Many years ago, I first read J.R.R. Tolkien's Tree & Leaf, a book composed of Tolkien's essay on fairy stories and a demonstration of that theory in a short story called "Leaf by Niggle".
Tree & Leaf came as a surprise to me, because I had thought Tolkien's predominant interests were philological rather than philosophical. Before reading Tree & Leaf, I suppose I saw Tolkien as a clever scholar out on a literary lark, rather than as an author with a decided viewpoint or message. After reading Tree & Leaf, I thought of Tolkien in a new, more conservative light.
In some ways, Tolkien's attempts to halt progress seemed misplaced to me. Also, it was the first time I became aware of Tolkien's religious world view (which I found more appealing). But, regardless of how I responded to the themes of the book, I finally understood the GRAVITY of the themes that lurked under Tolkien's longer works.
So, Tree & Leaf changed how I looked at the author's work forever.
This volume is much the same. It takes some excellent short stories and highlights Brin's own literary, scientific and socio-political themes against a series of speculative essays and comments. We also get to see a teaching tool Brin has used in writers' workshops.
The short stories are fine. One is about Uplift, another about humans becoming divine (in a different way from that described in Kiln People). A third records the details of what has to be the first environmental lawsuit I have ever seen in a space opera story. Brin & Benford together take a turn pretending to be Jules Verne in one.
But, the highlight for me was one essay in which Brin questions the wisdom of creating a fantasy view of feudalism (one of the most execrable forms of economic oppression ever created) as he takes on Tolkien's fantasy. Brin makes a case for looking at the positive results of the Enlightenment and the modern Information Age. He gently prods at the sentimental longing for a lost age of paternalism and "security". He asks a pertinent question in a world where Presidents talk about inclusive governments: "Would Aragorn's coalition cabinet include orcs and trolls?"
From Aragorn's point of view, it may be good to be a king, but the world runs better when everyone has a voice of some kind.
Tomorrow Happens contains some of Brin's best thoughts on how information is carried on from person-to-person and from generation-to-generation. He explains things he thinks make a good science fiction story. And he shows us why we should never be afraid to try a new spin on an old idea.
In a strange way, I think this is almost Brin's "answer" to Tolkien's Tree & Leaf. If Tolkien's book extolled the virtues of religion, faerie (the mythical land subbing for irrationality and romanticism) & lore, Brin's book preaches a different approach to literature and life. Brin's worlds are about optimism, innovation, and information.
Worth a serious look.