Alternative possibilities
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Alternative possibilities – the small list of big ideas

Mass data storage – you think it is boring. Am I right? If you believe so, let me change your point of view.

We would like to present a list of ten ideas – or rather prophecies. Some of them have been fulfilled, some not, yet one question will remains unchanged: what will be next? Furthermore, where are the limits of technology evolution – or maybe revolution? Is it simply a limit of human imagination? If yes, progress will never stop. Take a look below and allow yourself to be imaginative – here is our small compilation of “alternative possibilities”:

1. Crystal Corn – crystal books (Stanislaw Lem, Return from the Stars, 1961)

When Stanisław Lem was writing about digital books, developers of touch screens and e-paper were still in their diapers. Imagine a book store without books – only crystals with recorded content. And about three hundred titles in your pocket – on your crystal corn…When you think about it, this is happening now and science fiction is becoming reality. Interesting, isn’t it?

I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century…
The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They can be read the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it… Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket, though there must have been almost three hundred titles. My handful of crystal corn – my books.

Stanislaw Lem, Return from the Stars, 1961

Stanislaw Lem, Return from the Stars, 1961


Return from the Stars (original title: Powrót z gwiazd) is one of the better known science fiction novels of Stanisław Lem. It revolves around the story of a cosmonaut returning to his homeworld, Earth, and finding it a completely different place than when he left. The novel touches among the ideas of alienation, culture shock and dystopias.

2. Data Haven – alternative data storage (Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net, 1988)

Imagine a place where you can store all the data that you cannot legally use and keep – heaven for “fallen” information, where data piracy is legitimate. An offshore web hosts owned by big corporations. Think about it… before it will be too late – information is a power.

…Laura had never realized the profit to be gained by evading the developed world’s privacy laws. Thousands of legitimate companies maintained dossiers on individuals: employee records, medical histories, credit transactions. In the Net economies, business was impossible without such information. In the legitimate world, companies purged this information periodically, as required by law.

But not all of it was purged. Reams of it ended up in the data havens, passed on through bribery of clerks, through taps of datalines, and by outright commercial espionage…

The havens were bootstrapping their way up to Big Brother status…

Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net, 1988

Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net, 1988


Islands in the Net offers a view of an early 21st century world apparently peaceful with delocalized, networking corporations. The book is a thrilling combination of two images – of high tech and low humanity. The glue that binds together this world of data pirates, mercenaries, nanotechnology, weaponry, and post-millennial voodoo is the global electronic net. It is a complicated, mysterious and disturbingly familiar picture of the future.

3. Memory Implants – data storage in your head (Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic – based on William Gibson’s story, 1995)

As it has been written: “information is a power”. The emergence of new alternative forms of data storage and “transferring” is a matter of time. Therefore, why not use our brain? In fact, some scientists argue that we only use a small percentage of it.

Jane: How do you fit all that s*** in your head anyway? Must have been pretty good at memorizing, huh?
Johnny: Implant. Wet-wired. I had to dump a chunk of long-term memory.
Jane: You had to dump a chunk of what?
Johnny: My childhood.
Jane: Your childhood? Really? All of it? You can’t remember a thing?
Johnny: Maybe there’s some residual traces. Every now and then there’s something, but I can never hold onto it.
Jane: That’s a seriously weird-ass thing to do.
Johnny: Maybe I didn’t lose anything I wanted to keep. I needed the space for the job.
Jane: You got parents and stuff?
Johnny: You got parents and stuff?

Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic, 1995

Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic, 1995


Johnny Mnemonic is a data trafficker who has undergone cybernetic surgery to have a data storage system implanted in his head. The system allows him to store digital data too sensitive to risk transmission on computer networks. The problem arises when the data turn out to be too large to hold for long. He must deliver it before he dies from it… An interesting idea and alarming consequences of evolution of technology, isn’t it?

4. Datapack – portable storage devices (Brian Herbert, Dune: House Harkonnen, 2000)

When the idea of Datapacks was originated in Brian Herbert’s mind, it was a time of first generation of flash storage devises. The first USB 2.0 drives were available in 2003. Fiction will always be one step ahead of science.

In the pounding silence that followed, Pardot Kynes did not look exhilarated from his near brush with death. Instead, he appeared dejected. “We lost all that data.” The Planetologist heaved a deep breath. “I could have used our readings to understand those storms better.”

Liet reached inside a front pocket of his stillsuit and held up the old-style datapack he had snatched from the pod’s instrument panel. “Even while watching out for our lives–I can still pay attention to research.”

Kynes beamed with fatherly pride.

Under the desert sun, they hiked up the rugged path to the safety of the sietch.

Brian Herbert, Dune: House Harkonnen, 2000

Brian Herbert, Dune: House Harkonnen, 2001


Dune: House Harkonnen is the second book in the Prelude to Dune series, a prequel trilogy to the Dune series. The novel consists of several different plot lines, which, while they interact with one another at certain points, are best described separately. The book is a tasty morsel for any lover of the Dune world.

5. Dime Disk – small data storage devices (Larry Niven, The Best of all Possible Wars, 1998)

This depicts another prophecy concerning an idea of small data storage devices. This one proposed coin-sized disks for storage. Yet this is now reality – think about Toshiba’s 0.85-inch HDD – it was developed in 2004 (more information: here). It is 2011 now and miniaturization process continues.

“What have you got for us?”

I showed them my dime disk. “Took me less than a week…We may have lost some of the military vocations over the centuries. We’ll have to reinvent them. This is just a first cut.”

Anton set a dime disk next to mine, and a small projector. “Mine’s nearly full…”

We watched stills and flat motion pictures of weapons and tools in action.

Larry Niven, The Best of all Possible Wars, 1998

Larry Niven, The Best of all Possible Wars, 1998

source n/a

The Man-Kzin Wars is a series of military science fiction short story collections, as well as the eponymous conflicts between mankind and the Kzinti that they detail (the Kzinti call them the “Wars-With-Men”). The Best of all Possible Wars is probably the best and most successful of the shared-world series.

6. Memory Diamond – high density storage (Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise, 2004)

Huge amounts of data in one small durable device – dream of the future that is already close. However, this storage method is still far beyond of the possibilities of present science.

The box had contained a gemstone the size of his thumb, sitting atop a … block studded with optical ports – the reader/writer head. It was memory diamond, atoms arranged in a lattice of alternating carbon 12 and carbon 13 nuclei; the preferred data storage format for thee unborn god’s chosen few. Dense and durable, twelve grams was enough to store a thousand neural maps and their associated genome data. This was Hoechst’s soul repository, where the uploaded data from anyone she terminated in the course of service would be stored until they could be archived by the Propagators, against the day when the unborn god would be assembled and draw upon the frozen imprints.

Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise, 2004

Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise, 2004


A suspenseful space opera of intergalactic espionage and planetary destruction. This is the stunning sequel to Singularity Sky. The book was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 2005.

7. Molecule Matrix – molecules and atoms as storage (Robert Heinlein, Between Planets, 1951)

Could we use molecules and atoms as storage? Does it sound like a dream of a madman? Making a storage mountain out of a molecule is not a dream – it is reality (more information: here)

It is theoretically possible to have a matrix in which each individual molecule has a meaning – as they do in the memory cells of your brain. If we had such subtlety, we could wrap your Encyclopedia Britannica into the head of a pin – it would be the head of that pin…

Robert Heinlein, Between Planets, 1951

Robert Heinlein, Between Planets, 1951


A young man is called from the Earth to an alien world. He finds a revolution, one that is based on a matter of that is dear to American’s hearts, the disregard of government for the rights of the individual. It is all about questions, dilemmas and difficult choices.

8. Platinum Alloy Disc – first idea of a compact disc (E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Triplanetary, 1934)

Here is an example of how reality caught up with fiction. There is only one difference between the idea of E.E. Smith and present CDs and DVDs: he envisioned discs of platinum alloy which were tough as old boots.

Since nothing material was destroyed when the Eddorians were forced into the next plane of existence, their historical records have also become available. Those records – folios and tapes and playable discs of platinum alloy, resistant indefinitely even to Eddore’s noxious atmosphere – agree with those of the Arisians upon this point.

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Triplanetary, 1934


Triplanetary covers several episodes in an eons-long eugenics project of the super-intelligences of the Arisia. This alien race is breeding two genetic lines to become the ultimate weapon in Arisia’s cosmic war with their arch enemy, the Eddore. Triplanetary is the first of the six classic ‘Lensman’ books. It was first serialized in the magazine Amazing Stories in 1934.

9. Schrön Loop – portable data storage with a tremendous capacity (Dan Simmons, Hyperion, 1989)

Just try to imagine your pen drive with infinitely large capacity. However, there is one concerning question: What about data transfer speed?

The Schrön loop was tiny, no larger than my thumbnail, and very expensive. It held countless field-bubble memories, each capable of holding near infinite bits of information. Schrön loops could not be accessed by the biological carrier and thus were used for courier purposes. A man or woman could carry AIs or complete planetary dataspheres in a Schrön loop.

Dan Simmons, Hyperion, 1989

Dan Simmons, Hyperion, 1989


On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands. Captivating book – definitely.

10. Welton Cube – high-density storage device (Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, 1973)

It’s incredible how the imagination of writers can motivate scientists. Storage technology is still evolving. 30 years after the publication of Time Enough For Love we may say that we have reasonable grounds to believe that such devices will exist in a near future.

I can use it to write the sort of commentary you want, and take time to miniaturize and stabilize a message. The problems of a time-tripping historiogapher are odd and awkward. One Welton fine-grain memory cube would record all I could say over the next ten years–except that I would have no use for one even if I had it; the technology to use it is lacking.

“By to way–Ishtar, did you plant a recorder in my belly? You are a darling, dear, by sometimes a devious darling–and there is something there. … But I suspect that it is a Welton cube with an ear hooked to it and a ten-year power supply; it is about the right size.

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, 1973

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love, 1973


The book covers several periods from the life of Lazarus Long (birth name Woodrow Wilson Smith), the oldest living human, Now more than two thousand years old. Time Enough for Love was first published in 1973. The work was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1973 and both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1974.



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