Future Reckoning: Calculating Devices in the Golden Age of Science Fiction

6 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2021

See all articles by Robert A. James

Robert A. James

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

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

James, Robert A., Future Reckoning: Calculating Devices in the Golden Age of Science Fiction (October 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3743483 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3743483

Robert A. James (Contact Author)

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP ( email )

Four Embarcadero Center, 22nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/rob-james

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