This piece first appeared on the Solaris website in 2009.
This article came about when editor Jennifer-Anne Hill suggested that four Solaris authors get together to write about the end of the world, and James Lovegrove, being the optimistic soul he is, came up with a title: The four horsemen of the apocalypse. Or should that be the four ‘writers’ of the apocalypse?
For one of such a normally cheery disposition, I might find this role hard to fulfil. I’m an optimist, and I take the view that whatever mess we make of things, life on Earth in some form will survive, and prosper. A critic once said my fiction was imbued with logical positivism, and I wouldn’t disagree.
By a stroke of coincidental luck, my next-but-one novel from Solaris will be a post-catastrophe tale set sixty years after the fall of civilisation on Earth. Guardians of the Phoenix came about when Mike Ashley invited me to submit a story to his forthcoming Apocalyptic SF anthology, and I wrote a long tale with the above title. During the writing I realised that there was far more story than I was telling; it extended both ways, before the story opened, and after it closed.
The story begins:
It was dawn when we set off from beneath the twisted skeleton of the Eiffel Tower and crossed the desert to Tangiers.
We travelled by day through a blasted landscape devoid of life, and at night we stopped and tried to sleep. I’d lie in my berth and stare through the canopy at the magnetic storms lacerating the troposphere. The heat was insufferable, even in the marginally cooler early hours…
The band of survivors trek across the desert that was France, towards the dried-up Mediterranean, in search of water. They travel in a truck encrusted with solar panels, drilling for water wherever they can, and scavenging – along with competing survivors, some more feral than others – for dwindling supplies of food. On the way they meet another troupe of desperadoes, this one from what was Egypt, led by a woman called Samara. She is in possession of a secret that might mean the survival of human race. Times might be desperate, resources almost exhausted, plant and animal life very nearly extinct, and the ozone layer shot to pieces – but there is always hope. The novel follows these self-appointed guardians of the phoenix towards what they hope will be eventual redemption.
I take the long view, which I think for the sake of my sanity is a wise way of looking at things. Perhaps it’s a result of being a science fiction writer – or perhaps I became a SF writer because I tried to look past the here and now, the mess we’re in, and envisage a more rosy future. Perhaps I’m just a head-in-the-sands, rose-tinted spectacled optimist writing fantasies of wish-fulfilment because the alternative would be despair.
Anyway, the way I look at it is even in a worse case scenario, where the human race fouls up and destroys itself, then something will survive – be it bands of stone-age people who scratch a living in the wreckage, evolving over the millennia into something unrecognisable to us today; or other forms of life, animal or insect, who over the course of time might evolve intelligence… and perhaps use it more wisely than poor, hapless, self-destructive Homo saps.
But it would be nice to look into the far future and learn that humankind has overcome its difficulties, its differences, and evolved into a peace-loving, tolerant species which celebrates difference and diversity and has learned to treat the Earth with the respect it needs… and perhaps even, equipped with these qualities, headed for the stars and the many adventures awaiting us out there.
But that’s another story.