Book Review: “A Companion to the Future” by Ian Martyn (@IBMartyn)



A Companion to the Future is a collection of author Ian Martyn’s thoughts, ideas and inspiration for those creating and/or consuming science fiction. While the book allows readers to probe into the mind of an established author, it also serves as an excellent introductory course to anyone who is interested in understanding science fiction as a literary genre.

Martyn argues all writers express their concerns for the world around them in their work. Specifically, science fiction extrapolates these concerns to future scenarios in the hope that they will “make everyone more aware, influence thinking, and even steer us away from the brink” in ways that are “fresh, entertaining and inspiring”. Indeed, we are all driven by a desire to wonder and explore, and science fiction plays a crucial guiding role in imagining and/or navigating the unknown. Wanting to know what is out there in time and space is what makes us human.

Martyn devotes a fair section of this book to discussing how science fiction helps to predict the future, covering interesting topics from the greening and governing of a future world to the possible ways of living, eating and drinking in the distant days to come. In his words: “The only thing for certain is everything will change.” The trick, it seems, is to make educated guesses “based on what we know and what we can imagine”. However, Martyn offers the valuable insight that what science fiction writers imagine may actually influence the future they are predicting, with a prominent example being Issac Asimov. Again quoting Martyn: “If we can dream it then maybe we can find a way to make it happen.”

Another, and equally important, part of human nature is to see, touch and experience things for ourselves. This may relate to Martyn’s discussion of the actual art and craft of writing science fiction, including depiction of technologies, portrayal of relationship between men and machines/robots, creating character such as detectives and aliens, and what, in his view, makes a “good” science fiction read. Martyn places considerable emphasis on logic: “When you read science fiction or fantasy…the stories still have to carry their own logic that [we] can agree with… Things have to happen for a reason we understand.” Questions like “how?” and “why?” are important; they need to and should be explained to readers’ satisfaction. With that said, this reviewer finds Martyn’s observation on what makes a “bad” science fiction read to be fully applicable to writings in any other literary genre.

Finally, still another, and perhaps more important, part of human nature is to search for the next challenge. This reviewer particularly enjoys Martyn’s “My Top 5 Science Fiction Inventions” and “25 Things I’ve Learned from Sickness Fiction”, for they go far beyond the ordinary and obvious. The pleasure of reading exists in the “A-ha!” moments when we furiously nod at the notion that great minds think alike. The pleasure of writing, meanwhile, derives from new ideas that inspire us to move forward, knowing at the same time that each and every one of us can develop the same ideas into our own unique pieces of literary work.

In short, this book is more than a mere collection of articles from the first eighteen months of Martyn’s blogging life. It is well structured, informative and pleasant, and (with a tiny bit editing) can make a fascinating read for fans both within and outside the science fiction field.

Transparency: Ian Martyn’s A Companion to the Future is currently available for free download from his website, which is what this reviewer did.


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