‘This book is written by futurists, who are looking into the near future and trying to see what our lives will be like then. In so doing, they may actually change the future. For if people don’t like what the future may hold if things continue as they are, they can take measures now that will change that future, and then create one they would find more attractive.

‘And that might be a good thing.’

Isaac Asimov

What sort of world will our children grow up in? In a time of accelerating change we want and need signposts. Past predictions of doom have so far proved false. The world has not yet ended and 1984 was a far cry from the nightmare imagined by Orwell. But the potential for disaster is still with us.

We are in the midst of an ‘information revolution’—whose impact has been comapred with the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution—that has provided the technological bases for surveillance adn repression on a near-Orwellian scale. And that revolution is far from complete. Can these vast new controlling powers be harnessed as a force for good rather than evil?

Quite apart from the threat to our individual liberties, our very survival as a species may be at risk—from the ever present danger of nuclear war, and in the long term from the ecological damage being done to our planet. Will things be different in the year 2000? Or shall we continue down the same self-destructive road, turning forests into deserts, polluting rivers and oceans, and destroying the ozone layer that shields us from the sun’s radiation?

What of the countries afflicted by starvation and disease? Will their prospects improve or will the gulf between the haves and the have-nots grow even wider? And what of the political conflict between East and West—the backdrop against which so many Third World human tragedies take place? How will things turn out, and what, if anything, can be done to curb undesirable trends or to prevent major catastrophes from overtaking the human race?

Living in the Future tackles these different but related issues head-on. Written in straightforward layman’s language, it takes a penetrating look at our future prospects—ranging from the global and political, through the effects of science and technology on our social and economic structures, to the implications for every individual—basing its conclusions on sound scientific and practical evidence. Copious illustrations reveal the surprising nature of the changes taking place, both at large and in the lifestyles of ordinary people. We see the forms of transport which may be used to overcome the energy crisis, the trend in medicine towards prevention rather than cure, and the changing roles of men and women and, indeed, of the whole family.

The distinguished panel of contributors is headed by Professor Isaac Asimov. Each essay is entirely self-contained. Although many diverse views emerge as a result, there is a broad degress of consensus between authors writing from very different perspectives. There are many possible futures. The overall message of the book is one of cautious optimism, summed up by Raymond Williams in his concluding essay. Essentially it is we who make the future, and it is up to all of us to get it right. By charting our present course and defining the issues, this informative and timely book enables us to exercise choice. We ourselves shall determine the shape of things to come.

This book is absolutely unique in the entire Asimov corpus—it’s the only anthology of non-fiction edited under his name, edited in the sense that it’s a series of articles by different authors collected and assembled by the Good Doctor.

(Personally, I don’t think his actual involvement was that extensive. Most of the leg-work of choosing authors, needling them to meet their commitments, and so on, was probably done by the publisher. Asimov’s duties seem to be limited largely to writing headnotes and so on—but he still counted it.)

The book is about the current state of mankind and the world we live on, and such reminds one of Earth: Our Crowded Spaceship and Our Angry Earth. With a cautionary article at the beginning by one Bruce Page on just how unreliable predictions of the future can be and generally are, we are taken on a detailed examination of how our world has been changing and how it will continue to change.

The coverage is thorough: environmental, population, governmental, political, and sociological issues are all covered. It is definitely written from a left-of-center perspective, and more conservative readers might find themselves disagreeing with the positions the authors take regarding issues such as population control, the ozone layer, the future of the family, the death penalty, and so on.

The articles, however, are nonetheless all very good (and surprisingly readable, too). There’s a lot of information they present, and a lot the reader is left to think about. Although the book is nearly three decades old and issues such as the continued spread of AIDS and the rise of the Internet, or events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union would alter some of the texts, they are still largely relevant and interesting.

With Asimov’s own contribution minimal, one is tempted to rate the book fairly low so far as the Asimov fan is concerned—but that would be unfair. The book is not Asimov’s in writings, but it definitely reflects his world-view and perspective in greater detail and to greater depth than his own books on the subject such as Earth: Our Crowded Spaceship. This book is an accurate reflection of his attitudes on a number of issues, and by reading it the Asimov fan can get a better understanding of the Good Doctor’s feelings on the world we live in and how we ought to treat it.

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