I have been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. It’s a non-fiction book which asks the question: what would happen to planet Earth if humanity suddenly disappeared? I am about halfway through and each chapter of the book begins by explaining how humans have affected some part of the natural environment and then how the environment might change/recover if humans were no longer around.
Recently the 100’s of square kms of plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre was highlighted in the media, this is examined in the chapter I am currently reading. The author continues with his examination of plastic by detailing how micro fragments of plastic are entering our food chain, swallowed by fish, birds and most importantly krill. It seems we are slowly poisoning the oceans and one of our main sources of food.
I ordered this book after reading a review in The Age. But why did it interest me? Firstly, I am currently writing a novel set on a newly terraformed world, a world where humans may have constructed the environment, but they have not yet began to populate it and degrade it. So I thought The World Without Us, might give me some ideas about what my terraformed world would be like, and it has. Secondly, like a lot of science-fiction fans, I have a fascination with apocalyptic and post apocalyptic worlds.
A quick search of my bookshelves and I find the following books set in an apocalyptic or post apocalyptic world: The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood, Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard, Earth Abides by George R Stewart, Graffiti by Peter Van Greenaway, Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen, Parkland by Victor Kelleher, Salt by Gabrielle Lord, The Sea and the Summer by George Turner and Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch.
I also have also enjoyed films like The Planet of The Apes (original), Mad Max, and Omega Man and I am Legend based on the same novel. I was enjoying both
Why do I we enjoy such stories? Why do science-fiction writers, in particular, destroy worlds and then force their characters to live on them? Many of them are probably convinced that humanity will eventually destroy itself, and some of those want to warn us to stop global warming, genetic engineering, nuclear proliferation. But do some of them, like their readers/viewers, hate the world, and more importantly their place in it, so much they would prefer it destroyed?
I think my enjoyment of apocalyptic stories comes mainly from imagining what I would do to survive if I was in such a world. But I also appreciate the warnings about humanity’s future contained in these stories.