Group Read 27The Big Book of Science Fiction

Story #62 of 107: “The IWM 1000” by Alicia Yánez Cossío

“The IWM 1000” by Alicia Yánez Cossío is a story from 1975 that imagines a device that answers users’ questions. Think of a talking, portable Google. It’s not much of a story, but it does imagine a lot of interactions that are similar to what we use the internet for today.

Alan Kay imagined the Dynabook in the 1968-1972 era. And science fiction has been imaging machines with knowledge as far back as “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster in 1909. But I knew about neither in 1975, and I doubt I could have thought up the human uses the way Cossio did. Computers, networks, and social networking just didn’t occur to me before they existed. But dang, they sure have changed our lives.

Science fiction writers often imagine cool new machines, but they don’t often imagine how society will be changed by them. I give Cossio credit for that kind of thinking. Unfortunately, she’s not much of a storyteller here. This “story” is very close to an essay.

I wish I had an AI that knew of all books, magazines, journals, newspapers, diaries, internet threads, etc., and could tell me how certain science-fictional ideas evolved. On the other hand, that’s what I wish I could do myself — have all knowledge so I could see the currents of ideas ripple through history.

I’ve gotten behind with our group discussions of the stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction. I got distracted by reading the current issues of Analog and Asimov’s. Comparing the old SF stories with the new is quite a contrast. Forty-six years makes a big difference. 2021 is the future for the writers of 1975. We don’t have an IVM 1000, but we have things somewhat like it, and we use those things somewhat like she imagined. While I’m reading 2022 SF stories, I’ll have to think about what SF writers are imagining for 46 years into our future.

I also need to imagine what a future person like me will be, one who reads and thinks about science fiction. Will blogging exist in 2066? And if civilization collapses by then from climate change, mass extinctions, overwhelming pollution, and disappearing resources, will we still be reading science fiction? At my other blog, I wrote about reading in a post-doom world. In such a scenario, will we stop dreaming about the future, and fixate on the past?

James Wallace Harris, 12/24/21

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