By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
The game of chess reaches back to at least the 6th Century AD, but its origins remain unclear. Though generally thought to have arisen in India, both China and Persia lay claim to the game, and other cultures have some variation of chess-like games (some still played today). Even the Vikings had a chess-like game by the nearly unpronounceable name “hnefatafl.” (Say that three times fast, if you can say it at all.)
Regardless of their differences, all these games have one thing in common: they’re all flat.
This is hardly surprising. Chess in many ways derives from concepts of ancient warfare, which, for tens of thousands of years, was mostly a (violent) meeting on roughly flat open areas. Even if there were hills or walls or fortresses or towers involved, for the most part nobody could move over (or under) the enemy. Chess did allow one piece—the knight—to leap over intervening pieces as part of its move, but for every other piece the world of chess remained solidly flat (Christopher Columbus not withstanding).
Moving Up (and Down)
During the 19th century an attempt was made to extend chess into three dimensions by stacking eight boards on top of each other (yes, 8). Well, chess wasn’t flat any more. But one can question whether it was playable!
As the 20th century arrived, and brought with it both the airplane and the submarine, the idea that chess should move into the third dimension again came out. This time, the design was restricted to 5 stacked boards, and added an unusual piece (the “unicorn”) which could make triangular movements (no, I don’t know what that means, either). The creator started a club for fans (in 1919 Germany), which lasted until World War II, when, apparently, Germany itself decided to try it all out in Real Life. And that pretty much ended that version of Germany, as well as that version of 3D chess.
Where No Chess Game Has Gone Before
Fast forward twenty some-odd years to the creation of a new American science fiction show named Star Trek. Set in the 23rd century, the show featured the now famous starship Enterprise, filled with amazing advanced technology, like automatic sliding doors that went “whoosh,” wall slots that cooked food in an instant, a talking computer, and more. (Hey, in the 1960s, all that stuff was futuristic and cool.) The show also included an unusually-shaped chess set, consisting of three quarter-sized chess boards in three staggered levels on an unusual crescent-shaped support, and four smaller boards on posts at the corners of these boards. The smaller boards were additional levels, halfway between the larger boards, and were often in different positions on the show, indicating that they could be moved (though this action was never shown on the show). The chess set was unusual-looking, implied a high level of complexity, and the open design clearly allowed the pieces to be easily moved (which the early 3D attempts mentioned above did not).
This three-dimensional chess set made prominent appearances in several episodes from the very beginning of the show. In three episodes, the chess game would be a pivotal plot element in the story’s resolution.* (How many television shows and movies, not about chess itself, have gone so far as to make chess central to the story?) Twenty years later, the show jumped from TV to film, and so did the chess set (at least as an idea). In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, during a grand duel between battling starships, the heroes arrive at a crucial realization—namely that the villain’s tactics “reveal two-dimensional thinking.” Tellingly, early in the film the villain’s home was shown to have a crude, handmade two-dimensional checkers board game present—intentionally invoking memories of the three-dimensional chess set fans knew Spock and Kirk played. The implication? Had Khan played the same game as Kirk, he would have thought more broadly in his tactics. Without even showing the three-dimensional set, the movie made its existence again pivotal to the plot!
So, what does this game have to do with the Williamson County Public Library?
Well, thanks to yours truly, with assistance and advice from fellow staffer Lon Maxwell, the Teen Room now has one of these sets, completely homemade (except for the pieces; I’m not that skilled). The design is a bit different, but I humbly think it looks just as cool (if not cooler) as the original set crafted for the show.
How Do You Play?
Very Well, Thank You.
Okay, this is the kicker, actually. The answer to “How do you play Three Dimensional Chess?” is quite simply “How do you want to play it?”
You see, the original chess set was merely a prop. The design had nothing to do with creating an actual, playable game, but with creating an interesting, visual set object on which the actors could move the pieces about to create the appearance of a complicated game—a game “from the future,” as it were! Indeed, if you pay attention to the scenes in which characters play the game (and if you know about chess), you can quickly discern that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the movement or the declared progress of the game in the dialog. In one of the earliest episodes to feature the game—“Charlie X,” the second episode ever aired—Kirk and Spock play chess, with Spock moving a knight and declaring “check,” when in fact Kirk’s king couldn’t possibly be in check from the knight’s movement. Actor Leonard Nimoy is clearly just moving pieces around in a visually interesting manner, but he’s not simulating any relationship to chess, 3D or otherwise. By contrast, William Shatner’s moves in this sequence can reasonably be assigned to the pieces being used, as well as his declaration of “checkmate,” representing a logically valid position (though really only for “check,” but still…).** So there was a prop, but not really a game.
But in 1975 artist and writer Joseph Franz contacted Paramount Studios, who held the rights to Star Trek, about a book he called “The Star Trek Technical Manual: Training Command Starfleet Academy.” The book would be a collection of detailed plans and drawings of Star Trek ships and equipment (even uniforms), all presented as if these were actual designs of futuristic devices, inadvertently downloaded into a 20th century USAF mainframe during the events of the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” Paramount agreed, the book was published and snapped up by Trekkies around the globe. One of the schematics included in the book were the blueprints for a “tri-dimensional chess set,” as Franz dubbed it. He even included a cursory (yet incomplete) set of rules, as well as diagrams of how the smaller post boards might be moved over the course of the game. It was now possible for Trek and chess fans to at least build a set themselves, and even attempt to turn the simple rules into a playable reality.
Around this same time, Paramount also licensed the Franklin Mint to create and sell a high-end gold and silver official Star Trek Three Dimensional Chess set, complete with “official” rules. The “official” rules were reportedly borrowed from a 1977 magazine, The Star Trek Giant Poster Book, Voyage #14, who supposedly themselves borrowed the rules from an unattributed fan author. (This author may be Andrew Bartmeiss, who currently sells “The Federation Standard Rules” online. According to Bartmeiss, he contacted Joseph Franz about the set design, and Franz encouraged him to create the rules.) The Franklin Mint licensed set is still sold—for about $300 a pop!
(The set in the Teen Room cost the maker (yours truly) $20 (in materials). You can read about that here: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html )
There are a number of other rules around the Internet, including “Tournament” Rules, a number of themed variants, and even a computer game version named “Parmen,” after a Star Trek villain (who, oddly, never played the game).
All the versions tend to share distinct similarities:
- Pieces move horizontally as in standard chess.
- Pieces can move between levels vertically, but only when also moving horizontally.
- Pieces can move above or below pieces on other levels.
- The smaller “attack boards”*** can be moved to new positions, potentially carrying a piece with them.
- The game may have as many as seven levels, or as few as four, depending on the position of the smaller boards.
StarChess, or, The Way We Play It
But truth be told, none of these rules are “official.” You can pretty much find the set you like the most, and play those. In the Teen Room, we offer StarChess, created by yours truly. (You can find a link to these rules on my blog: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html ) I think they work rather well, but try for yourself.
And if you are a teen (or have one), you’re welcome to come try the game in the Teen Room. The set is generally available Saturday-Tuesday. Mr. Howard (yours truly) will be happy to teach you, or the rules are available if your prefer. (Note that due to Teen Room age policies, the set is restricted to use by teens ages 12-18, though adults who accompany teens can play for a short time, if the room is not busy. Check with the Teen Staff!)
Live long and prosper—and enjoy the future of chess!
*The episodes where chess action is prominently shown are “Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” The game is central to the plot in “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” A similar version of three-dimensional chess also appears in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, though not as a central plot device.
**This movement sequence is flawed by a clumsy scene edit, where a re-shoot failed to correctly reset the board to its original condition. Kirk initially moves a Queen to a lower level. After the edit jump, it has been replaced at that position by a Bishop, which Kirk then moves as a Queen, suggesting that either Shatner had chosen that action from the start, without realizing that the piece had changed, or that the direction of the scene called for the pattern to be followed. Had the piece been a Queen, the moves would all be quite legal, and indeed have resulted in a legitimate check on Spock’s King. Spock, on the other hand, just moves his Knights between levels, ignoring their established pattern, and says “check” with no apparent reason to do so. (Maybe the Vulcan really doesn’t understand the game, and the humans are just humoring him…)
***I actually prefer the term “warp boards,” for their ability to change the shape of the board and move pieces about rather like a “warping” spacecraft, so that’s what I use in my rules.
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
It’s National Poetry Month.
There. You have a year.
That’s when it started.
The American Academy of Poets.
That’s who started it.
Not much else factual to say.
But poems aren’t about facts.
Poems are about themselves.
They say whatever they say.
You hear whatever you hear.
That’s a poem.
They’re not about rhyme (though they can be)
They’re not about time (though they can be)
They’re not about meter (rigid or free)
Or fanciful words like “lugubrious.”
Which no one uses any other day.
Or any other way.
Poems are just whatever you want to say.
The way you want to say it.
Your poem is yours.
It can be no one else’s.
It’s National Poetry Month.
So go write a poem.
I just did.
— Howard Shirley
Now it’s your turn! If you are a teenage resident of Williamson County, age 12-18, you are invited to submit your own poems to our Teen Poetry Contest. You may submit up to three poems. Poems are welcome in any form on any subject—the choice is yours (as it should be). A poem may be any length and any style—haiku, sonnet, ballad, limerick, free verse; however your muse takes you. All poems must be your original creations.
All poems must be typed on plain white paper in an ordinary font. Poems with multiple pages should be stapled together. All poems must include the poet’s name, age, school and grade, and contact information (e-mail or phone) at the top of the first page.
We are accepting poems through April 30. You may turn your poem in at any Williamson County Public Library branch, or upstairs in the Teen Room of the Main Branch in Franklin. Contest winners will be announced in May during our Teen Poetry Slam as part of our Summer Reading Kick-off event.
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
Across the world there are places with two seasons, one season, and four seasons. But in America there are five—and that fifth season is Football Season! Everything is decked in shades of crimson, gold, yellow and orange… and blue and black and brown and green and maroon and white, because I’m not talking about leaves, I’m talking about the paraphernalia of our favorite teams. Across the nation, people dress football, talk football, write football, watch football, and even sometimes play football. The game is as much a tradition of the season as trick-or-treating, turkey and stuffing, and early Christmas shopping.*
But how did all this come to be? When did we start all the cheering, the celebrating and, yes, the playing?
For that, we have to start halfway around the world and over two millennia ago, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Back in the days of tunics and togas, a game called phaininda (or harpaston) was all the rage with the Greek culture, and the Romans picked it up as well, changing the name to harpastum (or harpustum; the Romans may have helped invent football, but dictionaries weren’t on their agenda). The game involved two teams, a field divided into two halves, a ball, and copious amounts of pushing, shoving, kicking, and throwing, some of it even involving the ball. And that’s about all we really know of it.
The Roman era writer Atheneaus said this of the sport: “There is a great deal of exertion and labor in a game of ball, and it causes great straining of the neck and shoulders.”
Yep, that sounds like football. Just ask Peyton Manning.
Atheneaus also credited Antiphanes with the following poem describing the game:
“And so he gladly took the ball,
While dodging the other player;
He pushed it out of someone’s way,
While raising another to his feet,
And all around the cries rang out:
“Out of bounds,” “too far”, “right by him”,
“Over his head,” “down below,” “up in the air,”
“Too short”, or “pass back to the scrummage.””
Which shows that football spectators have disagreed with the referees since before there were referees, offering opinions which the players probably even then were wiser to ignore.
From ancient Greece, the Romans carried that game with them, along with roads, aqueducts, armies, and generals who liked to conquer whatever they saw, eventually dropping it off on the island of Britain. And while the Romans left and the Saxons and the Danes and the Normans all came to conquer whatever they also saw in Britain, the game stuck around. Or well, something involving a ball and shoving and kicking and (occasionally) maiming stuck around. We have records of rival villages regularly challenging each other in a contest involving getting a ball to a set goal on opposite sides (sometimes a line, sometimes a post, sometimes the church tower, which was the medieval equivalent of saying “the endzone is Joey’s driveway.”)
One chronicler describes an event like this: “After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.”
Which sounds like any given weekend in America from September through November. Including tailgating, only with horses.
The ball game was apparently quite violent, and various kings attempted to ban it. Which banning lasted about as long as the king (and probably less). Eventually, even the monarchs began to enjoy it (Henry VIII is known to have ordered a pair of “football shoes” for his own efforts in the game).
Sometime over the next centuries, this “ball game” began to split into two distinctive types. One involved being able to carry, throw and catch the ball, as well as kick it over the goal. The other involved only kicking the ball, with hands not allowed. The former was given the name “rugby football,” or simply “rugby” after the English school which developed it in 1825. The latter was called “football,” or “association football” when in the 1860s, organizations called “associations” began to actually codify the rules (and try to end all the maiming). And yes, the word “soccer” is an abbreviated nickname for “association football.”
At some point the game traveled into America, where it leaned towards rugby or soccer depending on who was playing, but was almost always called “football.”
And that’s when the college students took over.
The first official game of “college football” took place between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, on the Rutgers commons. The game consisted of a contest between two teams to get a ball between two posts behind each team’s side of the field. The first team to score 6 goals would be the winner of the game. Apparently, the ball could be kicked through this goal, not carried or thrown, but the players could knock the ball out of the air with their hands. The teams took turns starting with the ball (the first turn was decided with a coin toss, possibly the first football opening coin toss on record), keeping it as long as they could prevent the other team from taking it away or until a goal happened. There was no clock, there were no downs, and it sounds more like soccer or rugby than what we know today, but it was, nevertheless, football, and Rutgers won it 6-4.
It wasn’t long before other schools began challenging each other in similar contests, though the game rules seemed somewhat fluid as to what could be done, decided by the teams when they met. In 1874, four colleges set down rules for “Rugby Union,” formally introducing a running game, a touchdown, and a “free kick” afterwards. And that’s when Walter Camp, a Yale student, was invited to join his school’s erstwhile team. In the manner of great walk-ons, he proceeded not only to become the star, but to change the game itself. Camp was supposed to be studying for a career in medicine, but what he became was a doctor of football. Walter Camp almost immediately took over as the leader of the Intercollegiate Football Association rules committee. IFA, formed with Yale’s rival Harvard, was the forerunner of the NCAA and even the NFL, creating precise and specific rules about the game, including the use of an oblong ball. Over the next decade Camp invented the scrimmage line, the rule that one team possessed the ball at a time, the quarterback, the snap, the concept of downs and limited possessions, the idea of lining off the field in white at 5 yard intervals (a “gridiron”), and the idea of different levels of scoring for different types of goals, including the touchdown, field goal, and safety. He also invented tackling, reduced the number of players on each side from 20 (or more) to 11, developed the practice of signaling plays and created pretty much everything we think of as essential to modern American football. He even threw the first forward pass, resulting in a run for a touchdown; the referee ruled the play valid on a coin toss! Ironically, the forward pass was specifically rejected as a legal play by Camp’s rules committee when it was finally discussed in 1903 (some thirty years after Camp’s winning play). Then the committee adopted the pass three years later, in part to deal with accusations (made by President Theodore Roosevelt, among others) that the game had become too dangerous.
Camp’s football was certainly a different game from rugby, soccer, and ancient haspartum, and it was, essentially, all American. And Camp didn’t just stop with created the game; he created player statistics and the “All-American” ranking of players by quality and performance, paving the way for the modern sports page and the endless arguments of who the GOAT** is. Camp was the first collegiate head coach (for Harvard), the first to train other coaches (including the celebrated Amos Alonzo Stagg), and the first to have an assistant coach with an eye for knowing which player to put in which position—who was none other than his wife, Allie. Walter Camp is honored as the Father of American Football, but Allie Camp was unquestionably the game’s mother, showing that football has been the passion of women as well as men from its very start!
Of course, today we have college football and professional football. The latter rose out of competitions among local athletic clubs (including YMCA clubs). These were amateur events at first, until in 1892 a club paid $500 to “Pudge” Hefflefinger for a single game (a rather tidy little sum). Pudge earned his pay, winning the game with a fumble return for a touchdown. Within a year other clubs began paying their players, almost all workmen who played in their own time off, for about $10 a game. Eventually, these ad hoc professional teams would formalize, giving birth in 1920 to the American Professional Football Association—which would later change its name to the National Football League. By 1925, professional football was popular enough and successful enough that the question of whether the talented Ohio State football star Harold “Red” Grange would “turn pro” was the national news story of the day. Grange’s decision even involved a sports agent negotiating a contract with the Chicago Bears. Grange would earn over $125,000 for his first year on the team, an enormous sum, well over 400 times the income of the average professional player! That’s quite a change from the early days of tossing a pig bladder at a church tower for nothing but bragging rights.
But despite all that has happened over twenty centuries and the span of half a world, the words of an ancient Greek spectator still echo true today:
“A youth I saw was playing ball,
Seventeen years of age and tall;
From Cos he came, and well I know
The Gods look kindly on that spot.
For when he took the, ball or threw it,
So pleased were all of us to view it,
We all cried out; so great his grace,
Such frank good humour in his face,
That every time he spoke or moved,
All felt as if that youth they loved.”
Maybe that’s all there really is to our love for the game: The simple joy of watching young athletes at play in the crisp cool light of an autumn afternoon. Go team!
*Some people do this, I’m told. I’m male, so “early shopping” means the day before Christmas Eve.
** Greatest Of All Time, not a reference to the Navy football team’s mascot, Bill the Goat. Though you can certainly stop the argument by insisting that Bill is the Goat, and no one can say differently.
- Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football by Richard Whittingham , Library Call No. 796.332 WHI
- NFL.Com History pages: http://www.nfl.com/history
- Attalus.org Translations of Athenaeus: http://www.attalus.org/old/athenaeus1.html#14
About the author: Howard Shirley grew up rooting for Georgia Tech in Alabama, which prepared him for the trials of being a Vandy fan in Tennessee. Go ‘Dores!
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
Sharks with frickin’ lasers for eyes. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
What do these have in common?
Sharks, you say?
They always come out on Shark Week?
Okay, yes, that too. But keep going.
They’re really, really silly ideas for monsters?
Bingo! Winner, winner, monster dinner!
Sharks in a tornado? A cross between a shark and an octopus (which really isn’t that scary a beast, unless you’re a clam)? A giant shark (okay, yes there did use to be these megalodons)? And laser eyes? What are they, sharks from Krypton?
Okay, they’re all fine as a doodle on the side of your algebra homework (which you really need to finish; it’s due tomorrow). But let’s be honest they’re kind of, well, dumb.
But they’re not the dumbest ideas ever for monsters. And the truth is, dumb monsters can be a lot of fun.
Dumb combination monsters go back a long way. The ancient Egyptians believed in jackal-headed men, crocodile-headed men, cat-headed women, and of course the original sphinx, with a man’s head on a lion’s body. The Phoenicians gave us a man with the body of a fish. But the Greeks topped them all. One-eyed giant (cyclops), men with the bodies of horses, the chimera with the heads of a dragon, a lion and a goat, the medusa with snakes for a hairdo (maybe she got all stone-faced because she couldn’t do anything with it), a man with the head of a bull, men with goat legs, a man with a hundred eyes, and worse.
But it seems every age has its bizarre combos. The Middle Ages gave us the unicorn and mermaids, and things went so bizarre in the Renaissance that travelogues seriously suggested there were men with their faces in their stomachs (talk about fast food).
Today we know that’s all nonsense. Unless, of course, you believe in Nessie, Champie, Bigfoot, Mothman (no kidding), Yetis (no, not the coolers), Chupacabras, the Jersey Devil, and human-faced goats (okay, that last one is bizarrely real)! And, of course, aliens.
Why do we create these monsters? Is it to explain, to entertain, to scare, or just because we can? That’s a question for another article, but at the library, we like ‘em all. So if you want to “check out” some monsters on your own, here are a few of our favorite literary monster mish-mashes:
Miss Erin’s Picks:
- Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black. With a title like that, you know it’s gonna be epic!
- Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn. Because nothing says “hunk” like a dude who’s also a dinosaur.
- Zombie Blondes by Brian James. Mean girls are so much meaner when they’re undead.
- A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz, featuring fairies maimed by the cannibalistic gnomes who work for them (“Call it a tax.”), and a revolution and, well, what more do you need to know? Read the rest for yourself!
Mr. Howard’s Picks:
- The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn, featuring an alien dragon poet-warrior who’s also a living tattoo. Starting with Dragon and Thief, this sci-fi action series is part Star Wars, part mystery, and part coming-of-age tale, and all terrific.
- Squirrel Girl, from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl graphic novels. Okay, not a monster, but a superheroine with the combined powers of a squirrel and a girl, which turns out to be awesome. And yes, she can beat anyone, even the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe. Take that, Galactus.
- The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, being the purported memoirs of an assistant to a 19th century monster hunter who hunts down the “those can’t be real” monsters of fable (including those “face in their stomach” guys). Scary, realistic, and very intense, Yancey pulls off turning nonsensical creatures into a horrific threat. And then does it again in two more books in the series!
- The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, seems like a light, funny fantasy “con game” story… until the legendary “Rat King” monstrosity enters the picture, in a sequence that will have you looking over your shoulder with every word.
- The Hungry Cities Chronicles, beginning with Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, which has the best mash-up ever: a city and a tank. Okay, no that’s not a monster, but actual cities on tank treads that gobble up other cities? How could your inner monster-mashup muscle not love that? Just because it’s mechanical, doesn’t mean it’s not a monster!
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The President of the Galaxy, who’s also a starship thief, has two heads. And he’s one of the more normal monstrosities the hapless British hero meets in this over-the-top scifi laugh fest.
Or come by the Teen Room and peruse our Dungeons & Dragons manuals, ‘cause nothing says ridiculous monster mash- up like an Owlbear. (Yes, it’s a bear. That’s also an owl! Oooo, scary!) Unless it’s a Gelatinous Cube, which is, uh, basically acidic Jello. Shaped like a giant cube. That moves.
Sharknado, you’ve got nothing on us!
by Howard Shirley, Teen Department
It’s Teen Tech Week, and to celebrate we consulted a panel of teen readers about their favorite techy stories, featuring fantastic technology they wish was real, and creepy technology they’d rather never see. And then we rounded out the whole thing by selecting a few books we love featuring tech both real and imaginary—as well as tech you may someday create yourself!
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game begins after humanity has barely survived a genocidal war against technically advanced alien invaders, and Earth fears that race’s eventual return. The last invasion was defeated almost solely by the action of one heroic military officer, and the leaders of Earth are desperate to create soldiers who can mimic that hero’s instinctive skill. Potential candidates are selected as children and trained in an orbiting military academy, featuring a recreational battle game, sort of a cross between laser tag and Red Rover, played in zero-gravity inside a huge sphere. The eventual victors of this tournament, led by the novel’s young hero, Ender, also train in a complex computer simulator, learning to command the space fleet that must confront and destroy the enemy—with unexpected results. Our panel of teens loved the idea of the battle game in its weightless environment, as well as the computer simulator.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
For creepy tech, our teens brought up the Divergent series and the technology used in the novels to identify and control the members of a dystopian future society. At sixteen, everyone is divided by law into five distinct factions, ostensibly chosen by the individual. The choice, however, is influenced by a complex personality test run in a virtual reality environment, which uses the individual’s personal fears to direct that choice. Secretly, one of the factions develops a serum that allows them to use the VR tech to control the minds of others and launch a bloody coup. “Divergent” refers to those who can’t be easily regimented by the VR test and who can recognize the VR world as not being actual reality, thus becoming immune to the effects of the mind-control. Everyone agreed that this sort of technology was one they’d never want to see come into reality.
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama
This popular manga (Japanese comic book series), features another dystopian setting, where humanity has been reduced to a tiny population living in an immense walled city to protect itself from roving, gigantic “Titans” whose only apparent desire is to eat humans. The warriors assigned to defend humanity are equipped with “vertical mobility devices,” which are arrow-tipped grappling hooks fired by gas canisters. The cables allow the warriors to swing through city, forests, and even from the Titans themselves, “just like Spiderman” as our teen panel put it. The soldiers also use flexible swords which are the only weapons capable of killing the monstrous Titans. The blades, however, are destroyed when they strike a Titan, and the hilts must be reloaded from a supply cartridge worn like a scabbard at the warrior’s waist. Our teen panel loved the idea of being able to swing through the air with the grappling-hook harnesses, and who doesn’t love a techy sword?
Our teen panel then rounded out the discussion with recommendations for books and videos featuring Doctor Who—because TIME TRAVEL! (Which is hard to beat as tech goes.)
Our Honorary Best Book for Teen Tech Week:
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
Part part non-fiction, part fiction, this highly amusing and intelligent graphic novel tells the adventures of (the real) Lady Ada Lovelace and (the also real) Charles Babbage in an “alternate pocket universe;” the alternate part being that the two actually build the invention they collaborated on in real life—the fabulous Analytical Engine, a steam-powered Victorian-era computer! If you’ve ever wondered what the Steampunk phenomena is all about, these two historical persons are at the heart of it. (As one of the book’s characters quips about the pair, “Oh look, we’re present for the invention of the geek.”) The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage mixes silly adventures and fabulous Victorian engineering with real history about the development of computing, programming languages, and a dash of women’s rights, all nearly a century before anyone made the first computer chip. If you love steampunk, history, computers or just laughing out loud about any of them, there’s no better book to grab for Teen Tech Week.
Other Teen Tech books in our collection include:
Time Travel Tech (because Doctor Who!)
- Loop by Karen Akins
- Hourglass series by Myra McEntire
- The Time Machine by HG Wells (the father of them all)
- Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
- Gallagher Academy series by Ally Carter
- The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp Series by Rick Yancey
- Feed by MT Anderson
- The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers
- Blue Screen by Dan Wells
- Avalon Duology by Mindee Abnett
- Dove Arising by Karen Bao
- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
- Existence by David Brin
- Illuminae Series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
- Dragonback Series by Timothy Zahn
- Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson—teens bio-engineered with angel’s wings, pursued by teens bio-engineered as wolves.
Tech That Never Was (But Should Have Been) Tech
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
- Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
- Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld—featuring steam-powered walking tanks and bio-engineered flying whales!!!
Almost There Tech
- Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld—featuring a hoverboard that floats over metal rails, or water with a strong iron content. Real efforts to create hoverboards have in fact produced two workable versions- one that operates only above a metal surface, and another that operates (using superconductors) over a magnetic surface. Aside from the lack of any ability to float over water, this tech really does exist.
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams—the tech is as silly (and impossible) as the novel, but who wouldn’t love to own the spacecraft Heart of Gold?
Actual You Can Do This Tech
Technology just isn’t something in books or something made by other people. If you love tech, why not make it your career? Check out these non-fiction books to kickstart your quest!
- Careers for Tech Girls in Engineering by Marcia Amidon Lusted YA 620.0023 LUS
- Preparing for Tomorrow’s Careers Series:
- Powering Up a Career in Robotics by Peter K. Robin YA 629.892 RYA
- Powering Up a Career in Software Development and Programming by Daniel E. Harmon YA 005.12023 HAR
- Powering Up a Career in Nanotechnology by Kristi Lew YA620.5023 LEW
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
with apologies to Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi
RICK, or Rick Grimes, is the lead character of the graphic novel and television series, The Walking Dead written by Robert Kirkman, which features a zombie pandemic that turns much of North America (and presumably the rest of the world) into a land dominated by re-animated corpses that attack any other living thing, including Rick’s band of survivors.
ASH, played by Bruce Campbell, battles his own version of undead zombies in the popular Sam Raimi films, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. Part horror films, part camp comedy, the story was recently revised as a television series starring Campbell. ASH’s line about the shotgun is borrowed from the films.
JAYNE or Jayne Cobb was the “muscle” character in the short-lived sci-fi cult series, Firefly, as well as the movie set in the same universe, Serenity, and a series of graphic novels written by the show’s creator, Joss Whedon (writer/director of the hit Avengers movie). Many of the stories in the series feature the “reavers,” which, while not actually undead zombies, are clearly inspired by classic zombie horror films, and appear to equally hard to stop and equally hungry for human flesh. Vera is Jayne’s favorite gun. JAYNE’s description of Vera is taken from the television series.
ARCHIE is the famous comic character from the long-running comic book series. JUGHEAD is his best friend. Recently both feature in Afterlife With Archie written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, graphic novels set in an alternate universe, where the town of Riverdale, including many of Archie’s friends, succumb to a zombie plague.
A high school cafeteria room, with tables and chairs. There are double doors with frosted glass window panes set in them that lead out of the room. A podium has been set up on one of the tables. RICK stands behind the podium, holding a gavel. The others, except for JUGHEAD, move about the room.
RICK: I now call the first meeting of the Zombie Survivalists Society to order. First on the agenda–
(Noise from the back). No, Jayne, we are not changing the name to the “Not-Deaders Gang.”
JAYNE: But I *like* that name.
RICK (pounds gavel): As I was saying, first on the agenda, did anyone lock the door?
ARCHIE: Jughead went to do that!
RICK: Both doors?
ARCHIE: Sure. Don’t worry. We can trust Jughead.
JAYNE: What kinda mother names her kid “Jughead?”
ASH: Same kind that names her son “Jane.”
JAYNE: It’s JAYNE. With a “Y.”
ASH: And I’m Ash. With a chainsaw.
(SOUND EFFECT: Loud chainsaw revving.)
RICK (pounds gavel): Ash, turn that thing off. The undead will hear it!
ASH: Let ‘em. I got plenty of gas.
RICK: Off, Ash.
ASH: All right, all right. No need to get your gavel bent outta shape. It’s off.
RICK: I think that’s tip one, folks. Noise attracts the undead. So it’s best to keep as quiet as you can, even if you’re well-armed… or, uh, have a chainsaw for an arm.
JAYNE: Wait, that thing is part of you? You ain’t got no hand under there?
ASH: Lose a hand, gain a chainsaw. Groovy.
ARCHIE: They had a chainsaw at the hospital?
ASH: Hospital? Naw, kid, I got this in Hardwares at S-mart. Shop smart, kid. Shop S-mart.
ARCHIE: That doesn’t sound all that smart.
ASH (shrugs): Smart, dumb– I’m the one with the chainsaw hand.
ARCHIE: What does that even mean?
RICK (pounds gavel): Okay, okay. Let’s get back to business. Seems like a good time to talk about armament.
ASH: Chainsaw and boomstick (waves shotgun)— The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington, S-Mart’s top of the line. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. Shop smart, shop S-mart!
ARCHIE: Who talks like that? It’s like I’m trapped in an alternate universe.
JAYNE: Shiny. But I got Vera. (Holds up military rifle) It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun. Can’t get that at your S-mart.
ASH: Can’t get ammo for it, either.
RICK: Solid point. A gun’s no good without bullets.
JAYNE: Oh, I got lots of bullets. Armor piercing, Alliance armory stuff, best you can buy in the Black.
RICK: Why would you want armor piercing rounds?
JAYNE: In case them goram reavers pick up some body armor off dead Alliance troopers.
ARCHIE: Wait, what’s a whatchamacallit “reaver?”
JAYNE: What we’re talking about, right? Come at ya’ fast, rippin’ ya’ apart. Only way to stop ‘em is to kill ‘em fast. And Vera will do that, full auto, broad spread.
ASH: You gonna get head shots on a horde of deadites with full auto?
JAYNE: Head shots? Why head shots?
ASH: Because that’s the only way you kill deadites—take out the brain. Or say the right words.
RICK: Words? What words?
ASH: Klaatu barada nikto… or something like that.
ARCHIE: How is a quote from The Day the Earth Stood Still supposed to stop zombies?
JAYNE: Zombies? Ain’t we talking about reavers? Ya’ know, men what’s gone nuts on account of the Alliance mucking around with folks brains?
ASH: Naw, we’re talking about deadites, the living dead, summoned from the grave by unholy magic and dumb teenagers.
ASH: No offense, carrot head.
RICK: “Unholy magic?” Where’d you get that? All the zombies I know of are caused by a viral plague. They bite, you get infected, die, and the virus brings your corpse back, with a raging hunger for human flesh.
JAYNE: Hang on, I’m taking notes. Can you guys talk a bit slower?
ASH: Well, those deadites never made me a zombie, but they possessed my hand. Had to cut it off for this! (Revs chainsaw again.)
ARCHIE: Cut off your own hand? That is completely gross.
ASH: Gross? Naw. Kiddo, it’s groovy.
JAYNE: So you guys are saying instead of insane killer nutjobs from the Black, you’re fighting superfast dead people from Hell? Told Mal he shoulda sent Shepherd Book to this shindig instead of me.
ARCHIE: Ours aren’t fast. They just kinda shuffle, like Frankenstein. (He mocks the walk.)
RICK: Yep, that’s about right.
JAYNE: You guys can’t run away from that?
ASH: Sure woulda made my life a lot groovier.
ARCHIE: Hard to run when the whole high school just keeps walking after you, never stopping, moaning for your flesh, like this—(Moans) URRRRRRRRR….
RICK: Whole school? Make that the whole world. As far as I can tell, it’s a global pandemic.
JAYNE: I ain’t thinking that’s any kind of what I’d call ‘groovy,’ Sawboy.
RICK: Look, this whole thing is about survival. And that’s more than just having the right weapon or knowing where to shoot. You need a plan, dependable transportation, a safe route for evacuation, supplies and more. And you have to make certain everybody in your family is on the same page, so they all know what to do and where to go when disaster strikes.
JAYNE: That’s a bit more than I can write down on this candy wrapper.
ASH: I’m surprised you can write anything down.
RICK: You don’t have to. The Center for Disease Control has already created a preparedness plan for dealing with a zombie plague. You can find it on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm.
ARCHIE (using a tablet): I’ve got it right here. Look, they even have a graphic novel we can download. http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm
ASH (to JAYNE): Groovy. That oughta make it easy enough for you to understand.
JAYNE: Ha. Funny. (to RICK) But if this plan is for zombies like you’re talking about, why are me and Lefty here?
JAYNE (continuing): Sounds like we got totally different monsters to fight.
RICK: The plan works for just about any disaster—zombie plagues, reaver attacks, or more realistic events like floods, tornadoes, disease outbreaks and more. The right things to do are pretty much the same, no matter what happens.
ARCHIE: I gotta show this to the gang. We could have been much better prepared when it all started. Jughead, Moose, Reggie, Betty, Veronica—sure would have helped.
RICK: Speaking of Jughead, where is that friend of yours? He should have been back by now.
ARCHIE: Well, I dunno. Wait, there he is!
(All turn to look at a shadow appearing in the windows of the doors into the room. It’s Jughead’s trademark crown-toothed hat.)
JAYNE: Nice hat. I’d wear that.
The door opens, and Jughead staggers into the room, one arm out, one clutching his stomach mouth open.
JUGHEAD (moaning): Muh-urrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…
ALL (except JUGHEAD): RUN!
There is a mad dash for the exit, with yells, screams and knocking over of chairs. JUGHEAD alone remains in the room.
JUGHEAD: …urrrppp! ‘xcuse me! Man, that was a long time coming up. Any of you guys want a sandwich, too? Guys?
The CDC Zombie Preparedness Guide is real, if tongue-in-cheek. Though centered around an imaginary zombie plague, the guide offers real tips and advice for general disaster preparedness.
By Erin Holt and Howard Shirley, Teen Department
Teen Read week is here! Sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, Teen Read Week highlights books and reading for teens and young adults. This year’s theme is “Get Away at Your Local Library,” and we’ve compiled a list of new books to help teen readers do just that. We’ve recently added all of these books (and many more) to our collection at the Franklin Teen Room, so come by, grab a book, and get away!
Get Away to Another Time: Capture the experience of the past, whether long ago or even simply a few decades, with these recent works of historical fiction:
- Audacity by Melanie Crowder, YA F CROWDER: A historical novel in verse about Clara Lemlich, a real life heroine in the fight for women’s labor rights at the turn of the century.
- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, YA F SCHLITZ: Be taken back to 1911 with Joan, a fourteen year old who just wants her life to turn out like the books she reads and loves. This novel explores feminism, the role of women in history, and how dreams aren’t as far out of reach as we think.
Get Away to Another Planet: Soar away with new science fiction adventures:
- Avalon and Polaris by Mindee Arnett, YA F ARNETT: A teenage boy fights for freedom in his family’s aging spaceship in this future space adventure series.
- Serenity, Firefly Class 03-K64: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon, YA F WHEDON: Fans of the short-lived science fiction television series Firefly can recapture the adventure with this graphic novel, set in the time immediately following the events of the movie Serenity. (Suitable for older teens.)
Get Away to Another Life: Stay in the present (and near future) with these new contemporary adventures:
- We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, YA F WALLACH Go on a journey with 4 high school teenagers as they face themselves, each other, and their inner demons as they await a meteor to hit Earth. This stunning debut is best suited for older teens.
- Mosquitoland by David Arnold F YA ARN: Combine a road trip, a romance, a homeless man, and a cast of quirky character and you’ve got a surefire hit with this awesome debut novel.
Get Away to Another World: Fantasy: Get whisked away into a world like you’ve never known in these fantasy novels.
- Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, YA F HERMAN: The first installment of the brand new Blood of Gods of Royals series, this book will leave you wanting more! Join main character Katerina as she embarks on a royal mission, involving murder and a love triangle!
- The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, YA F YAN: This graphic novel tells the story of an American Chinese teen in the time leading up to World War II, whose mother vows to turn him into a superhero. Based on an actual pre-war comic book hero created by a Chinese-American artist, the book is pure fantasy, but also a revealing look at the American Chinese culture of the time.
Get Away with Girl Power:Looking for a strong and confident main character who is a girl? These books are for you!
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, YA F MUR Willowdean is fat, and okay with it. When a beauty pageant opportunity arises, it’s her big chance to prove how beauty comes from this inside as well as the outside, regardless of size.
- Queen of Shadows by Sara J. Maas YA F MAAS If you love the THRONE OF GLASS series, get in line for the next installment in this awesome series about assassins, espionage and more as you follow the path of the strong and awesome Celaena Sardothien! A combination of fantasy and girl power all rolled into one!
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
Last time we reviewed the predictions that Back to the Future II got completely wrong, such as the computerized celebrity waiters, dust resistant paper, self-fitting clothes, and weather control. Now we’re going to look at the predictions that were almost right (different technology with the same purpose, technology that has almost the same function, ect.), as well as the technology predictions that are absolutely correct.
Flying Cars. This, of course, is the biggie (if you don’t count time machines, which we didn’t have in 1985 or 1989, either). And though a perennial favorite of science fiction and future predictions, we still don’t have our flying cars. But we do have “driveable planes,” like the Transition, an aircraft with folding wings and four wheels. Designed to comply with road safety regulations, it’s intended as an airplane which can be driven home on ordinary roads and parked in a garage. Rather than a car that flies, it’s a plane that drives; it still needs an airport for takeoffs and landings, and requires a pilot’s license to operate. So a true “flying car” that one simply hops in and takes off into the air whenever and wherever is still a fantastic dream. BUT there is something a lot closer which may soon be available– the hoverbike. Demonstrated a few years ago, a hoverbike consists of two large horizontal counter-rotating fans, on top of which is mounted a saddle-seat like a motorcycle. Supposedly simple to operate and fly, the device has been featured in a number of videos, and even appears briefly in an advertisement for Honda (who bought the design from its inventors). Thought the videos only depict the hoverbike operating a few feet over the ground, the vehicle could achieve heights of several thousand feet, making it, if not a flying car, a flying motorcycle. Can you get one? Well, not yet, though rumor has it the device is being considered as an expensive luxury sport item. It may not be headed to your garage, but if you know any billionaires, maybe they’ll give you a ride one day.
Flying signs. The “skyways” of 2015 America don’t appear much different from the roads of 2015—congested, confusing, and marked by signs… only these signs can fly, hovering in place in the flight paths of the flying cars we don’t have. Some even offer advertisements, like billboards without posts. Well, not having flying cars, we obviously don’t have (or need) flying signs. But could advertising drones be far away? Like planes flying over beaches and sporting events, pulling signs touting local diners, drones could easily carry similar signs, or even hover in place. No one has done this yet, but it’s certainly possible… though we might end up wishing it wasn’t.
Doc Browns’ visor glasses. At the start of the film, Doc Brown hops in his now fusion-powered flying Delorean and flips down a set of opaque sliver glasses, which presumably he can see through. Although how they work is never shown, Doc’s visor appears to transmit visual information to him while driving, not unlike a “heads up” display used by military helicopter pilots. In a way, it’s a combination camera and information device. Remember Google’s infamous attempt to introduce “Google Glasses?” Instantly ridiculed by comedians and amateur YouTube productions, these modern version of Doc’s visor provoked such strong reactions against “secret spying” as to lead some bars and restaurants to ban Google Glasses before they even got started. Ironically, the same capabilities are present in just about any common smart phone– perhaps spying from one’s hand is more acceptable than spying from one’s head? (In an ironic twist, a few of the comic videos depicted male Glasses wearers taking secret photos of women and calculating “vital statistics.” This appears to be a feature of Doc Brown’s binoculars later in the film. As he tracks the movements of Marty’s future son, the binoculars keep shifting an “aiming” crosshair to women who walk past the boy, with numbers spinning briefly into view, implying that Doc is a bit of a voyeur. This also echoes Marty’s father’s teenage Peeping Tom misadventure in the first film.)
Self-tying shoes. Not to be outdone by the jacket, Marty’s 2015 sneakers (Nike, no less), lace themselves with a button push. The dream of boys everywhere (and exasperated parents), this little wonder of the future is, alas, not here… yet. Nike itself has promised to release exact replicas of Marty’s shoes, complete with powered self-lacing feature, this year in honor of the film. Replica versions of the sneakers, without the automatic laces, are already available (and they still look funky and futuristic, thirty years later). But as yet, the dream has not been realized, though sources insist that Nike is on track. After all, there are twelve months in 2015, and the movie is set in October.
Self-drying clothes. Another dream of boys and anyone caught in a sudden shower, Marty’s outfit suddenly turns into a full-body dryer after he falls in a pond. Inflating like a balloon to the whir of hidden fans, the jacket blasts itself and Marty with air, declaring within seconds (in a computer voice like a video game) “Clothes dry.” Leaving aside how hot the air would have to be to fully dry clothes in less than five seconds, one begins to wonder how much these things must weigh to hold all the motors, batteries, and other components to perform the functions shown. Certainly no such self-drying wonders exist. However, polymer technology has produced coatings that shed water completely. Liquids, oils, even dust pour off treated surfaces like ball bearings rolling out of a pan. Already available in paint (bars in Germany coat exterior walls to discourage public, uh, “relief,” as any liquid simply ricochets back on its source), this technology could produce clothes which would never get wet in the first place (or even dirty).
Automatic beverage dispenser at a restaurant. Marty encounters this device in the local diner (the same spot where a diner existed in 1955). Repeating a standard product-placement from the original film, Marty orders a Pepsi (ironically, not the “Pepsi Free” product of the 1985 film, which had been renamed in 1987. Amusingly, what had been Marty’s preferred drink the day before no longer existed the next morning, when the second film begins!). Regardless of flavor, the restaurant counter opens and a bottle of Pepsi pops up, suitably surrounded by a cool mist. It’s practically an ad, and reminiscent of the Pepsi commercials of the era. Ad or not, cool or not, instant-Pepsi counters don’t exist that I know of. And, really, there doesn’t seem to be much point to this “advancement” over an ordinary vending machine or a refrigerated cabinet. Of course, self-serve sodas are a staple, and new computerized “mix your own soda” systems have become popular in some fast food restaurants. Also, some fast food restaurants use automated drink systems that dispense cup, ice, liquid and lid for their drive thru lines. So label this one a “sort of.”
Upside down soda bottles. Of course, issuing an ordinary Pepsi bottle from 1985 would not do for a futuristic film. So instead, Marty’s drink appears in a bottle that is, apparently, upside down, with the lid or cap on the bottom (ooo, that futuristic design!). This spectacularly nonsensical idea has not arrived, to no one’s real surprise. However, the concept has been applied to thicker semi-liquid products like ketchup and mustard, and some shower products as well. Instead of having to turn the bottle over and shake or pound it to get the product to slowly drain its way to the opening and onto a burger, the upside down bottle has the product already at the opening, ready to ooze onto your meal. The future is here!
Hoverbelt / brace. This device is shown as an aid for the elderly and (presumably the disabled) to help them move around. No such technology exists, or appears likely too. But several steps have been made in developing wheel chairs that will “stand up.” And maybe the Segway two-wheeled electric scooter counts as a similar approach?
Scenic window. Not so much, but giant, flat screen TVs exist, and images of all types can be easily produced, and DVDs of all sorts of repeating scenes are available. So if you want your TV to show you a garden or an ocean view or a crackling fire, you can find it.
Smart binoculars. I mentioned these in the discussion of Doc’s visor, so I’ll return to them here. In the film, the device looks a little like an iPhone with a wide edge, only Doc peers through the edge rather than using a screen. The binoculars are revealed to have a built-in “heads up” style display that provides information about whatever (or whoever) is being viewed. In some ways, this may be similar to military tech already in use (like the previously mentioned pilot’s helmets) — and of course, the infamous Google glasses. The capabilities of the device do look like a possible feature in a smart phone camera. We certainly have telephoto lenses and computer magnification available, serving a very similar purpose. Cameras also have “face” trackers that attempt to isolate faces to help provide proper focusing and framing for the eventual photo. So perhaps all the smart phones have out-guessed the futurism of the film. In some ways, Doc’s fancy binoculars seem almost quaint.
Trash robot. Cute and simple, this is basically a roving trash can that picks up street debris. While we don’t have those, we certainly do have creations like the Roomba robot vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers, eagerly roving around homes and businesses, performing pretty much the same purpose.
Dog walking drones. Arriving at his future neighborhood, Marty sees a hovering small saucer, a bit like a drone, holding the leash of a large dog; it’s a flying dog-walking robot. As it turns out, we do have drones. And we do have dog-walking robots (yes, really: http://theweek.com/articles/484714/luna-really-need-dogwalking-robot). But alas, the glorious wonders of the dog-walking drone have not yet appeared on the scene.
Laser discs as recycled trash. Everywhere you look in the future, you see giant reflective laser discs, gathered up in bales like stacks of recycled cardboard. Remember the laser disc? They were like CDs or DVDs, only as big a round as a vinyl record (okay, you post ‘90s types, bigger than a Frisbee). Once the Blu-ray of the day, clearly in 1989 people thought the laser disc would become as ubiquitous as, as, well as the DVD players which completely replaced them became. The irony of the scene is that, yes, laser discs were indeed destined to become trash, but within about ten years, not thirty, and there appear to be more laser discs in the town of Hilldale in 2015 than were probably sold in LA for the entire 1980s. So while the giant laser discs are indeed gone from the scene, they were never really all that much in the scene to begin with. Still, the smaller and far more ubiquitous CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disc might be on the way out thanks to downloadable digital music and video products. But the physical medium for holding artistic content still remains popular, and unlikely to vanish quite yet. Sure, CDs and DVDs do wind up in the trash, but that’s because we have so many of them that they’re easily replaced, not that anyone has stopped using them at all.
Bionic implants. Briefly mentioned in the film (and implied to be faulty), bionic implants are a staple of modern science fiction. Microchip implants have been demonstrated in reality, though not as commercial products. Much opposition to the idea remains, both out of health concerns and fears of what such implants might mean in a period of growing government surveillance and ever more intrepid (and nefarious) computer hackers.
Automatic gardens. Marty’s kitchen has a built-in garden that automatically delivers fresh fruits and vegetables on demand. So far, gardens remain traditional, or people are content to browse the produce section at the local supermarket. But hydroponic technology does offer the possibility of in-home, dirt-free gardens; though having this built into the ceiling seems a bit much.
Hoverboards. The most famous sequence in the film, of course, is the “hoverboard” chase between Marty and the future teenage grandson of his family nemesis, Biff. The chase mimics the skateboard sequence from 1955 from the first film, only the skateboards have been replaced with wheel-less “hoverboards” that float a little less than a foot above ground. This, of course, was probably considered even more fanciful by the film’s makers than even the flying cars, but guess what— hoverboards actually exist. Invented by two scientists just last year, the Hendo hoverboard has famously been demonstrated on YouTube and featured on network news. Unlike Marty’s board, this one only works over a metal floor, and operates on the principle of magnetic induction and repulsion. But it works—hovering a few inches above the surface, riders can spin it, turn it, and even try half-pipe moves. Of course, as a frictionless device it doesn’t operate exactly like a skateboard, as it can slide in any direction, not just forwards and backwards (control is very much an issue). It’s also quite heavy, so jump moves are out; you won’t be flipping this in the air for a kick-move or a 360! But it is a hoverboard and it does work, and you can bet Marty would love to give it a try (Tony Hawk has).
Thumbpad door locks. Access to Marty’s future house is not by keys but by a thumbpad that apparently only recognizes the print of the owners. Locks like this do exist, but the technology hasn’t been brought to the average home in any significant way. However, Apple’s new thumbprint security system for the iPhone 6 could be easily incorporated into “smarthouse” systems and apps to allow thumbprint approval for remote entry and security control. So if you want this “future tech,” you can probably get it.
Giant wall screens. Yep, we got ‘em, if you want to pay for them. (The author personally knows someone with a 72” wall screen. And yes, it’s huge, and yes, he bought it to watch football). Also, the film features multiple images on a single screen , a feature that is quite common, both built into a TV itself or from cable providers.
TV phone. In one scene, the future Marty talks through his giant wall television set (yes, we have those) to both a coworker and his boss. Skype, Facetime and other Internet videoconferencing technologies have made this a common, everyday reality, though we don’t use our televisions, we use our computers. Ironically, the scene ends with the boss sending Marty a firing notice by fax. While we still have these devices, for the most part fax machines have faded from usage, replaced by digital documents, texting and “cloud” computing.
Voice activated lights/houses. Marty’s future house is voice-activated, with a talking computer operating the lights and other features of the home. This can in fact be done, though app-controlled “smart houses” seem to be the new trend, and quite expensive, not something found in the older middle class dwelling the future Marty owns. But any home can take advantage of systems like the Nest programmable thermostat and Nest fire alarm, which offer “intelligent” control of heating and safety systems, with these devices able to detect and respond to human presence. And AT&T (and others) advertises fully digital home control systems that operate everything from the water faucets to the door locks with the slide of finger on a smartphone. If you want Marty’s computer controlled house, you can get it.
Sound device that makes strange noises. These have been readily available as novelty items for years, and sound chips are in things as simple as greeting cards. Some devices and chips are programmable or let you record your own sounds. Of course, these days apps on a smart phone serve the same purpose. The future has clearly jumped well past the movie prediction!
Police computing tablet. In the film, police use an electronic pad to collect information about suspects or individuals, identifying Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer (as her future self) and locating her (future) home. This moment is possibly the one truly prescient prediction in the movie, as the iPad and computing tablets like it weren’t even dreamed of in 1989, which was just seeing the advent of viable laptop computers. (Of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation showed viewers the PADD, a small, handheld, flat device about the size and shape of a thin book, as the futuristic replacement for clipboards and books, so the idea of a “computing tablet” was already in the minds of Hollywood science fiction writers). Today, tablet computing offers similar capabilities to the police tablets in BTTF2, and laptops and tablets are used in many police departments by officers both in the office and in the field.
So, there you have it—the future they thought versus the present we got. But perhaps the biggest difference between our present and their imagine future is what the filmmakers missed completely—the ubiquity of the cell phone. Not only are these not in use, they’re not in sight. Instead, their future 2015 still has phone booths. Even Superman can’t find one of those!