Alaric Thain was born in the 21st century, but due to having traveled extensively at relativistic speeds, came back to Earth in the 29th century. ALARIC THAIN’S HISTORY OF THE 21st CENTURY is a brilliant look at our world–its history, sociology, politics, and economy–as translated for genuine outsiders, our descendants of the 29th century. Their world is a post-scarcity economy, where fusion energy and matter transmutation can provide any material good on command, free of cost, and where a powerful, sentient, and benevolent artificial intelligence called Artie can provide people with almost any information they require, with complete accuracy and truthfulness (for Artie cannot lie, and has access to all human knowledge).
The framing of the story lets the author–and the reader–take a fresh look at cultural norms that are so familiar to us, so much a part of our daily lives, that we don’t usually bother to question them at all. The book, moreover, really feels like a history being presented by an academic scholar for intelligent laypeople. The perspective of the 29th century remains pervasive throughout–where a modern historian would reference other books for further information, for example, Thain tells his readers to “ask Artie about…” this or that idea, or history, or issue. There are linguistic quirks, too, that add to the feel of a future world with new language patterns and novel words–the use of “she” and “hir” as neutral pronouns, for example, or the references to experiences “in sim and in trew” (i.e. in simulation or in real life.)
The history is well researched and clearly presented, illustrating how one set of cultural norms gave way to another throughout human history. The account Thain gives of developments in our future is believable, rationally derivable from our past and our current situations, and presents hopeful possibilities for the improvement of the human condition. (The book’s predictions of the near future may or may not come true, of course, but that’s always explainable via alternate universes.) Heroes, like Destiny Holt or Mukantagara Mporera, play their role, and Thain tells their stories with engaging liveliness, but much of the book’s predicted future flows naturally from predictable developments in human technology and culture. The book’s foreword offers further realism in its commentary on Thain’s work, presenting some additional ideas and challenging some of Thain’s assumptions. Artie hirself is an intriguing topic, worthy of more exploration than there is space for here. The book refers to Artie being programmed according to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, for example, and it would be interesting to see how Artie avoided some of the difficulties those laws cause in Asimov’s own novels. All in all, though, this is an absolutely fascinating look at our world through the eyes of another.
ALARIC THAIN’S HISTORY OF THE 21st CENTURY is an intriguing, clearly-written, and thoughtful look at our world from the perspective of a happier future, without many of our current struggles.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader