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David Brin: Writing the future

Updated on September 16, 2014

David Brin, science fiction author

How will advances in technology shape our future? With his far-reaching imagination, David Brin's novels present unforgettable visions of possible tomorrows. A scientist, science fiction author, and public speaker, David Brin's speculations about the future provide insight into how we will cope with the changes provoked by technology and science. David also writes and speaks passionately about issues such as space exploration, privacy and secrecy.

David Brin's award-winning novels include The Postman (made into a movie by Kevin Costner), Startide Rising, The Uplift War, and Kiln People. Brin is best known for his space epics, with multiple viewpoints following interweaving story lines. The Uplift series portrays humanity's desperate struggle for survival in a dangerous universe ruled by technologically advanced alien races.

Foundation's Triumph was written as a conclusion to Isaac Asimov's famed Foundation series, bringing the storyline to a stirring ending. David's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society discusses tradeoffs between privacy and accountability.

I earn my living as a writer. In other words, as a magician, shaman, metaphorist. By chant and incantation, I create images, characters, alternate realities in other minds. It is an ancient venerable profession. All tribes have had storytellers, who wove legends round the campfire. My specialty involves epics not about long ago, but times and places yet to come. It attempts to weave realistic might-bes and vivid might have-beens. Above all, it is the literature of change. --David Brin

Startide Rising won the 1983 Hugo, Locus and Nebua Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel. The Terran exploration vessel, Streaker, crewed by humans and uplifted dolphins, has discovred a derelict fleet of 50,000 ancient starships in a shallow cluster. Streaker removes artifacts, bearing witness of the famed Progenitors, the first race to uplift species. In a rush to hide from battling alien armadas, Streaker crashes on the uncharted water world of Kithrup. There the crew must quench a mutiny, while undertaking repairs, and escape the powerful alien crafts who seek her secret. Published in 1983.

David Brin Quotes

"Change is the principal feature of our age and literature should explore how people deal with it. The best science fiction does that, head-on. "

"It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power."

"Criticism is the only known antidote to error. "

"Why must conversions always come so late? Why do people always apologize to corpses?"

Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series is a classic of Science Fiction. The Asimov Estate commissioned three science fiction authors to tie up the loose ends in Asimov's series. In Foundation's Triumph, David Brin completes the trilogy written by Greg Bear and Gregory Benford -- bringing it to a stirring action-packed conclusion.

The Road to the Future

It's too easy to lapse into negativity/pessimism when considering the problems we face: war, political instability, economic trouble, global warming. Indeed, vast inequalities of wealth exist across the globe. Technology must be pat of the solution. We must develop innovative problem-solving skills to face the complex world of the future -- and to raise standards of living across the world. For the first time, the entire world community is able to communicate -- across borders and nationalities -- to share strategies and seek solutions.

How do we face threats of the Future?

Every generation had legends of a coming downfall. Whether you call it The End Times, Armageddon, Apocalypse, Doomsday, Ragnorak, The Population Bomb....we've long been fascinated by prophecies of devastation and doom. David Brin explores the concepts and facts behind end-of-the-world tales, and how modern civilization can start limiting the risk.

As an author, it's not my job to be right..It's my job to find things that are being overlooked; things that are plausible.

-- David Brin

How Science shapes David's books

David attended Caltech, then earned his Masters in Electrical Engineering, studying optics. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Astrophysics at UCSD, doing research on the physical composition of comets. This research shaped his novel, Heart of the Comet, which he co-wrote with Gregory Benford. David then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Space Institute, analyzing how the space shuttle's external tank could be re-used in orbit, as ecological life support. This research is reflected in his short story, Tank Farm Dynamo, found in his collection, The River of Time.

David comments, "There's no doubt that scientific training helps many authors to write better science fiction. And yet, several of the very best were English majors who could not parse a differential equation to save their lives."

In other words, he really is a rocket scientist! David draws upon his technical background to give his books an air of realism, coupled with a dramatic flair. David's technical papers cover a range of topics, from astronomy and optics to SETI and human evolution. His firm grasp of physical concepts is apparent in his books, such as Sundiver and Earth. In "Twentieth Century Science Ficiton Writers", Donald L. Lawlor claims that Brin writes in “the Verne Tradition, which emphasizes the quest/adventure potentials of scientific technology.”

David travels frequently to speak on how technology shapes our future. He also does technical consulting for corporations and government., on issues such as homeland security, national defense, SETI and nanotechnology. David appears frequently on radio and TV, including episodes of "The Universe" and on the History Channel's "Life After People." He also was a regular cast member on "The ArciTECHS."

David Brin speaks about Privacy and Secrecy

How do we keep privacy and empower citizens when cameras become smaller and proliferate daily? On the tenth anniversary of the release of "The Transparent Society: Will Technology force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom," author David Brin discusses issues of transparency and accountability in an age of increasing surveillance.

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else. -- David Brin

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?

David Brin takes some of our worst notions about threats to privacy and sets them on their ears. According to Brin, there is no turning back the growth of public observation and inevitable loss of privacy--at least outside of our own homes. Too many of our transactions are already monitored: Brin asserts that cameras used to observe and reduce crime in public areas have been successful and are on the rise. There's even talk of bringing in microphones to augment the cameras. Brin has no doubt that it's only a matter of time before they're installed in numbers to cover every urban area in every developed nation.

 

David Brin on Space Exploration

Space exploration has more than paid for itself in terms of spin-offs that have enhanced our everyday life. Consider the revolution in computers, GPS technology, weather satellites, water purification, solar panels and fuel cells, just to name a few.

Earth: a remarkable look at the near future

David Brin's Earth is a prophetic vision of the near future. Set in the year 2038, it is a cautionary story of the harm that may befall our planet's environment, and of science experiments gone awry. Most remarkable is the fact that Brin's book made a large number of predictions that hit the mark. It foretold an early version of the World Wide Web as well as email spam. It predicted the advent of global warming, and described levees breaking along the Mississippi river. It described artificially created black holes, the use of subvocal input devices, predictions registries, disputation arenas, and laser bug zappers, among others. For a more complete tally of the predictions made in this book, see the links below:

Weighing the future: how do predictions pan out?

Some of the predictions from David's novels include the citizens using personal cameras to record news footage, eyeglass cameras, and privacy as a vanishing commodity. He also described rising sea levels and the use of dirigibles for mass transporation. We have yet to see a Helvetian War against Switzerland to open the secret banking accounts....

Earth
Earth

it's fifty years in the future. A microscopic black hole has accidentally fallen into the Earth's core and the entire planet is in danger of being destroyed within two years. A team of scientists frantically searches for a way to prevent the ultimate disaster. But while they look for an answer, others argue that the only way to save the Earth is to let its human inhabitants become extinct: to let the million-year evolutionary clock rewind and start over.

 

David Brin at the Rodin Museum in Paris

August 2010

The Postman: a post-apocalyptic vision

"The Postman was written as an answer to all those post-apocalyptic books and films that seem to revel in the idea of civilization's fall. It's a story about how much we take for granted -- and how desperately we would miss the little, gracious things that connect us today. It is a story about the last idealist in a fallen America. A man who cannot let go of a dream we all once shared. Who sparks restored faith that we can recover, and perhaps even become better than we were. It would take a special kind of actor to play the lead role -- a ragged survivor, deeply scarred, yet still willing to hope. In this era of cynicism, we need reminders of the decency that lies within." -- David Brin

Here is a cut from Kevin Costner's movie, The Postman, based loosely upon David Brin's book. However, the book is much better!

David Brin on the set during filming of The Postman. This scene took place in an open pit copper mine near Tucson, Arizona. David is standing, with his young son, with actors portraying the Holnists.

The Postman
The Postman

Set after a major war has destroyed much of America, leaving behind isolated towns, Gordon Krantz seeks shelter in an abandoned postal van, and dons the mail carrier's uniform for warmth. Finding a bag of letters, he takes them to the next town in exchange for food. Without realizing his role, he delivers hope to isolated communities. This book is infinitely better than Kevin Costner's movie.

 
The Postman
The Postman

Costner stars as a charismatic drifter-turned-hero who leads the resistance against a military tyrant (Will Patton) by reviving the long-dormant postal system to reunite isolated communities in their fight for freedom. The cinemetography is gorgeous.

 

We live in an Enlightenment civilization that is boldly trying to go where no one has gone before.

-- David Brin

One Minute Review of Kiln People

David's novel Kiln People is a fast-moving and fun noir detective story, set in a future when new technology enables people to physically be in more than two places at once -- by making copies of themselves which last but one day.

Kiln People (The Kiln Books)
Kiln People (The Kiln Books)

n this sci-fi-meets-noir novel, this wish has come true. In Brin's imagined future, folks are able to make inexpensive, disposable clay copies of themselves. These golems or "dittos" live for a single day to serve their creator, who can then choose whether or not to "inload" the memories of the ditto's brief life. But private investigator Albert Morris gets more than he, or his "ditective" copies, bargain for when he signs on to help solve the mysterious disappearance of Universal Kilns' co-founder Yasil Maharal--the father of dittotech.

 

Heaven's Reach is the most recent addition to David Brin's Uplift Series.

David Brin's Uplift Universe

David's science fictional Uplift Universe explores a future when humans genetically engineer higher animals like dolphins to become equal members of our civilization. Older spacefaring races bring new species into the Galactic culture, through breeding and genetic engineering. The resulting client species serves its patron for a period of induture to pay for this favor. Humans alone, seem to have uplifted themselves, as well as bringing dolphins and chimpanzees into the fold.

Sundiver, Startide Rising, the Uplift War were the first novels in this series, followed by a second trilogy that includes Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach.

A look at David Brin's Uplift Universe

David Brin discusses Brightness Reef, the first novel of his new Uplift trilogy -- which follow the adventures of his award-winning books, Startide Rising and The Uplift War. Brightness Reef takes us to a new galaxy, where humans struggle to find their place in the galactic civilization. The planet Jijo has been set off limits for colonization, but refugees escaping persecution have founded colonies in secret. When a starship crashes on Jijo, bringing a mysterious visitor, their fragile society is threatened.

David Brin's Uplift Series

Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, Book 2)
Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, Book 2)

This Hugo and Nebula award winning novel, set in the Uplift Universe, shows the struggles of humans and dolphins to survive in a dangerous universe. The Terran spaceship Streaker - crewed by uplifted dolphins and humans - discovers a derelict fleet of ancient spaceships in a shallow cluster. They appear to belong to the Progenitors, the legendary "first race" which uplifted the other species......

 
The Uplift War (The Uplift Saga, Book 3)
The Uplift War (The Uplift Saga, Book 3)

Billions of years ago, an alien race known as the Progenitors began the genetically engineered techniques by which non-intelligent creatures are given intelligence by one of the higher races in the galaxy. Once "Uplifted," these creature must serve their patron race before they, in turn, can Uplift other races. Human intelligence, which developed by itself (and brought about the Uplifting of chimpanzees and dolphins), is an affront to the aliens who plan an attack, threatening a human experiment aimed at producing the next Uplift. Such is the premise of this novel, which won the 1988 Hugo Award.

 
Brightness Reef (The Uplift Trilogy, Book 1)
Brightness Reef (The Uplift Trilogy, Book 1)

Millennia ago the Five Galaxies decreed the planet Jijo off limits. But in the last thousand years six races have begun resettling Jijo, embracing a pre-industrial life to hide their existence from the Galactics. Overcoming their differences, the Six have built a society based on mutual tolerance for one another and respect for the planet they live on. But that has all changed with an event the Six have feared for hundreds of years: the arrival of an outside ship. Author David Brin has returned to his popular Uplift universe in this, the first book of a new trilogy.

 
Heaven's Reach (The Second Uplift Trilogy #3)
Heaven's Reach (The Second Uplift Trilogy #3)

The final volume of the Uplift Trilogy chronicles the adventures of a handful of primitives from the planet Jijo who have left or been taken from their homes only to be swept into the intrigues of galactic politics. The novel also continues the story of the fugitive Earth starship Streaker, pursued across the galaxy for its precious cargo of ancient artifacts.

 

A list of David Brin's books & awards

  • Sundiver,Bantam Books 1980
  • Startide Rising, Bantam 1983. WINNER: Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards for best novel
  • The Practice Effect, Bantam 1984
  • The Postman, Bantam 1985. NOMINEE: 1986 Nebula & Hugo Awards; WINNER: Locus & John W. Campbell Awards. American Library Assoc. "best" for young adults. Kevin Costner film 1997.
  • Heart of the Comet, Bantam (with Gregory Benford), 1986.
  • The River of Time, (short story collection) Bantam 1987
  • The Uplift War, Bantam 1987. NY Times Bestseller, Winner HUGO and LOCUS Awards 1988. Nebula nominee.
  • Earth, Bantam Spectra 1990. NOMINEE 1991 Hugo award for best novel (runner-up). NY Times Bestseller.
  • Glory Season, Bantam Spectra (hc), 1993. NOMINEE 1994 Hugo award for best novel.
  • Otherness, Bantam Spectra 1994. Story-essay collection. WINNER: LOCUS Award for Best collection, 1995.
  • Brightness Reef, Bantam Spectra 1995. NOMINEE 1996 Hugo award for best novel.
  • Infinity's Shore, Bantam Spectra 1996. Premio Italia: Best International Novel 2001.
  • Heaven's Reach, Bantam Spectra 1998.
  • Foundation's Triumph, (final book in Asimov 'foundation' series) Harper-Collins 1999.
  • Kiln People, Tor Books 2002. NOMINEE: Hugo Award (2nd place)
  • Contacting Aliens: Illustrated Guide to David Brin's Uplift Universe, with Kevin Lenagh, Bantam 2002.
  • The Life Eaters, DC Comics Hardcover 2004.
  • Sky Horizon, Subterranean Press 2007. WINNER: Hal Clement Award for best science fiction novel for young adult readers, 2008.
  • Through Stranger Eyes, a collection of book reviews, introductions and essays on popular culture
  • The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, 1998. Perseus Books. Winner: Obeler Freedom of Speech award.

A David Brin short story: The Giving Plague

You think you're going to get me, don't you? Well, you've got another think coming, 'cause I'm ready for you.

That's why there's a forged a card in my wallet saying my blood group is AB negative, and a MedicAlert tag warning that I'm allergic to penicillin, aspirin, and phenylalanine. Another one states that I'm a practicing, devout Christian Scientist. All these tricks ought to slow you down when the time comes, as it's sure to, sometime soon.

Even if it makes the difference between living and dying, there's just no way I'll let anyone stick a transfusion needle into my arm. Never. Not with the blood supply in the state it's in.

And anyway, I've got antibodies. So you just stay the hell away from me, ALAS. I won't be your patsy. I won't be your vector.

I know your weaknesses, you see. You're a fragile, if subtle devil. Unlike TARP, you can't bear exposure to air or heat or cold or acid or alkali. Blood to blood, that's your only route. And what need had you of any other? You thought you'd evolved the perfect technique, didn't you?

What was it Leslie Adgeson called you? The perfect master? The paragon of viruses?

I remember long ago when HIV, the AIDS virus, had everyone so awed with its subtlety of lethal design. But compared with you, HIV is just a crude butcher. A maniac with a chainsaw, a blunderer that kills its hosts and relies for transmission on habits humans can, with effort, get under control. Oh, old HIV had its tricks, but compared with you? An amateur!

Rhinoviruses and flu are clever, too. They're profligate, and they mutate rapidly. Long ago they learned how to make their hosts drip and wheeze and sneeze, so the victims spread the misery in all directions. Flu viruses are also a lot smarter than AIDS 'cause they don't generally kill their hosts, just make 'em miserable while they hack and spray and inflict fresh infections on their neighbors.

Oh, Les Adgeson was always accusing me of anthropomorphizing our subjects. Whenever he came into my part of the lab, and found me cursing some damned intransigent leucophage in rich, Tex-Mex invective, he'd react predictably. I can just picture him now, raising one eyebrow, commenting dryly in his Winchester accent.

"The virus cannot hear you, Forry. It isn't sentient, nor even alive, strictly speaking. It's only a packet of genes in a protein case, after all."

"Yeah, Les," I'd answer. "But selfish genes! Given half a chance, they'll take over a human cell, force it to make armies of new viruses, then burst it apart as they escape to attack others. They may not think. All that behavior may have evolved by blind chance. But doesn't it all feel as if it's planned? As if the nasty little things were guided, somehow, by somebody out to make us miserable...? Out to make us die?

continue reading at: http://www.davidbrin.com/givingplague.htm

This story appears in David's short story collection, Otherness.

Otherness
Otherness

In his latest collection of short fiction, essays, and insightful commentaries on both, Brin defines the term otherness as the currently popular relativistic dogma that other points of view are just as important as our own. Using this conception as a loosely organizing theme, Brin assembles some of his finest recent work, from "Shhh," a wryly original tale about alien first contact in which humans may hold a secret edge on their otherwise overwhelmingly superior visitors, to a skeptical critique of reports of extraterrestrial abductions.

 

Change is the very fabric of our time.

-- David Brin

David Brin Presents: - So You Want to Write; One Author's Perspective

What does it take to succeed as an author? David Brin offers advice to aspiring writers, on the importance of story-telling, and how to seek feedback to improve the quality of their work.

David Brin books on Amazon

Glory Season
Glory Season

Glory Season presents a world settled by radical feminist separatists. Genetic engineering enables reproduction to occur parthenogenetically, yielding clones of the mothers. On Stratos, skill-specialized clone clans dominate society.....

 
Foundation's Triumph (Second Foundation Trilogy)
Foundation's Triumph (Second Foundation Trilogy)

David Brin continues Isaac Asimov's visionary Foundation series with psychohistorian Hari Seldon charting the best course for humanity's future, after the fall of the Galactic Empire.

 
The Life Eaters
The Life Eaters

A beautifully-illustrated hardcover graphic novel The Life Eaters explored alternate outcomes to WWII, winning nominations and high praise .

 
Heart of the Comet
Heart of the Comet

Co-written with Gregory Benford, Heart of the Comet details the ambitious expedition to a comet -- where they discover a deadly viral lifeform that decimates the crew.

 

A collection of David's essays and reviews

Through Stranger Eyes: Reviews, Introductions, Tributes & Iconoclastic Essays
Through Stranger Eyes: Reviews, Introductions, Tributes & Iconoclastic Essays

rom bestselling author David Brin comes a collected work that takes the reader on a swooping, controversial ride through worlds of fiction, nonfiction and film. Through Stranger Eyes is a freedom-of-expression free-for-all, offering more than two dozen reviews and commentaries that are sure to enlighten and entertain, possibly infuriate, even make you laugh.

 

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