By Bev Makhani, Office of Undergraduate Education

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University Pullman has announced that its 2018-19 common read for first-year and other students is “Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.”

Published by Penguin Random House in 2017, it is written by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. Kelly is a bioscientist, adjunct faculty member at Rice University, and natural-science podcaster. Her husband, Zach, is a cartoonist and creator of the popular geek webcomic “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.” His work adds new dimensions to her text in “Soonish.”

The 10 different technological developments explored in the book examine what may be coming “soonish.”

Text and cartooning

Websites describe the book as smart and funny, “a hilariously illustrated investigation into future (scientific) technologies — from how to fling a ship into deep space on the cheap to 3D organ printing … from robot swarms to nuclear fusion-powered toasters.”

The Weinersmiths use their own research, interviews with scientists who are making advances happen, and cartoons to consider the pros and cons of why the technologies are needed, how they would work, and what’s standing in the way.

Selected by Provost Bernardo

Following tradition, a faculty-staff common reading selection committee read and contemplated 31 books nominated. All touched on the Common Reading’s biennial theme, “frontiers of technology, health, and society.” Based on the committee’s top three recommendations, Provost and Executive Vice President Daniel J. Bernardo selected Soonish as the next book to be used in Pullman. It is expected that campuses in Tri-Cities, Everett, and Spokane will also use the book for their students.

cover of Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything“As the committee noted, this book is topical, easy to read, and forward looking,” he said. “The content of the book is very interesting and thought provoking, and the cartoons are simply a bonus, and add a little levity to the discussions.”

“We appreciate the provost’s investment in the program overall, as well as his commitment to ultimately choose a book that he believes will be the most enjoyable for our students to read and discuss,” said Susan Poch, Common Reading Program co-director and head of the selection committee.

“This year the task of selecting from the three nominees was the most difficult of the four selections I have made over the years,” said Bernardo.

The two other books moved forward for his consideration were “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World,” by Steven Johnson, and “Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream,” by Joshua Davis. The full list of books is online at https://commonreading.wsu.edu/nominations/.

The WSU Vancouver campus has chosen “Wonderland” as its book for 2018-19.

About the authors

Zach Weinersmith is the cartoonist behind the popular geek webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. His work has been featured in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Forbes, CNN, Discovery Magazine, and more.

Kelly Weinersmith is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of BioSciences at Rice University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in ecology, evolution and conservation biology from Bowling Green University; and a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California, Davis.

illustration of Kelly, Zach Weinersmith from The Weekly Weinersmith
Kelly, Zach Weinersmith from The Weekly Weinersmith

Programming will include, go beyond STEM

The examples of “soonish” technologies in the book are all drawn from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This ties nicely to WSU’s Drive to 25 and Grand Challenges, said Poch.

Typical common reading programming throughout fall and spring semesters features events, movies, and faculty- and guest-expert lectures on topics related to the book. While there will certainly be programming around STEM topics, said Karen Weathermon, Common Reading co-director, “the format (presented in the book) will be applied to soonish developments in the social sciences, arts, and humanities, as well. We want to know, what WSU’s leading researchers are exploring in all fields.”

Common readings at WSU

“Soonish” is the twelfth common reading book used in the same number of years by students in first-year and other courses. The program is designed to build an academic community by creating connections among students, professors, residence hall staff, librarians, and others through the shared reading of the same thought-provoking book. Topics from it are used in classes and programs outside of classes.

Through such unique shared experiences, the common reading introduces students to the value of research, the power of ideas, and the various but interconnected ways in which disciplines across WSU approach similar problems, said Poch.

Desk copies for faculty who might use the book

Weathermon said that an announcement about how to request a desk copy of “Soonish” will be made when the books become available. Faculty considering use of the book in classes can ask for a copy at that time.

For more information on WSU’s common reading books and programming, visit https://CommonReading.wsu.edu.

 

Contact:

  • Susan Poch, WSU Common Reading Program co-director, 509-335-6037, poch@wsu.edu
  • Karen Weathermon, WSU Common Reading Program co-director, 509-335-5488, kweathermon@wsu.edu