Can We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future?

The Launch of Hieroglyph is just the start of a new conversation about the future.


 Thursday, October 2, 2014

9:00 a.m. - 3:15 p.m. 


Keck Center of the National Academies

500 Fifth Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20001


 or visit


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Can We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future? 






In collaboration with Issues in Science and Technology


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It's 2014 and we have no flying cars, no Mars colonies, no needle-less injections,
and yet plenty of smartphone dating apps. Is our science fiction to blame if we find
today's science and technology less than dazzling? Inspired by Neal Stephenson's
2011 article "Innovation Starvation," in which he argues that science fiction is failing
to supply our scientists and engineers with inspiration, and the new anthology 
Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, this event will explore a more
ambitious narrative about what's coming. From the tales we tell about robots and
drones, to the narratives on the cutting edge of neuroscience, to society's view of
its most intractable problems, we need to begin telling a new set of stories about
ourselves and the future.


Breakfast and lunch will be served. 


If you are unable to join us in person, please tune in to the live webcast
 here. No signup is required to view the streaming video. 


Join the conversation online using #abetterfuture and by following




9:00 a.m.               Can We Imagine Our Way to a Better Future?


Neal Stephenson 

Author, "Atmosphæra Incognita," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future 

Author, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age


9:15 a.m.               Delivery Drones and Robot Babysitters

Ryan Calo

Assistant Professor of Law, University of Washington

Patric Verrone

Writer and producer, Futurama

Dan Kaufman

Director, Information Innovation Office, DARPA


Kathryn Cramer

Editor, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future


10:00 a.m.             Who and What Will Get to Think in the Future?

Ted Chiang

Author, Stories of Your Life and Others


Ed Finn

Director, Center for Science and the Imagination, Arizona State University


10:20 a.m.            Neuroscience and the Future of Ethics

Elizabeth Bear

Author, "Covenant," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

Jonathan D. Moreno

David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics, Perelman School of Medicine,
University of Pennsylvania

Kathleen Ann Goonan

Author, "Girl in Wave: Wave in Girl," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better


Jamelle Bouie

Staff writer, Slate


11:05 a.m.            Who Gets to Imagine for the Human Race?


Tom Kalil

Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Laurie Silvers

Founder, SyFy Channel and Hollywood Media


Bill O'Brien

Senior Adviser for Program Innovation, National Endowment for the Arts

11:50 a.m.             Lost in Space: How Should We Approach Our Final Frontier?

Ellen Stofan

Chief Scientist, NASA 

Neal Stephenson

Author, "Atmosphæra Incognita," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future


Patric Verrone

Writer and producer, Futurama


12:35 p.m.             Lunch


1:00 p.m.               Reimagining the Future of the Internet, Surveillance,
and Privacy


Barton Gellman

Reporter at the Washington Post covering the Snowden papers

Author, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

Madeline Ashby

Author, "By the Time We Get to Arizona," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a
Better Future

Kevin Bankston

Policy Director, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation


Kristal Lauren High

Co-founder and Editor in Chief, Politic365

1:45 p.m.               Visions of an Alternative Internet


Lee Konstantinou

Author, "Johnny Appledrone vs. the FAA," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a
Better Future

2:00 p.m.               Can Stories Solve Wicked Problems Bigger Than Our

 Vandana Singh

Author, "Entanglement," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

David Rejeski

Director, Science & Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars


Karl Schroeder

Author, "Degrees of Freedom," Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future


Dan Sarewitz

Co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes 

2:45 p.m.               Does Your Government Have an Imagination?


Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren

House of Representatives, CA-19


To RSVP for the event, click on the red button above or go to the event page:

For questions, contact Kirsten Holtz at New America at (202) 735-2806


Sun of Suns: the Graphic Novel

Virga Issue One Cover

Issue 1 of Sun of Suns is complete at over at, and Issue 2 is beginning! Head on over to view this stunning adaptation of my far-future steampunk pirate epic.

Where to Start With the Virga Series

With Ashes of Candesce on the shelves and the graphic novel version of Sun of Suns available, my crazy far-future steampunk Virga saga comes to an end. But assuming you're interested in these books, where should you start? Of course you can begin at the beginning, with Sun of Suns--and if you do, I recommend the graphic novel. But, here's the thing: I wrote these books to stand alone as much as possible. More importantly, although they do constitute one gigantic narrative, there are two parts to that story. The first three books can be read as one story;The Sunless Countries and Ashes of Candesce make up a second.

Add in the fact that Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce have been combined in a Trade omnibus edition entitled Cities of the Air, and you have the following buying strategy, which will give you maximum story with minimum threads left dangling:

Cities of the Air



Cities of the Air and Pirate Sun make up a complete trilogy, since Cities contains both Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce. Buy 'em both and you get a complete and rollicking far-future adventure.


Sunless and Ashes

The Sunless Countries and Ashes of Candescemake up a second full story arc, but also resolve the minor plot threads left unfinished in the first trilogy--and, yes, answer the major question of just what Artificial Nature is and why it threatens Virga.


So: two arcs, two books each. And, of course, you can also buy the audiobook editions, and upcoming, read the Sun of Suns graphic novel online!

Buy Individual Short Stories 

I haven't got a huge backlog of short stories, but I've been lucky enough to have many of my best collected in the book The Engine of Recall, which is still available. Not all my good stuff made it into that collection, however--mostly because my editor, Robert J. Sawyer, wanted to focus on my strictly science fictional output. That naturally excluded "The Toy Mill" for instance--but it also left other fantasy I've written, as well as works I consider SF, but Rob did not. 

I've started transforming some of these works (previously published, but not collected) into individual bite-sized ebooks. Initially, you can find them on, but I'll be making epub versions as well; it's just a matter of finding the time for that, as it's a little more hands-on than the Amazon conversion.

As of now, you can find three of my stories on

  • "The Hero" - A Virga short story. In fact, this story is an integral part of the Virga series, and contains revelations that fill in major gaps in the overall story. It recounts certain key events that occur between Pirate Sun and The Sunless Countries, but it can also stand on its own--in fact, it makes an excellent introduction to the Virga universe for anybody who's considering taking the plunge.
  • "Dawn" - My only vampire story to date. I call this my 'anti-Anne Rice' story; perhaps it's just the sort of vampire story that a writer with a pacifist Mennonite background would write. What's coolest (for me) is that this story came to me in one of the most cinematically visual dreams I've ever had. I can still picture it... so I had to write it.
  • "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" - Is this SF at all? Slipstream, maybe. Set during the Inquisition, this is a meditation on memory systems, isolation and the self-invention of new mythologies...  

I hope to make other stories available soon. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these three.