Friday, June 19, 2009

Ten best apocalypse novels of pre-golden age SF

Joshua Glenn, at io9, named the years 1904-33 SF's Pre-Golden Age (not to be confused with its Pulp Era--i.e., the mid-1920s through the mid-1950s). Then he came up with the era's "ten great novels of the apocalypse."

One book on the list:
Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930). In his awe-inspiring, tragicomic first novel, Stapledon, a British philosopher and progressivist, ventriloquizes the future history of humankind as related to him telepathically by one of the Last Men - alien descendants of ours who will inhabit Neptune, where they'll face extinction as the sun burns out, some two billion years hence. So what does fate hold in store for us, the First Men? Well, the post-WWI "passionate will for peace and a united world" won't last long, Stapledon's narrator informs readers. Within a century aerial bombs and poison gas will have laid waste to Europe (including Russia), leaving the Chinese and Americans to compete for global military and economic domination. Eventually, a World State will be founded, and peace and prosperity will reign... until Earth's natural energy sources get used up! At that point, civilization will collapse and the First Men will devolve into superstitious savages living in the shadow of their ancestors' skyscrapers - "though for the most part they were of course by now little more than pyramids of debris overgrown with grass and brushwood" - until, after nearly 100,000 years, they'll re-civilize themselves and discover atomic energy. Which they'll use, "after a bout of insane monkeying with the machinery," to inadvertantly annihilate all but 35 men and women, whose mutated descendants will be the Second Men. This sort of thing goes on, and on, and on, entertainingly and soberingly, for 18 generations of humankind. Multiple apocalypses, and all for the price of one novel! Read more about Last and First Men in the Homo Superior installment of this series.
Read about another book on Glenn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue