RogerBW's Blog

The Collapse of Western Civilization, Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes 02 November 2016

2014 science fiction. A nameless scholar of the Second Chinese Republic looks back from the year 2393 on the Penumbral Age that brought western civilisation to its close.

This is both science fiction and polemic, and the former is very much subordinated to the latter. To the authors, it's utterly obvious what should be done about climate change, and anyone who disgrees with them in any detail is just being selfish. (The demagogues I dislike most are the ones who take an extreme version of a position with which I basically agree.) There's good material here, particuarly the footnotes that link to more conventionally written information, but the overriding tone of "we know better now, of course" tends to reduce my sympathy for the authors.

And they're very hazy about the terribly superior science they tout – well, of course, in the real world they aren't going to rebuild all of scientific thought double-handed, are they? Similarly, they advocate forcible government action without suggesting any way of avoiding massive peculation and power-grabs by those in charge, saving themselves at the expense of everyone else. More experienced SF writers know how to do this sort of thing without inviting the reader to challenge them to put up or shut up.

In fact the whole thing comes off as an attempt at science fiction by people who don't really know the genre; it's Last and First Men in microcosm, with rather less excuse for the lack of actual characters since it's all happening over a short period. It's a very high-level account, where narratives about individuals might have had a greater effect and been rather more engaging. And the "Chinese" author focuses almost entirely on the actions of the USA, because they're the real-world target audience.

This very short book (a mere 89 pages in paperback, and the last 32 are a glossary of terms and an interview with the authors) would be expensive at $5 or more (the US ebook is the cheapest), even if every word were molten gold dropping from the lips of the greatest writers of all time. And they aren't.

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