Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 15 Best Novels Forecasting our Future

Speculative fiction’s appeal lies inherently with its imaginative properties; casual readers and scholars alike gravitate towards the genre (or device, in some cases) with the hopes of perhaps parsing some kernel of humanity’s future fate. As one can expect, most not proven wholly wrong have yet to work out, if they ever even will. Sometimes, though, an author either calls components or – even rarer – creepily manages to predict phenomena with full accuracy. Time will obviously reveal whether or not the following novels bear fruit, but all of them hold the closest potential to coming true. In some form or fashion, of course, even if remaining more in spirit than actuality.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

    Ostensibly a secular government, American politicians nevertheless frequently capitulate to the demands of Christianity. Even the allegedly hyperliberal Barack Obama willingly ignores separation of church and state from time to time. Canadian author Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 as more of a warning against theocratic rule than an accurate prediction. Unfortunately, with religion acting as just another DC lobby these days, her fiction may someday end up this nation’s oppressive (and frankly un-American) reality.

  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    This highly popular dystopian novel meant to mourn the sacrifice of the written word at the altar of television, though most readers focus on the censorship element instead. When one peers at the surface elements, however, it’s easy to see how many of Ray Bradbury’s writings could easily spiral out of control in the near future. Government and citizen censorship are, of course, nothing new anywhere and at any time period. By this point, nobody would be surprised if the feds started rolling out book burning mobiles, although media evolution probably means SOPA would’ve proven the Internet Age equivalent had it passed. Heavier pressure from the entertainment industry and ambiguous wording are all it takes to make Americans watch their favorite law-abiding websites shut down permanently.

  3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    Scientists may be able to clone complete animals, but duplicating tissues and organs for transplant continues eluding them. So if the idea of creating entire humans as walking, talking, and thinking donor farms is quite a ways away, assuming it even happens at all. Obviously, such a concept comes inherently swaddled with numerous ethical questions. Humanity’s track record of observing such things remains, to put it nicely, on the spotty side; no matter how many laws various governments pass illegalizing the practice, it’ll still happen. Assuming the technology eventually comes to pass, at least. They might not wind up in Kazuo Ishiguro’s creepy boarding school, but the commercialization (underground or otherwise) of cloning oneself for exact organ matching seems a logical conclusion should science enable.

  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

    Like many of the great cyberpunk novels, elements of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? already exist – but only on a nascent level for now. Artificial intelligence pops up in the news regularly these days, often touting just how eerily advanced it’s grown, and speculation about where these technological advances could head inevitably lead to discussions of what life would be like if people couldn’t tell themselves from androids. This novel, which inspired the loosely-adapted cinematic classic Blade Runner, envisions an environmentally-ravaged, post-WWIII future where such questions arise in a major way. Protagonist Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter tasted with shutting down rogue androids, but encounters some of the aforementioned difficulties (not to mention the expected ethical issues) along the way.

  5. Plus, flying cars would be so very, very sweet.

  6. White Noise by Don DeLillo

    Imagine a pill that could eliminate the fear of death entirely. Although White Noise otherwise more or less hews identically to known reality (or reality as it was known at the time of its 1985 publication), that one little departure carries with it the requisite black hole-dense amount of questions and concerns. Pharmaceutical companies have yet to develop magic medicine to alleviate the all-too-human anxiety over impermanence, but discovering it does not sit outside the realm of improbability. Far beyond mere antidepressant and antianxiety pills, scientists know how to erase painful memories chemically; the Pentagon, in fact, might start using it when treating soldiers with PTSD. All it would take to start deadening the fear is finding the appropriate alchemy to switch it off in the same manner as the ingrained experiences.

  7. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

    Seeing as how Neal Stephenson predicted, in some form or another, Second Life, anti-rape devices, the prolificacy (and exploitation) of memes, and other phenomena in 1992′s Snow Crash, it stands to reason that The Diamond Age might very well follow suit. People already enjoy ebooks, albeit with significantly less interactivity than the one employed by heroine Nell, and seemingly tend to gravitate more and more towards subcultural identities now that the internet enables like-minded individuals to connect. Should any of the postcyberpunk novel’s ruminations on inadequate AI and out of control nanotech occur, it likely won’t be anytime soon! But considering the author’s famously in-depth research and futurist sensibilities, he might prove more on the nose than most sci-fi writers, even if things ultimately take on a different shape.

  8. The Running Man by Stephen King

    The biggest name in horror set a story of a decrepit economy (sound familiar?) and a horrific game show channeling "The Most Dangerous Game" in 2025. While not a prediction so much as a conduit for a young Stephen King’s apoplexies (the book was originally published in 1982), contemporary audiences might still find it eerily resonant. Reality shows might not necessarily resort to the extreme measures of hunting down and killing people for ratings, but they certainly seem more and more shameless as each new season rolls out. Rather than literally murdering humans, human dignity undoubtedly dies tortured and screaming at a corresponding crescendo. At some point, one channel or another is going to accidentally result in someone croaking on live television.

  9. Generation A Douglas Coupland

    So honeybees are still endangered, which might very well result in a few different, agriculturally important plant species (like almonds) eventually winding up extinct. Not to mention a dwindling supply of honey. This novel isn’t set in a future with sophisticated robots or hostile Christian takeovers – just a simple lack of our favorite buzzing collectivist pals. OR IS THERE?! Five very different people wind up stung, subsequently launching an insane flurry of both media and scientific fervor before finding themselves sequestered on a bizarre island.

  10. The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman

    Chances are, a cabal of murderous revolutionaries won’t rise up and slaughter reporters in a bloody statement against media bias and manipulation. But writer and artist Jonathan Hickman’s tense, imaginative graphic novel perfectly bottles up how so many Americans switch on or pick up the news and grow frustrated with all they absorb. Rather than channeling this helplessness into violence as he depicts, however, it’s easier to believe that revolt will happen once society hits a tolerance event horizon and starts demanding more from a consumer’s perspective. One can already witness early rumblings of a cultural shift when it comes to covering politics, with trained journalists jettisoned in favor of condescending audiences with "Cult of Personality" talking heads offering commentary instead of facts.

  11. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

    Correcting deviant behavior burst into being shortly after deviant behavior itself, making the basis of A Clockwork Orange near universal. The Ludovico approach to the very real aversion therapy remains entirely in the realm of fiction right now, but ramping up existing methods’ severity to that level could feasibly occur. Considering the anarchic, dystopian world which Alex and his merry band of murderous, rape-hungry thugs cavort, extreme measures make perfect sense. Here, our future is only forecast should we happen to devolve into such a truly terrifying universe – but does punishment crescendo in reaction to swelling delinquency, or does delinquency crescendo in reaction to swelling punishment?

  12. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

    Future scenarios don’t always have to embrace the gloom and doom of human nature, though most literary critics will agree they make for much more complex and compelling fiction. Aside from the perpetuation of war and the death penalty, protagonist Consuelo Ramos ("Connie") encounters a time traveler from the most idyllic future imaginable – one where all peoples truly coexist as equals, with all lines of marginalization fully eradicated. She serves as the lynchpin of this vision, however, as one misstep means a horrific plutocracy instead. Complicating matters even further, Connie can’t figure out whether or not what she knows might actually occur or just happens to exist all in her imagination. Cynics will, of course, disagree, but with advances in human rights hitting the news regularly (even small, overlooked stories), future generations might very get to witness firsthand just how harmonious we can get.

  13. Neuromancer by William Gibson

    More speculation about mankind’s possibly intimate biological relationships with nanotechnology from the man who brought us the word "cyberspace." Once again, the foundations for the fictional advancements already appeared in the real world, most notably in the exciting and fetal field of nanomedicine. But for every altruistic action, there is an equal and opposite not-so-altruistic reaction, as evidenced by the shady paramilitary, mercenary types populating this quintessential tale of "high tech, low life." In the book, hackers plug their brains directly into machinery; although today’s interfaces don’t connect with the internet, we do possess the ability to control computers using nothing but the mind. However, such technology only seems to be applied to medicine these days, and lacks the same level of sophistication as William Gibson’s imaginings. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t very well take the path towards the cyberpunkish later.

  14. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

    Overpopulation will probably always plague humanity until we achieve easy access to birth control (and the social permissiveness that allows it) on a global level. Dystopian future Japan’s solution involves shipping high school kids off to an island and embroiling them in a mandatory contest to murder each other. Last one standing wins! Most countries probably won’t act nearly as blatant when faced with the inevitable crises, but human nature’s boundless cruelty allows for murderous atrocities to occur on national scales every day with others neither knowing or caring. Reining in numbers probably won’t go down like this, but few would express shock if it ever did.

  15. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    Ayn Rand and her Objectivist disciples worshiped self above all, praising those at the top of the economic hierarchy as inherently superior – no matter how many egregious ethical violations they committed to end up there. Rationalized selfishness and other sociopathic and psychotic tendencies increase in correlation with power acquisition. Or at least the perception of power acquisition. For far too many nations, Atlas Shrugged (or elements of it) already stands as the grim reality of exploitation. The lucky ones now might not enjoy the sheltering after the wrong people gain clout; Objectivism’s damaging reach could wreak havoc on small and major scales alike.

  16. Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

    If we can’t have the flying cars science promised, can humanity AT LEAST evolve into cuddly-wuddly little seal creatures?!


Taken From Accredited Online Colleges

The 20 Best Novels About Being a Teacher

Teaching is a noble profession, but one that rarely receives the sort of nuance it deserves when popping up in fictional works. Archetypes involving the icy schoolmarm, sophisticated professor, and perky idealist all make frequent appearances, but it’s only when educators move to protagonist positions that readers score a view of the profession’s true complexities. Within the pages of the following lay a myriad of fabulous narratives picking apart the various joys, sorrows, and rages present in and out of the classroom. Just about the only thing they share is the desire to showcase teachers as what they really are in the end: all too human.

  1. Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

    This PEN/Faulkner Award finalist follows a brand new teacher whose anxieties over doing right by her middle school class will no doubt ring true for far too many readers.

  2. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

    Jean Brodie might be kind of a manipulative educator who enjoys pitting students against her coworkers (and one another), but the novel in which she resides remains one of Muriel Spark’s most beloved works.

  3. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

    While not entirely about education, Wonder Boys features a professor protagonist whose life begins unraveling as his wife leaves him, his mistress (and boss!) discovers an unexpected pregnancy, and one promising student winds up losing it completely — all while he’s attempting to organize a writing festival and finish a frustrating novel.

  4. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

    Fans of over-the-top humor should pick up this well-received read about a young troublemaker who winds up taking on a tutoring role for a young boy with a hot mom.

  5. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

    As Europe begins slowly crumbling into World War II, a popular teacher at an all-boys public school overcomes his anxieties about his career thanks to a brand new marriage and burgeoning mentor relationships with students.

  6. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

    The second book in the Anne of Green Gables series sees the plucky red-headed heroine tackling a local teaching position while still facing rejection and prejudice from the community.

  7. Never Fade Away by William Hart

    Intricacies regarding the student-teacher dynamic receive an in-depth analysis here in a book that involves a young Thai ESL student and the traumatized Vietnam veteran mentor who hopes to nurture her gifts as a writer.

  8. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

    Up the Down Staircase parodies predictable “inspiringly unorthodox teacher changes the lives of inner-city high schoolers” narratives and the rage-inducing bureaucracy the reality involves.

  9. To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite

    In this largely autobiographical novel, a Guyanese engineer fights against the prejudices of post-World War II Britain, falls in love with his white coworker (to much consternation from her parents), and proposes the radical idea that kids like being treated with the same autonomy as adults.

  10. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

    At once tragic and hilarious, Pnin features a curious Russian professor whose nationality renders him something of a pariah among his peers and coworkers, making it a sympathetic look at the experiences of foreign teachers in America.

  11. A Terrible Beauty by D.W. St. John

    D.W. St. John pulled from his own teaching experiences to deliver a sharp commentary on problems pertaining to the public school system’s devotion to red tape and conformity.

  12. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

    A Lesson Before Dying is set during the days of Jim Crow laws and depicts the very painful, conflicting feelings of an African-American teacher whose education isolates him from his community and the cultural hegemony alike.

  13. Schooled by Anisha Lakhani

    Watch in humorous horror as an eager young teacher transmogrifies into a materialistic monster after spending entirely too much time working at a private school for New York’s high society kids.

  14. The English Teacher by R.K. Narayan

    Based on the author’s own life, protagonist Krishna spends this novel about family, tragedy, career, and spirituality finding the beauty in the everyday and mourning the loss of his adored wife.

  15. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

    Even though We Need to Talk about Kevin focuses on families rather than educators, it does involve a thread about a mass-murdering, sociopathic student who fakes molestation charges to get back at a teacher he doesn’t like.

  16. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

    This popular slice-of-life warns against professors growing sexually involved with their students and the nasty spirals that can damage innocents caught in the wake.

  17. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

    Personal and professional rival professors clash over religion, race, and pretty much everything else imaginable in Zadie Smith’s take on academic absurdities.

  18. Moo by Jane Smiley

    Dozens and dozens and dozens of characters and narratives collide at Moo University, shedding light on how silly such serious institutions often really are once people start thinking about it.

  19. In Custody by Anita Desai

    Although his students personally find his Hindi classes dull and insufferable, a professor continues dreaming that he might enjoy an opportunity to meet an Urdu-language poet he absolutely adores.

  20. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

    Charlotte Bronte’s very last novel offers up a very Gothic, very psychological take on teaching at an all-girls boarding school and falling for the headmaster.

Taken From Online Colleges

17 Schools Reinventing the Campus Tour

One of the best ways to get to know any college campus before you decide to attend is by taking a campus tour. At most schools, this means walking around with a student guide, who showcases all of the important and interesting landmarks on campus. While most schools, even the ones on this list, still offer that option, many are creating campus tour experiences that help them stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression on prospective students. From bikes built for seven to high-tech self-tours, here are just a few of the great colleges and universities out there that are reinventing the campus tour for the better.

  1. Brigham Young University: Why walk when you can ride? At Brigham Young, tours of the campus are given in a golf cart. The campus of the Provo, Utah, school is so big, administrators felt this was the only way that prospective students would get to see all that it has to offer. Tours still come complete with an expert guide, but those touring the campus will get to ride instead of walk through the 560-acre campus.
  2. Alfred University: Bicycles built for two are totally passé at Alfred University. Students and their families who visit the school will get to tour in style on a bicycle built for seven, with each person having to help contribute to pedaling around the campus. The ride is apparently quite a workout, but many report that having to work together helps make for a more comfortable and open touring experience.
  3. Stanford University: This school is in close proximity to Silicon Valley, and a bit of that tech savvy seems to have rubbed off on the school’s campus tours. Prospective students who are visiting Stanford can download an iPhone app that makes touring the school on your own a breeze. Those who want that human touch, however, can sign up for golf cart tours, which take students and their families to parts of the 8,200-acre campus that aren’t covered on the standard walking tours.
  4. Arizona State University: Those who want to tour ASU’s campus can get some high-tech help. Visitors can check out GPS devices that let prospective students and their parents easily guide themselves around the school’s campus. While visitors can still take a guided tour, the school believes these new GPS devices allow students to personalize their tours, spending more time at the buildings and facilities that interest them the most.
  5. University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill: Can’t make it to the campus of this North Carolina school? No worries! The school offers several online options for self-guided tours that can be done on campus or off. Prospective students can choose from a guided tour, point-and-click tour, or a text-based tour depending on their needs and interests.
  6. Eckerd College: Located in St. Petersburg, Fla., this school has a pretty big campus that can be hard to cover with a walking tour alone. To help, the school now offers a campus tour by bike. The bikes can be checked out through the school’s “Yellow Bike” program and used for a leisurely hour-long tour of campus. Even cooler than the bike tours, however, is Eckerd’s boat tours. Visitors can hop aboard a boat and see some of the buildings that lie along the Boca Ciego Bay, learning about the school’s history as well as its marine and environmental science programs.
  7. West Virginia University: West Virginia University has three campuses, and visitors to the school can see all three in a combo bus and walking tour offered by the visitors center. Prospective students board a bus for a chance to see the main liberal arts campus, the health and science campus, and Evansdale campus, getting to stop for a meal at a residence hall along the way. Students and their families can also tour the campus by WVU’s monorail, which makes transit between the campuses fast and easy. At the end of the tour, visitors will get a WVU logo cookie as a sweet reminder of their time on campus.

  8. Ohio State University: Ohio State University is still holding on to those traditional walking tours, but they’ve reinvented their campus tours in a totally different way by making them personal and memorable. At the end of a tour of OSU, students receive a buckeye candy, in honor of the school’s mascot, and get a chance to have their picture taken with the mascot as well as a memento to take home with them. The photos are printed and framed on the spot, so students don’t have to do a thing. In recent years, the school has also added bike tours for those who’d rather bike than walk through the campus.

  9. Birmingham-Southern College: This small liberal arts college is another school that offers campus tours aboard a golf cart, but their carts are a bit special. Called GEM Cars, or Global Electric Motorcars, the carts are high-tech and environmentally-friendly and allow prospective students to see much more of the school’s 200-acre campus than the usual walking tour.

  10. California Polytechnic State University: You’d expect nothing but the latest technology from a technical school like Cal Poly, and the school has lived up to that reputation when it comes to campus tours. Visitors can download an iPhone app that provides a self-guided tour of campus that prospective students can do at their own pace. There’s also a GPS device, called the GPS Ranger, that can be checked out at the school’s visitors center. The device shows your location on campus in real time and as they approach certain buildings on campus, visitors have the option of playing informational videos narrated by students.

  11. University of South Florida: The University of South Florida has an expansive campus (about 1,700 acres in all), which can make the traditional walking tour a bit of a challenge. To solve this problem, the school now offers tours aboard a tram. Decorated with the school’s gold and green colors, the tram can seat 80 comfortably, and allows prospective students and their parents a chance to see more of the college’s campus without feeling the effects of the hot and humid Florida weather.

  12. University of Texas at Austin: UT Austin has an amazingly creative range of campus tours for prospective students, some of which are pretty unusual. There are the standard walking tours and self-guided tours that visitors can take, but there are also options to do diversity tours and observation deck tours. Even cooler is UT’s Moonlight Prowl, which takes visitors on a tour of the school’s campus at night, providing lots of information on the school’s history and lore. If that weren’t enough, there’s also a huge open house event called Explore UT which offers tours, lectures, performances, demonstrations, and other activities which can make visiting campus an experience to remember.

  13. University of Michigan: Many cities offer Segway tours as a way to see the sights, but only one college does! Students who are considering attending the University of Michigan’s Engineering school can hop onto a Segway while they tour the school’s engineering campus. The tours are guided and the use of the Segway makes it much easier to reach more of the school’s campus in less time and with less effort from visitors.

  14. MIT: MIT is another school embracing smart phone apps as a way to help visitors tour the campus. Download the app before heading to the school, then navigate using it as you head to a variety of important buildings at the school. For those who can’t afford to go to MIT to tour the campus, the school also offers an online virtual tour that can help prospective students get up close and personal with some campus landmarks.

  15. Harvard University: Harvard offers several options for visitors to its Cambridge, Mass., campus. There is a traditional walking tour, but there are also self-guided audio tours (available in nine different languages) and tours that focus on the historical buildings on campus as well. Harvard is another school that’s embracing the smart phone app trend, and prospective students can download a free app online to help them tour the campus at their own pace.

  16. Tulane University: Interested students who can’t travel to Tulane can find some help online. The school has taken its tours and made them digital, creating an amazingly in-depth online virtual map of the campus. Students can click through to see photos and read information about the best and most interesting places on campus, without ever having to leave home.
  17. Stony Brook University: Stony Brook offers an interactive and fully narrated walking tour that can be done on campus or online, whatever is easiest or more preferable for students. Prospective students and their families will get to see campus step-by-step and there are additional photos, videos, and reference materials available to those who want to get a better idea of what life is like on campus.
Taken From Best Colleges Online