Triffids versus Humans!
For our 1951 pick, we have the work of one of the great British writers of sci-fi’s Golden Age. In The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham presents a horror story of giant, ambulatory, flesh-eating plants that topple humans from their dominance of a world they thought they had tamed. The theme is common to other post-apocalyptic stories of the 1950’s: we may tame nature with our technological wizardry, but our undoing is our inability to tame ourselves. We take our dominance of the planet for granted – and it wouldn’t take much to find ourselves in a relentlessly hostile world where we have compete as a species with a new top dog.
What does our obsession with End of the World scenarios say about our relationship with science?
As I wrote about here, I’ve embarked on a post-apocalyptic reading project, to survey 60 years of post-Hiroshima End of the World science fiction, essentially the road to The Road.
Science is a mediator between humans and nature. This mediating role rests on the ability science gives us to predict, control and manipulate nature. Even science done out of pure curiosity is based on control: in order to obtain scientific knowledge, we manipulate nature by doing experiments. The prime test of our scientific theories is how predictive they are, how well they enable us to manipulate nature with predictable results. From a scientific perspective, it is impossible to understand nature without controlling it. Post-apocalyptic science fiction describes situations in which our ability to predict and control fails catastrophically. Nature escapes our control, through world-wide plagues, collisions with asteroids, or invasions by alien species; or else we’re done in by our own efforts at control, by nuclear war or human-induced ecological catastrophe. Continue reading “What the End of the World says about science”