Dan Wang: “Science Fiction As a Way to Spur a Better Vision of the Future”

Dan Wang is a technology writer; an excerpt from his 2019 letter about the future:

Science fiction is uniquely capable of provoking imagination for radically better futures. By radically better, I mean far more than progress on a few technologies and social problems. Instead I like the idea of books that sketch out humanity 5,000 years from now after we’ve made major advances in energy, materials science, space, and in civilizing humanity. I’m advocating to treat science fiction as a political project, to spur a better vision of the future as well as the hard work to make it reality.

Olaf Stapledon has written that type of book. His Last and First Men is one of my favorite books this year. It has the dizzying ambition to present the evolution of human intelligence across two billion years, over 18 different iterations of the human species. Each round of humanity is wiped out by war, natural catastrophe, solar flares, or something more bizarre, each time nearly annihilated before bouncing back to reach a more civilized form. The book is made up of gestures like: “We have now followed man’s career during some forty million years,” and “The Fifteenth Men first set themselves to abolish five great evils, namely disease, suffocating toil, senility, misunderstanding, ill-will. The story of their devotion, their many disastrous experiments and ultimate triumph, cannot here be told.”

Last and First Men is 200 pages of high stimulation. The book ends on a joyfully triumphant note, after the Eighteenth Men have understood all the mysteries of physics and biology, thus commanding the ability to populate the rest of the galaxy. Stapledon is interested in civilizing the human species, which I think is just as worthwhile as discussing how to equip it with many types of technologies. I think more of us should read Stapledon and try our hands at writing out the next million years of human history.

Here are all the books Wang has liked since he started college.

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