It’s not surprising that this book is part of the “Gollancz SF Masterworks” series. It really is a must read for all sci-fi fans as one of those early sci-fi books that set the standard for others to follow.
The prophetic nature of this book, while quite nail-on-head in some ways, is quite funny at times as to how short it actually fell. For example, Arthur thought that it would take aliens to bring an end to wars, giving humanity peace ever lasting before we gave up striving to improve our lives and instead spending hours every day watching pointless programs on TV:
Do you realize that every day something like five hundred hours of radio and TV pour out over the various channels? If you went without sleep and did nothing else, you could follow less than a twentieth of the entertainment that’s available at the turn of a switch! No wonder that people are becoming passive sponges — absorbing but never creating. Did you know that the average viewing time per person is now three hours a day? Soon people won’t be living their own lives any more. It will be a full-time job keeping up with the various family serials on TV!
And yet here we are 60 years after this book was published and while no aliens have given us peace on earth and eternal leisure people are watching far more TV than Arthur predicted for our age of enlightenment. The 2018 viewing figures for the UK is an average of over 4 hours a day. And that’s the average. Some people are watching far more than that as people like myself have no television at all and haven’t had for over 20 years.
No, it’s not going to take aliens to bring an end to Homo sapiens, the “wise man” is doing a really good job of its own demise without any outside assistance whatsoever:
‘In a few years, it will all be over, and the human race will have divided in twain. There is no way back, and no future for the world you know. All the hopes and dreams of your race are ended now. You have given birth to your successors, and it is your tragedy that you will never understand them — will never even be able to communicate with their minds. Indeed, they will not possess minds as you know them. They will be a single entity, as you yourselves are the sums of your myriad cells. You will not think them human, and you will be right.
Yes, we are becoming two separate species, with the old conservative Homo sapiens stuck in their ways, trying in vain to hold the world back while the progressive and future looking people are slowly evolving beyond the comprehension of those who cling to their ancient rights. It won’t be long now before Homo sapiens becomes extinct, because, as Arthur says, the stars are not for man.
All that said, it’s a great book. Wonderfully written, thought provoking, intelligent sci-fi for progressive and future looking people who look towards the stars instead of into televisions.