Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: 'The Future Then: Fascinating Art & Predictions from 145 years of Popular Science'


For nearly a century and a half, Popular Science magazine has been keeping the world on top of the latest developments in science and technology. Despite its prestigious history, it ain’t always right, and that’s one reason why The Future Then: Fascinating Art & Predictions from 145 years of Popular Science is fun. This attractive, hardcover tome collects everyone of the quarterly’s covers in full-color cover, each one positing some sort of scientific prediction made in the name of the mag. The captions assess whether or not that prediction came true, and they do so with cheeky irreverence. How could you not have your tongue in your cheek when combing over such wild brain waves as underground ice cities, a robotic exoskeleton called the “man amplifier” that can turn anyone into a superhero, and mechanical racehorses constructed from taxidermied stallions? Amazingly, some of this wackadoo stuff actually came to pass (though much did not exactly endure). It’s also interesting to note the particular obsessions of each decade, with the forties depressingly focused on machines of war (and also depressingly, most of those predictions came to pass), the fifties focused on DIY projects for new homeowners, and the sixties focused on…err… James Bond.

But as I suggested, its factoids are just one reason why The Future Then is boss. The artwork is what really makes it a retro rush, as Popular Science’s painted covers look like they should adorn pulp novels for nerds. The magazine’s impressive roster of artists include Norman Rockwell and Reynold Brown, who’d really make a name for himself designing movie posters for such sci-fi classics as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Sadly, in the nineties, Popular Science discontinued its painted covers for sterile digital images, so the final sixty pages of The Future Then are not nearly as charming as the ones that precede them. It’s also tough to assess whether or not technology predicted so recently was a success or failure since it could still come to pass. So perhaps we should stay tuned for volume two, assuming that such quaint things as magazines, the ability to read, and life on Earth still exist in another 145 years. Have a nice day!

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