Let’s start the week off right. The world is going to end in five minutes.
At least that’s what my co-workers were saying Wednesday afternoon. Further investigation found that the source of this proclamation was that the so-called “Doomsday Clock”, representing the threat of nuclear holocaust, had moved from six minutes to midnight up to five. My reaction to this comforting news was:
“It’s not the end of the world, it’s only nuclear annihilation.”
It seems to me every generation believes it is living in the “end times”. This year it has something to do with the Mayan calender. Next year it will be something else. A lot of people seem to think this way because they see the world becoming worse and worse, and the thought that it is ending is somehow comforting. Just ask this guy.
Personally I find this behavior to be escapist and defeatist. And it’s a little depressing to me that Science Fiction is spending so much time assuming that humanity headed toward apocalypse.
Take the most recent issue of Asimov’s (Feb 2012). As part of my homework for drafting short stories and submitting them to magazines, I’m reading what’s out there now. This issue featured three stories (possibly more, haven’t had time to get through the whole issue), that featured some depiction of the end of days.
“Observations On A Clock” by D. Thomas Minton tells of a lone monk (a Chevalier) that is waiting on a distant planet for a revelation that may save humanity. The world has experienced a great disaster and it is only the faith this revelation will come that is keeping humanity from falling further. When this revelation turns out to be not what humanity was expecting, the monk buries the truth rather than break the faith of millions.
“The People of Pele” by Ken Liu is a little more interesting in that it explores the dilations in time caused by long space flight. The characters experience the feeling of waking up thirty years later and it seeming like only a days, thus being trapped in the present and the past. Though not a large portion of the storyline, there is again the assumption that this may be the last colony of humanity, and that things back home have either fallen apart, or are simply irrelevant at this distance.
“Going Home” by Bruce McAllister & Barry Malzberg is the most interesting to me. The world is being wiped out either by disease, or by the rise of technological intelligence that is controlling us (a la Matrix). The story is told as a correspondence between an author and editor (the two authors?). The author wants to write stories in the line of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” as a way of reminding humanity that it can dream. The editor in turn attempts to discourage the author saying that such stories have already been told and in their end times such stories would serve no purpose, hope is already dead.
The meaning of this last story is the subject of debate even between the two authors (they have a little contest for those who can come up with creative meanings, details here).
What’s interesting to me as a writer is what would my reaction be if we really were living in the last days. What kind of stories would I write? Would I want to continue to instill a sense of hope, a sense of destiny in a world where such hopes seemed to be gone? Would I write merely to distract people from what’s going on around them, or to somehow inform their knowledge of the hope that was, and what is to come?
I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to believe I’d still be a dreamer.
We’ve been living “five minutes to midnight” as a race for generations, and yet we still dream, still strive, still hope for a future better than this one.
We’re not licked yet.
What pieces of apocalyptic or dystopian fiction have you read? What is your reaction to them (do you think the world could really become like the portrayals in these stories)? How are you spending the last year of humanity?
Afterthought: I personally find it interesting so much of this kind of fiction is being printed in Asimov’s specifically. The bulk of his work focuses on a positive destiny for mankind, even through the rise and fall of empires (just read the Foundation series). I wonder what he would think of this kind of fiction if he was still alive today?