The New End Of The World (TNEOW)

John Crowley on The New End Of The World (TNEOW) :

.... The Former End of the World (the bomb) yielded its great books -- Riddly Walker the greatest, Canticle for Leibowitz etc., etc.  Now the New End of the World generates fictions that seem familiar but with no bomb to blame.  What has happened to the world?  All calculations of global warming suggest dislocation and suffering for the poorest peoples inhabiting seacoasts or places subject to desertification; temperate-climate inland rich countries (us, US) might not suffer so much -- nothing much worse than the Great Depression, some species loss, coastal cities abandoned over the course of a few decades.  Macarthy's and Craces worlds are utterly vastated.  Nothing left.  No explanation.  Crowds of aimless walkers -- no technology, no social structure.  Why does this appeal?

John Crowley Little and Big - ALmost Lost Book

Good question. I'm tempted to say that it appeals because the possibility is real, but as usual I suspect that the truth goes somewhat deeper than that. Total destruction seems to have some appeal in almost every age, even if the appeal is limited. Riddley Walker appeared in the Reagan Era, when lots of people thought the Bomb was a real possibility and almost everyone had given up on hope that the Bomb was survivable.

But Canticle for Leibowitz and The Road aren't the only examples of extreme vision. There are lots of post-apocalyptic visions that have the world well-populated. Paolo Bacigalupi's "Yellow Card Man" (and its related stories, which I haven't read) are set in a post-collapse world that's a filthy and densly populated mashup of low-tech and high-tech. Within SF, that seems to be the current trend, and in America at least we owe that vision frankly to the Cyberpunks, who combined an amazingly ahistorical vision with a sense of the inertia of society: The world does not collapse, because there are powerful interests who would suffer if it did. And they're not about to let that happen. (A little chaos, on the other hand, can be wonderful for business.)

To be sure, they didn't invent the idea of whimper-not-bang, but they surely made it credible. And there are lots of non-cyberpunk examples, like Keith Roberts' "The Comfort Station"/"The Lordly Ones", which made a huge impression on me when I read them back in 1980. Their world was strangely like our own, as I think of it now: One where political chaos and some unspecified general crises seem to be gradually grinding away civil society bit by bit.

But I digress, as usual. Why is the vision of a devastated, technologically-reset world so attractive to McCarthy, Miller, and for that matter why was it so attractive to Crowley? The most common response is likely to be some variant on the idea that we're wired (or at least imprinted) to respond well to the idea of rebirth. Lloyd deMause, for example, might argue that it's all due to the trauma of our last trimester in the womb, which climaxes in delivery from the foetid and suffocating womb-environment into a painfully bright but well-oxygenated real world.

And obviously destroyed worlds are only one aspect of the matter. Consider singularitarianism, which since Vinge's coinage has been embraced as a religion by some. Such a bizarre concept, that we must always seek to annihilate ourselves (that we might be reborn as something better). Almost quintessentially non-cyberpunk, in a way.



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