself about the bits we got so right, and perhaps others that were a little shy of the mark. Although in reading the admirable stories from other writers in this collection, I am even more convinced that it is less about trying to make wholesale predictions about the future and so much more about dreaming the possibilities within a solid grounding of scientific truth.
Beta-Life launched as part of the Manchester Science Festival. See here for more details.
See here to purchase a copy of Beta-Life.