Polluted waterways, a damaged (beyond repair?) ecosystem, the unnecessary death of humans and animals alike. These notions are, unfortunately, relatively commonplace in the modern media and our modern way of life. They are part of what we know and believe and understand about what we are doing to our planet. Yet, these same notions came from the mind of a man writing in 1971. It is not unusual for science fiction writers (often harbingers of doom) to be prescient or before their time. There are many fine examples—Arthur C. Clarke being an obvious one—but I have just finished reading an eerily forward-thinking book from an author with whom I was unfamiliar, much to my own chagrin. I’m glad I discovered his work. It is, as I’m sure most science fiction fans know, an excellent and engaging work. However, there is a small part of me that wishes I had never discovered this particular book.
That book is Philip Wylie’s, The End of the Dream. He wrote this tableau of doom shortly before his death in 1971. At the time his words likely were read with dread and fear for the long-distant future but accompanied by a disbelief that the proposed scenario could never actually happen. And yet, as I read the book recently, Wylie’s ideas and scenarios seemed hauntingly real; there are examples of some of the things he described happening in real life. The End of the Dream projects an Armageddon-like future where much of mankind has been wiped out by its own ineptitude and greed. But the ways in which that Armageddon approached—so brilliantly depicted by Wylie—are things with which the modern reader, forty years after he penned the words, can to fully comprehend.
By nature, I’m not a negative type, so I believe that mankind will not fall to the demise that Wylie described, but there is a slightly depressing aspect to reading something written forty years ago that depicts quite accurately some of the problems that we face today. A small part of me that wishes I hadn’t read this wonderful book only because I value the environment around me and hope that we can preserve it rather than destroy it. Wylie wrote about a man in the future who is writing a book that documents the events that led to the mass extinction central to The End of the Dream. The dates that character used are long in the past but simply changing the dates and slightly toning down the extent of the ecological excesses make it seem very much like the present world we inhabit.
All good books should make the reader think—that’s a given—and I hope that if you read The End of the Dream it will make you do a few things: stop, look around, and consider the landscape of our present environment; be thankful that what Wylie predicted is still “science fiction”; and take some small steps of your own to preserve our planet so that Wylie’s future doesn’t actually come to pass.-Martyn