Project Hieroglyph Could Be The Best Thing To Happen To Science Fiction In Over 50 Years

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).

[Project Hieroglyph]


    Right there with you, Logan - this sounds fantastic!

    Really? You equate modern sci-fi with Star Trek scripts? You must be reading the wrong stuff. A lot of the books I read would qualify for this category, I really don't see the point. If Stephenson's last book, Reamde, is anything to go by, it seems he has run out of ideas.

      Yeah, my experience is that the older the scfi the more likely it is to be built on silly notions of future science. Don't get me wrong I'm a huge fan of all era's and genre's of science fiction, but by and large the modern stuff reflects future trends better than older stuff for obvious reasons. AND.... before someone bites my head of, I know that there were a few writers from the early period that did have a good grasp of the future, but they were far and few.

    Sounds like a good idea. ...although I DO like a bit of nonsense adventure SciFi as well, going all the way back to the famous EE Doc Smith and before. It's entertaining stuff.

      In case anyone's interested, EE "Doc" Smith was the guy George Lucas ripped off wholesale for Star Wars. His Lensman series was about a kid raised by his uncle on a farming planet who had no idea that his real parents were Galactic-scale heroes.

      Anyhoo, did anyone see Prophets of Science Fiction on SBS last night? It was interesting, if a little laboured in that Discovery Channel style.

        Love Smith's Lensman series, but your description is not even remotely what it's about. Kimball Kinnison is from Earth (Tellus), his parents are not heroes, never appear in the story and are never even mentioned. He also has no uncle, and if he comes from a farm family, it's never mentioned. He's part of a genetic breeding experiment by the Arisians, who have been breeding humans and other species for two billion years as part of their war against the Boskonians. It's a huge story, with plenty of scope, and you could put every starship ever used or suggested or implied in all of Star Wars (books & movies) into a spaceship battle in Smith's universe and they'd not even be noticed, as million-unit battles for Smith's Galactic Patrol were not uncommon. Classic early space opera, written in an amazingly wooden style, but great fun if you can overlook that a few other pulp-style flaws.

    Great author. Just reading his new book Reamde at the moment. :)

      Yup; Cryptonomicon in particular is a great read

    HG Wells, and no.. not just 'The Time Machine" and "War of the Worlds", was an exceptional author in the sci-fi genre.. not because of the science, of which he did well also, but because of the society stuff he put in there. Good sci-fi, for me, has always had more of a society element to it than just pure, albeit mindblowing, future science.

      Bah... everyone knows H.G. Wells was a woman.

    Do yourselves a favour, get some Asimov short stories. If you do, I promise I will send one of you sultanas,

    I don't know about the "best thing to happen to science fiction in over 50 years" part, but I think I've just read here the sfnal counterpart to John Gardner's "On Moral Fiction"....

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