Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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How Hard Could It Be to Repopulate the Planet?

At Wired, this post: How Hard Could It Be to Repopulate the Planet?

IN THE 1950S many science fiction writers explored the idea of a global disaster that leaves behind only a single man and woman, who would then have to carry on the human race. According to science fiction editor Gordon Van Gelder, a popular variant of this idea featured a twist ending in which the last man and woman turn out to be Adam and Eve.

“It was one of those stories that science fiction would lend itself to so readily, and newbies would be drawn to it, like ants going to a sugar cube,” Van Gelder says in Episode 308 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

The idea became so overused that magazines would specifically prohibit writers from submitting “Adam and Eve stories.” And while such stories would remain the bane of science fiction editors for decades, the theme of repopulation also produced a number of interesting thought experiments, many of which Van Gelder collected in his recent book Go Forth and Multiply.

Interesting! Also, a fun idea for a book.

Go Forth and Multiply came out last summer. It appears to be available only as a physical book, which seems like a peculiar decision. Perhaps there was some issue with copyrights or something?

Here’s what Amazon’s description says:

There was a time when science fiction magazines abounded with tales of repopulating a planet. Brave (well, sometimes they were brave) men and women teamed up in great acts of self-sacrifice to save humanity. These stories fell out of fashion over time, but now this volume collects a dozen of the finest – and a fine batch they are! ‘Mother to the World,’ Richard Wilson’s award-winning novella about the last man and woman on Earth. ‘No Land of Nod’ by Sherwood Springer, perhaps the paradigm of the repopulation story. ‘Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang’ by Kate Wilhelm, a classic of repopulation through cloning. ‘The Queen Bee’ by Randall Garrett, one of the most controversial stories ever published in the SF genre. Other contributors to the book include Poul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley and John Jay Wells, John Brunner, Rex Jatko, Alice Eleanor Jones, Damon Knight, Robert Sheckley, and E. C. Tubb. Some of these stories are classics, others have never before been reprinted. Combined, they make for a great reading experience and a fascinating look at a compelling subgenre

I actually have Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang on my TBR shelves. The others, I don’t know. I’m curious about “The Queen Bee” now, though.

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6 Comments How Hard Could It Be to Repopulate the Planet?

  1. Allan Shampine

    Yikes. That’s pretty disturbing. I’m a huge fan of Randall Garrett’s work, but I never read that, and am glad I didn’t.

    I’ve come to accept that I can like work by writers and actors whose political views or bigotry I abhor, but sometimes it can be difficult to separate the author and the work.

  2. Hanneke

    Ugh, no! to all those dystopias, and that Garrett story sounds particularly bad. I agree with Allan, I did enjoy his Lord Darcy magic detective stories – a sort of take-off from Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but with magic, (and Bunter being a priest who specializes in magic, a friend instead of a butler). No Harriet to complicate the story or trigger visible misogyny, so I hadn’t realised from those stories that that might be there – not having any important women characters was sort of par for the course in that era.
    On the other hand, in Queen Bee he might be exploring the bad extremes of the changes in social norms that might result from such an extreme situation, in a sort of “Lord of the Flies” way (another book I never could stomach), without those necessarily being views he’d endorse. I think I prefer not to know, and not to read those kinds of stories.

    Also, the idea of repopulating runs onto a genetic bottleneck if there are only two ancestors. I think it’s probably species dependent, but I read something once where they calculated that 30 or 50 different individuals was the minimum needed for a possibly viable population to grow out of.
    Cheetahs are in trouble, all vulnerable to the same new disease, as they’ve been calculated to have passed through a genetic bottleneck of only about 20 individuals contributing to the gene pool, a long time ago.

    Any new population descended from too few founders would be very vulnerable to the next SARS or Ebola or Avian flu or Swine flu or smallpox or bubonic plague or whatever to come along, and you know something will come along.

    Also, for any kind of civilization beyond a hand to mouth hunter-gatherer existence to persist, you need more specialist knowledge *and skills* to be available, and though the knowledge may be kept in books, and some tools may still be available at the start, no two people can practice all the skills necessary. They won’t have enough time.
    Exploring the kinds of societies that might result from such a castaway-island or dystopian situation might be interesting, but in most cases would lead to terrible lives for the people involved, depending on the characters and their previous knowledge and skills. A traditional family of Kalahari bushmen might survive quite handily, and keep their present egalitarian family-based society intact.
    An agressive racist and/or misogynist ‘modern’ person who’se not used to working with their hands but is used to bossing people around could very quickly deteriorate things to a Lord of the Flies or everyone dies level.

    Concluding: this doesn’t sound like a subject for stories I’d enjoy.

  3. Pete Mack

    That Queen Bee review missed a trick: it sounds like a perfect case for an OH JOHN RINGO NO! review. A fine negative review nonetheless.

  4. SarahZ

    This particular collection doesn’t sound that exciting to me, but in general I like seeing how many different directions people can go with the same shared prompt. The vastly different ways people can go, even with something pretty specific, really show how little it matters if “X author took Y author’s idea!” The idea is just the beginning.

    The Merry Sisters of Fate site has a lot of that – Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff, and Tessa Gratton would all do mini stories off a shared prompt.

    I also loved the second (the 1st was ok) Machine of Death collection, This is How You Die. The premise & title sound morbid (and are, somewhat), but the stories are really enjoyable, and vary wildly in tone, from really touching, to scientifically minded, to purely going for humor.

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