Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Nature's End

Book Review: 'Nature's End' by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka

4 / 5 Stars

'Nature's End' was first published in hardback in 1986; this Warner Books mass market paperback edition (418 pp) was released in May, 1987, with a cover illustration by Michael Haynes.

It's November, 2025, and the planet Earth is in the grip of an Eco-catastrophe.

In the US, where small contingents of the wealthy still live in luxury, cities like New York are crammed with impoverished illegal immigrants living in decaying tenements with no running water or sewerage, and the streets look like something out of the Soylent Green movie set.

The state of New Jersey is essentially one enormous toxic waste dump, where tumor-riddled, giant rats haunt warehouses stuffed with steel drums leaking carcinogens.

The Midwest is a desert, scoured by dust storms of apocalyptic intensity. What few human settlements exist struggle to grow crops in the depleted soil.

Even the rich and famous rely on a steady diet of mood-altering drugs, virtual reality entertainment, and 'rejuvenation' treatments to make it through each day.

As bad as life in the US is, of course, the teeming billions in the Third World have it much, much worse. In countries like India, only the distribution of the 'winged bean' prevents mass starvation.

Gupta Singh, a Sikh physician and mystic living in a Calcutta slum, is the leader of the World Depopulationist Mainfesto. 

Using a clever mix of Eastern philosphy and updated, Ghandi-ish humanism, Singh is trying to convince the world's population to commit voluntary suicide - !

The Manifesto calls for everyone on the planet to ingest a red pill. One third of the pills will contain a lethal poison; the other two-thirds, a harmless placebo. With a third of the Earth's population dead, maybe then, and only then, can the planet recover from the 'disease' of mankind.

In an ultramodern New York city apartment building, John Sinclair and his family monitor the march of the Depopulationist movement with growing alarm. What once had seemed like a hopelessly crackpot scheme is growing more feasible with each passing day. Depopulationists have infiltrated the US political system, and a majority vote for the Manifesto seems likely early in 2026.

As a 'convictor', a sort of global uber-prosecutor, Sinclair has the power to discredit the Depopulationist movement and its leader. But Gupta Singh has no intention of having his mission derailed by a wealthy American, an American who represents the culture most responsible for despoiling the earth's ecosystem.

As he embarks on his investigation of Gupta Singh, John Sinclair is going to learn very quickly just how much power is wielded by this seemingly fragile holy man from Calcutta.

But if John Sinclair fails, it could mean the end of humanity.....for Gupta Singh's ambitions run far beyond a simple thinning of the human herd............

I remember walking into the Cracker Barrell convenience store on Nicholson Drive in Baton Rouge on a damp, muggy day in May, 1987, and picking up a copy of 'Nature's End' from the paperback book shelf.

At the time, I found it a very worthwhile read, and today, more than 25 years later, it remains one of the best Eco-catastrophe novels in sf. 

As with their best-selling nuclear war thriller Warday (1984), for 'Nature', Streiber and Kunetka adopt the epistolary narrative pioneered, with great success, by Michael Crichton. 

Short chapters, consisting of first-person narratives from each of the main characters, are interspersed with real and imagined newspaper clippings, scientific abstracts, and interviews with various personages. There is also a nod to late 80s cyberpunk influences, with the inclusion of an AI ('Delta Doctor') that mediates the conviction process.

This construction means the book flows along at a fast pace, with lots of action and drama, despite its length.

'Nature' is not without its flaws; the last few chapters tend to wallow in a sentimental bathos, and the climactic confrontation between Sinclair and his adversary comes off as a bit contrived. As well, Streiber and Kunetka glibly toss all sorts of mid-80s 'alternative' science into their background, such as the 'morphogenetic fields' of Rupert Sheldrake, and the 'Gaia' pantheism of James Lovelock. 

But, if you haven't yet read 'Nature's End', and you're a fan of Eco-catastrophe sf, you'll want a copy in hand.


sciencefictionruminations said...

Hmm, reminds me of the Mano's satirical take on the extreme let's commit suicide environmentalists in The Bridge (1973). Have you read it?

tarbandu said...

Yes, I read 'The Bridge', and posted a review here at PorPorBooks (April, 2009).

I think 'Nature's End' is markedly superior to 'The Bridge'.....I found that Mano's book was just too contrived, and awkwardly written, to be very rewarding.


sciencefictionruminations said...

Now that I think about it, your review might have been the way I learned about The Bridge in the first place!

I agree with your conclusion regarding Mano's vision. It was contrived, forced -- and goodness me, that bit about forcing the lesbian commune (if they're lesbians I think they want to stay lesbians) to become his wives... lame.