The science fiction reality
10 Great Gadgets In Fiction
Let’s face it, the coolest stuff is always just around the corner, and nobody knows that better than a good sci-fi writer. From 1984 to A Brave New World, gadgets and gizmos have become a mainstay of fiction and we reckon that if you are looking for the cleverest, scariest and downright best gadgets on the block, you could look in worse places than your local library.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, this is a rundown of 10 great gadgets in Sci-Fi.
If you think of any glaring omissions, or what to tell me what you would have included, you can tell us on our message boards.
Telescreen (1984 - George Orwell)
One of the most scary, prescient books of our time, author George Orwell neatly described CCTV amped up to 11 when he put his main protagonist Winston in a world of televisions that not only broadcast but also received both pictures and sound.
With the Thought Police tuning in to process what people were saying and doing, this dystopian future not only gives us pause for thought in a modern society that seems to be getting less and less private, but also send a shiver down our collective spines at a negative side of technology.
The Mechanical Hound (Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury)
For the paranoid amongst you, there probably isn’t much scarier than a robot programmed to hunt you down at any cost.
In Bradbury’s tale of a world where books are illegal and knowledge frowned upon, the mechanical hound is programmed to a certain person’s sweat and will chase you forever (or presumably until his battery runs out) and, just to remove any romantic notion of a K9-like cute dog robot, it looks more like a spider.
The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams)
An electronic guidebook so stupendously useful that it finally sank the Encylopedia Galactica, this tome of pretty much everything helps Arthur Dent scrape through in a world he never expected until earth was blown up to make room for an interstellar bypass.
Mostly I’ve included it because it helpfully says on the cover ‘Don’t panic’ and that’s good advice for everybody.
Personal shield (Dune – Frank Herbert)
Worried about the increase in gun crime? Well just for you, Frank Herbert’s wonderfully detailed world of the spice Melange and the adventures of the House Atreides provides us with shields that stop any fast moving object from penetrating.
Certainly a great gadget (and a rather neat way of getting his characters back to far more exciting hand to hand combat) but does have the rather large drawback of letting in slow moving objects, like knives.
The Sentient Alarm clock (One of Us – Michael Marshall Smith)
We may not have ever got the kind of robots that were predicted in the ‘50s, but with freezers being built that can order you more peas when you run out and automatic vacuum cleaners, the prospect of functional robots doesn't seem so outlandish.
Something of a dab hand at giving normally inanimate objects personalities, Marshall Smith brings us an alarm clock that hounds its owner around the continent ensuring that he gets out of bed. Incredibly irritating, very funny and definitely useful when it saves the main protagonist from a sticky end.
Talking head (Neuromancer – William Gibson)
As well as creating the term cyberpunk, Gibson’s astonishing novel brought us a ‘retro’ talking head that eschewed an electronic voice to talked through a ‘beautiful arrangement of gears and miniature organ pipes.’
An expensive interface to a computer, Gibson’s head, like many things in his novel, was a stunningly imagined creation.
Droud (Ringworld – Larry Niven)
A ray that stimulates the pleasure centre of your brain, but, as Niven spots, a scarily powerful tool with the ‘victim’ desperate for another hit, and unable to function whilst they are receiving it.
Still, would be nice to have one for self use when there’s nothing on the telly…
Data Goggles (Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson)
Not the most original ideas, but brilliantly realised by Stephenson; data goggles bring the metaverse (think a three dimensional internet which lets you walk around) to the heads of all of the major characters.
The goggles aren’t quite as invasive as many similar ideas (you aren’t going to die a la Matrix if someone pulls the plug) and they aren’t necessarily that far from being realised.
Infantry Armour (Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein)
One of Heinlein’s most famous works of fiction brings us the infantry armour.
This heavy metal suit allows humble soldiers superman-like powers, jumping giant buildings in a single bounce, and rendering them virtually indestructible in their galactic battle against their insect-like foe.
Interestingly a suit of reinforced armour for soldiers was in the news recently; seems like an almost invulnerable warrior is something the armed forces would be quite keen on.
Artificial womb (Brave New World - Aldous Huxley)
Pre-empting the test-tube baby, Huxley’s artificial womb provided his gleaming nirvana (or is it?) with every person carefully tailored to preset parameters and all disease and genetic fault eradicated.
The downside is that a genetically perfect population is not necessarily that interesting.