Other people’s work – Vintage future

Not being keen on cowboy adventures or thrillers about outwitting the SS, as I child I read a lot of sci-fi, because that was the other option on the bookshelves at home. It was mostly the shiny-metal high concept science fiction of the fifties and early sixties: robots, space stations and time travel. Comic books in disguise, made more serious and respectable by the lack of pictures.

In memory, most of it is blurred into one amorphous mass, the heroes and their trusty spaceships; the strange new worlds and alien creatures; new-frontier colonialism stuff with paper-thin characterisation that would pass an afternoon and occasionally as an aside explain what a Lagrange Point is or suchlike.

Isaac Asimov, early adopter of the genre’s boom in post-war America, beloved of the techbros then and now, considered by others problematic in person and on the page, featured heavily in the collection, and I must have read a lot of his work at various points. What I remember is an obscure short story: 2340 AD – a cheery little number commissioned by one of the many magazines he wrote for, about the last pet-owner on Earth, compelled to euthanise the final few non-human animals left alive, in the pursuit of perfect balance and social harmony.

It’s a nonsense, of course – we’ll be toast before we have managed to chop down half of the biodiversity tree we don’t even realise we’re sitting on, let alone get down to a single tortoise and a few rodents. But it rings true in the relentless force that societies are willing to exert to in search of conformity, even when it is a disadvantage to the whole, not just the one. The committee will meet, and listen to what it likes and misremember what it doesn’t, make a desert, and call it peace.