Thursday, 8 January 2009

After We're Gone

Longer-term readers of this blog will have picked up on a certain obsession of mine: the end of the world (or at least the collapse of society). One thing these books tend to have in common is at least a few surviving human beings: there has to be someone around for the story to be about, after all.

A few books, though, are posited on the idea of humans going extinct. One of these is the deeply odd and quite fascinating After Man, by biologist Dougal Dixon and a small army of artists.



I got this as an 11-year-old, in my first visit to a big Sydney bookshop on a family holiday, though it first came out several years earlier in 1981. This book blew my developing mind, and I pored and pawed over it so much I'm quite surprised my copy's still in good shape.

What is After Man, exactly? It's basically a a big book full of colour plates that echoes those expensive Nineteenth-Century naturalists' guides to exotic fauna. However, the animals it looks at are those of the Earth in 50 million years. Humans have been extinct for most of that time, taking with them most of the animals most closely involved with or dependent upon us (dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cattle, etc). Continental drift has reshuffled the look of the globe, and evolution has done its weird work in our absence.

Here are some of the book's pages, to give you an idea of what I'm on about. Click for bigger, readable versions.









Dixon has since produced two more books of speculative evolutionary science: The New Dinosaurs, which pretends the big asteroid or whatever of 65 million years ago never happened, and imagines a present-day world full of the descendents of the dinosaurs...



..and Man After Man, which instead of wiping us out, has us mutate (and engineer ourselves) into filling pretty much every environmental niche far into the future.



The front cover of Man After Man shows one species of our descendents, five million years hence, riding on another. As with Wells' The Time Machine, it's deeply creepy to see the principles of evolution applied to us.

It seems that some of the ideas in After Man were adapted into a TV series/book (and Japanese themepark) called The Future is Wild a few years ago, but I've seen none/read/ridden on none of these things.

12 comments:

Chris Kearin said...

The TV Future Is Wild was actually quite enjoyable -- much less hokey than it might have been. It ended with the emergence of higher intelligence among arboreal cephalopods (as I recall), mammals having become extinct. Worth seeing if you ever get the chance.

JRSM said...

Maybe I'll try to track it down. A lot of things would be improved if they ended with arboreal cephalapods going sentient. The fiction of Ernest Hemingway, for example.

Steerforth said...

On the subject of post-apocalyptic fiction, have you read 'The Sea and Summer'?

JRSM said...

No--but looking it up, it looks both interesting and Australian. I must seek it out. Is this one of your cunning recent 2nd-hand finds?

Steerforth said...

I read it when it was still in print, as it was recommended in the 'Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide'.

I enjoyed the book and although my critical faculties weren't as great then, it must have been pretty good to get such a glowing recommendation.

Levi Stahl said...

Wow, that final cover image is creepy. Eek. Reminder to myself: don't live too many centuries into the future, just in case.

JRSM said...

Steerforth: I'm going to get me a copy. Was that the original 'Bloomsbury Reading Guide', which was full of lovely (now out-of-print) delights, or the revised version full of obvious suspects?

Levi: It's a seriously creepy book. All those distorted, mutated human faces and limbs...

Steerforth said...

It was the original 'Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide' - late 1980s, I think.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Oh my lord I remember "After Man" - it fascinated me hugely as a child, as did "Inventorum Naturae" by Una Woodruff - quite the opposite kind of book, being a hippie-illustrated reprint of a Pliny text, but still full of strange fantastic pseudo-scientific creatures you could pretend existed. The end of the world and subsequent/consequent collapse of society is a pet fave of Mr fishwife's too - although last year we went on holiday and I refused to let him read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" because it was too depressing.

Tournevis said...

I remember After Man so well! I saw this book at a book store in 1981 and wanted it on the spot. I begged and begged and begged my parents to buy it for me and the refused. We left the bookstore and I never saw a copy of it, ever, until now! Since I did not know any English at the time, I could not recall the author nor the title, but I remembered the "Tree Dwellers" page perfectly, as it was engraved in my memory. I will now track the book down and find a copy post haste. Because I still want this book, after 28 years.

tuesday said...

Hi there :)

You've been awarded the Premio Dardos Award (by me, hahah.

Thanks for your contribution to the blogging community

JRSM said...

Lucy: I must seek out that hippie Pliny book; it sounds great! I actually did read 'The Road' on a holiday, and it did blight things a bit--wise move on your part!

Tournevis: Pleased to have helped refuel an old obsession: it's a strange but wonderful book.

Tuesday: Wow, thanks! I must put my mighty brains to the test of finding suitable blogs to pass it on to.