Future Reckoning: Calculating Devices in the Golden Age of Science Fiction
6 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2021
Date Written: October 1, 2020
The Golden Age of science fiction - particularly the 1940s and 1950s - witnessed a number of technologically oriented novels and short stories by the most famous authors, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. A common hallmark in these volumes is speculation on devices for calculation in the far future. This article describes the instruments found in their signature works and their relation to the mathematical (or "goofball" pseudo-mathematical) tasks that drive the narratives. A recurring theme is that the writers' vision of the future depended on the technology of their own day. A novel about the far future Galactic Empire might refer to microfilm, a bold development for 1940 but already obsolete in our time. The article concludes with observations on the continuing relevance of calculation in speculative fiction of our time and our future.
Keywords: calculators, science fiction, futurism, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke
JEL Classification: C65
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation