I read this Penny Arcade Comic the other day. Cuspin'
And it made me think. We do live in the science fiction world of yesterday. We have communicators, submarines, space ships, powerful computers. It's absolutely amazing.
So the question, I wonder, is "what's next?" Where is the new science fiction to push it to the next level. I'm not talking about things like warp drive, androids, or society falling apart (possibly due to warp drive or androids). I mean what's next? Back when folks like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells created their stories, they were absolutely crazy. Stuff no ordinary person would ever think of. Stuff ordinary people thought was so insane, nobody would ever do those things.
We've done a lot of those things.
So what now? What are the totally insane science fiction ideas no ordinary person would ever think of? I have no idea. Are there some books I need to read?
I always like to cite Greg Egan as a good example of really 'hard', speculative current sf. Just about anything he wrote will be interesting, and a lot more grounded in 'real science' than a lot of sf.
Since we haven't yet reached a Type I civilization level (all planet scale energy available to us - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale) I would say we have some serious work ahead of us to achieve your all encompassing statement that "We do live in the science fiction world of yesterday..." The curve seems to be accelerating though, so your words may be accurate in our life time... maybe.
For some good reading of hard SF try Greg Bear, books like Eon and Eternity come to mind. Heinlein is another good choice, more for the human aspects of space adventure, and man's potential future.
How about William Gibson? Multinational companies more powerful than governments (partially already true I guess), various neural implants and other human-body improvements, AIs and huge amounts of small(ish) everyday things in most of his books. Plus it's a really good read usually, even if you go past the "Neuromancer"
As Richard Feynman said, there's plenty of room at the bottom. We are getting closer to being able to manipulate matter at the atomic level, arranging molecules or even pieces of molecules at will. People have no concept of just how small machines or materials made like that can be. They're not just "too small to be seen" or "hard to detect", they're far, far smaller than that. But billions of them together can have big macro effects. We are also getting closer to figuring out how DNA works, and mapping our genome in great detail. I would second Greg Bear as a hard SF writer who is always trying to think ahead about things like this.
Space operas are cool and everything, but imagine the changes in Earth-bound society as we become able to manufacture/unleash machines that can track down cancerous cells or arterial plaque within you and snip them apart until they are harmless. Or in a more dystopian vein, similar machines that can be spread by handshakes, that burrow into a politician's brain and snip all the synapses apart one-by-one (leaving aside the question, of course, of how you would tell the difference afterwards). If I were heading up the Secret Service, I wouldn't envy my successors fifty (twenty?) years from now.
I mean... bigger, but smaller... uh... computers... um... SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!