Neal Stephenson is a familiar name in sci-fi circles, best known for penning Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, though his body of work includes many other compelling yarns. Saying he has cred when it comes to cyber-related awesome would be an understatement, which is why I’m pumped about Stephenson’s Project Hieroglyph, an attempt to compile a collection of new, quality stories, written in the style of sci-fi’s golden age to “inspire ambitious moonshot solutions to our greatest social, environmental and technological challenges”.
Started in October of last year, Project Hieroglyph’s aim is to publish the best of the gathered works into an anthology, which will be published in the “near future”. The stories themselves will be available online, so you won’t have to chase down a paperback to get your fill.
Stephenson outlines exactly what will be considered as “good SF” on the project’s website:
[It] supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. It has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to a scientist or engineer, and provides them with a template that they and their colleagues can use to organize their work. Examples include Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Clarke towers, and Gibsonian cyberspace.
My eyebrows, in anticipatory excitement, were about as far up on my forehead as they’d go. They were completely out of options once I read the following:
These pieces would all be throwbacks, in a manner of speaking, to 1950’s-style SF, in that they would depict futures in which Big Stuff Got Done. We would avoid hackers, hyperspace and holocausts. The ideal subject matter would be an innovation that a young, modern-day engineer could make substantial progress on during his or her career.
Now that’s what I’m talking about. Old sci-fi was the best sci-fi. None of this “fixing the plasma inducer by reversing the polarity” rubbish. Actual science (or a slightly whimsical version of it for narrative purposes), written so the reader doesn’t have to worry about some whizz-bang, dues ex machina techno solution swooping from the rafters and plucking the suspense right off the page.
I will be watching this website like a hawk. A robot hawk.
Image: Phillip Stewart (modified).