As a child I once read this horrible science-fiction short story involving desperate measures to enforce population control. Although the title and author’s name now elude me, the story revolved around raising a child to a certain age and then subjecting them to an exam of sorts. If they passed, they kept living, if not, well, let’s just say that the child of the couple in the story didn’t pass, and they weren’t very happy about it. Reading a story like this, in a science-fiction anthology for children no less, was a rather disturbing experience for me as a youngster, and probably responsible for my lingering fear and distrust of any form of exam or assessment…
I was reminded of this story today as I finished Robert Twigger’s The Extinction Club. For an extinction-themed work, things predictably get rather dark towards the end of the book. Firstly, we kick off with a vision of the ever-encroaching monoculture of man:
Conservation is an attempt to fix
, but in life things keep on developing. That which looks fixed is an optical illusion. Eden
The moment conservation becomes thinkable, Eden slips from our grasp, since wild animals are no longer wild if they can be conserved, corralled, looked after. They are tame animals in danger. Wild plants and animals do exist, but they are hardly exotic – rodents, feral pigeons, certain snakes, undersoil fungi, woodlice, cockroaches. Animals that often accompany man in his dwelling places but are not controlled by man. Survivors.
Eden after the fall is defined by these survivors: its pests and parasites, its weeds and scavengers, its unwanted population and its mountains of garbage.
Just as a petri dish full of multiplying bacteria will eventually poison itself with its own excreta, so the human race races up to the limit of self-poisoning before maintaining an uneasy symbiosis with its waste products. The animals closest to us now are the ones that eat our prodigious filth. Our friends the rats, the roaches, the seagulls on the landfill outside of town. (Twigger, 2001, pp. 174-175)
Twigger then witnesses the culling of several Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus), specifically “spikers”, or in other words, young males of around eighteen months. At this point, and based on his previous musings, we arrive at the central theme for the dystopian scenario of this post:
I allowed my mind to explore the idea of human culling. After all, we all live in controlled environments now. Overpopulation is imminent everywhere. In some countries there is not enough food, in others not enough land or natural resources. Countries that have imposed strict birth control, like
, have ended up with skewed populations of more boys than girls, because girls are often aborted after a scan. Everywhere people complain about how there isn’t enough land anymore, how the world is being used up too quickly. China
The simple answer, I darkly fantasized, would be a human cull. Teams of trained marksmen would go out and search for herds of humans – probably young males and females, the human equivalent of spikers. Once they’d staked out a herd, say a queue for a nightclub or a football match, they could wait for a clear shot against a safe background. Couples leaving late at night might be safest to pick off, especially with infrared night vision.
“Do you ever use night-vision equipment?” I asked Callum.
“We looked into it,” he said. “But too many weirdos walk through the park at night. We might have ended up killing someone we couldn’t properly see. At least in daylight you can judge the background properly.”
Maybe the human cull would have to be a daylight job too. It would be a terrible job to do – very stressful. The cullers would have to be men [or women!] of the highest moral fiber. Imagine if parents bribed them not to cull their offspring? Disaster. Culling would have to be seen to be fair.
The first few culls would have to be very heavy, to make any dent in the population at all. There would have to be a whole subsidiary industry to get rid of the bodies.
My fantasizing ground to a halt when I started to invent reasons why I alone should not be culled…
Dark thoughts for a dark night, but dawn was almost upon us. (Twigger, 2001, pp. 190-191)
Like I said, it’s a good book but it does get rather bleak there towards the end! As a future dystopian yarn though, it may make for a ripping gamebook. The obvious idea would be for you to play the victim, desperately attempting to avoid being gunned down by the marksmen as they fulfill their quotas for the night (or day). The alternative, where you play a marksman, will probably play out like a text version of Quake III, but might skirt the edges of bad taste (always assuming we haven’t fallen screaming off the edge already!). A better option would be the classic dystopian story arc where you start out as a government marksman, but, during the course of your duty, uncover a conspiracy that forces you to renounce your position and re-align yourself with the victims instead. That idea’s got
written all over it… Hollywood
|Not a happy book in places, |
but definitely a
Possibly the best idea though, taking full advantage of the gamebook format, would be a two-player gamebook, where you and a friend choose between who will be the culler and who will be the cullee. One of you has to flee across the crowded, polluted dystopian wastes, while being stalked with utter professional disdain by the other, sniper rifle in hand. What a nerve-wracking gamebook read that could be!
At this point, considering the distasteful nature of what we’ve looked at, it’s worth pointing out that all of the above represents a future, not the future. If warped speculative visions of dystopia seem to bring out the worst in us, in terms of what we think may happen, it’s only because our human history successfully fuels our imaginations with the horrors and atrocities we have already committed.
There is still yet time to change. :-)
Twigger, R. (2001). The Extinction Club.
: Hamish Hamilton. London