Waiting for the Apocalypse or Springtime for SF?
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial ISBN/ITEM#: EL0904WFTA
Date: 1 April, 2009 /
Since the day I was born, though I didn't know it at the time, I've been waiting for the end of the world, or at least of "life as we know it". Reading SF gave me an early start on waiting for the apocalypse, though I was never sure whether nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, global pandemic, robot dominance or mere economic collapse was going to get there first. Sometimes it's seemed like the doomsayers of SF were overly pessimistic. After all, I'm living in the future and it's all still here. Mostly. But then something happens to let you know that not only do the usual suspects stand ready...there are new kids on the block looking to take over. Does that mean that SF Readers are better prepared for what might come? Or have they been programmed into immobility waiting for the sword(s) of Damocles to descend?
Back in 1954, a number of things happened that strike me as significant. Some, like my being born, have more personal importance than global, while others, like the explosion of the 15 megaton thermonuclear bomb, named shrimp, and the largest device ever set off by the US...have broader implications. Elvis exploded onto the scene in '54 as well, with "That's All Right, Mama"...but whether that heralded the end of civilization is open to debate. Personally, I like rockabilly...but that doesn't mean I think it bodes well for civilization.
Science Fiction, which I've been a fan of since I picked up a copy of The Missing Men of Saturn as a pretty early reader, has been all to happy to envisage the many ways things could fall apart for us, from the many tales of after the nuclear holocaust, like Andre Norton's Star Man's Son (1952) to the chilling portrayal of ecological collapse in John Brunner and James John Bell's The Sheep Look Up written twenty years later.
I distinctly remember being told in high school about the economic system and how stable it was...and asking what would happen if the banking system collapsed. Or in college when discussing the permanence of things that just because the sun rose everyday didn't mean it had to...just that the odds were good. Yes, reading SF gave me a head start on having a bigger view of things than most, but was it a better view?
Specifically, did all this doom and gloom help me prepare for life after the bad thing happened? No, not at all. Pretty much the opposite in fact. In the back of my mind I've always had notion that there was no point in long term planning...because the universe was going to undermine any possible plan. Realizing that this was no way to plan for the possibility that things might not fall apart, on the other hand, I've carefully put something aside for the future, though now, having just watched my carefully nurtured nest egg dwindle by half over a period of a few months...I'm reminded of the lessons of the past.
Ironically, I'm the first generation in my family that doesn't have a retreat planned for the the apocalypse. My Vermont ancestors stood ready to cut ties to the outside world...never having been too attached to it anyway, and for the first few generations of "Yankee Diaspora" there was always a fall back plan to travel light and meet up in the foothills of the Green Mountains. Heinlein would have been proud.
But now that I've pretty much cut those strings, and am living here in the DC area, I've thrown my lot in with the rest of the world. Heinlein's escapist fantasies are fun, but they'll only work for a few hardy souls. Not that this doesn't have its upside. In William Forstchen's new novel, "One Second After" the nation get's hit with a high altitude EMP attack, which wipes out all our electronics and throws us back into the time before transistors. The entirely reasonable die off he depicts without miracle drugs and a global food supply to keep us alive is pretty impressive, but makes you wonder about the benefits of modernity.
Dark thoughts, and suited more to the winter than the nascent spring. Today the markets opened up on news of good will among nations at the G20 in London and there's a chance that the economic woes are, while far from behind us, not the harbingers of doom. If not, they may turn out to be a good thing. A taste of what might come for those who don't read SF.
But the challenge still remains for those of us who have to report back from that dark and indistinct realm to lead the rest forward along the trails to a better world. Maybe it's time for spring to come to our community.