The Four Authors of the Apocalypse: Ian Whates

An Optimist’s View of the Future

Okay, so here we are, the Four Authors of the Apocalypse, writing a blog for the same publisher that’s about to produce the optimistic SF anthology Shine. Contradiction? Corporate confusion? A lack of consistency? Absolutely not! Well, perhaps a hint of the last, but a wholly understandable one, don’t you think?

After all, I find a similar ambiguity in my own views of humankind’s future. In life, I tend towards a jovial manner and relaxed disposition (sort of comes with the territory when you’re as portly as I am), and much of my writing has a rosy, optimistic feel to it. Take the recently published short story “Growing Pains”, for example (free to download as a pdf here) – a tale of first contact and fruit farmers. When I heard Jetse de Vries was compiling Shine, I thought, “What a great idea; that’s right up my alley!” Yet the truth is that while I have written some pretty upbeat stories, few if any really hint at an optimistic future for our race. In the event, I was actually too busy to even attempt a story for Shine, which was probably just as well. I’m not sure how easy a challenge that would have proved to be.

I mean, when I look around for inspiration, I see:

WAR – conflict in the Middle East, conflict in Afghanistan, conflict in Iraq, the War on Terror, rumblings in Iran and a dozen other places around the Globe.

PESTILENCE – bird flu reared its easy head and then ducked down behind the parapets again, swine flu has made perhaps a bigger impact; if not this one then the next, we’re told. The pandemic will happen; it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Then there’s cancer, all the eating disorders, the growing levels of obesity, diabetes etc etc…

FAMINE – We’re frequently reminded that Live Aid didn’t solve Africa’s problems, that famine still claims an appalling number of lives, and then there’s the alarming decline in the bee, which we’re told will cause the collapse of the world’s food chain and worldwide famine leading to billions of deaths.

DEATH: Take all of the above, and then add in everything else.

Perhaps, too, Apocalypse had a fourth rider who was a bit of a laggard and so missed the original roll call. Global Warming, it seems, has its own mounted hand-maiden: FLOODING. Where do rising sea levels and dwindling land mass fit into the traditional four categories?

So, it’s easy to see why anybody might find reasons for pessimism regarding humankind’s future prospects. And yet… and yet… we’re a stubborn, persistent, determined and resourceful bunch, we humans. I can well believe that tough times lie ahead and that, as some social historians have claimed, we might well be living in the very best of times right now; but I’m also convinced that we’ll survive, that as a race we’ll persist no matter how daunting the obstacles thrown in our way. ‘Men will die, Man be saved.’

A couple of years ago I heard Brian Stableford interviewed by Edward James, and, during their conversation, Brian said that he thought our civilisation would soon collapse with the loss of billions of lives. He added that the survivors, worldwide, would be numbered in mere hundreds of thousands. To this, Edward countered, “And yet you claim to be an optimist!” Brian’s response was, “But I am. I said there would be survivors, didn’t I?”

Count me among the optimists.

~Ian Whates.

Ian Whates lives in an idyllic Cambridgeshire village with his partner, Helen, along with a cocker spaniel and a tailless black cat. He recently organised Novacon 39, and has written up a con report for us here. His debut novel for Solaris Books, The Noise Within, will be out in May 2010.


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