How far would you go to save the World?
BOOK REVIEW ROBERT BLOCH THIS CROWDED EARTH 1958 Belmont Books
If the World were facing such a dreadful crisis that the only thing you could do to improve things would be morally abhorrent, would you do it?
Conversely, if the draconian measures the Government take to save the World struck you as too terrible, would you do something terrible and illegal to stop it, even if that could potentially destroy us all?
That is the situation Bloch’s characters face in this rather neglected novella story. This may be the finest look at over-population short of Harry Harrison’s Make Room, make Room (filmed as Soylent Green).
The cities of the World are seriously over-crowded. Food and energy are running out. Attempts to colonize the Moon, and Mars have failed. Sterilisation programmes have failed. People still want children, and the only way to get a bigger house is to marry.
Young advertising copywriter, Harry Collins is too depressed and claustrophobic. He attempts to kill himself, but he is rescued in the nick of time. He finds himself in a strangely open and free psychiatric centre, where he can roam open woodland and make love to a friendly nurse.
Harry realizes that something is wrong. There are few patients and the centre seems too expensive to run given the World crisis.
Aided by an under0cover journalist, Harry uncovers the truth too late. He is a guinea pig in a shocking experiment – the nurse is one of the first women to be given drugs that will soon turn all newborn children into dwarfs. Smaller people need less space, food, fuel, air, etc.
Harry escapes and embarks on a decade long plan to save the next generation from the evil plan, even if he has to assassinate the chief scientist responsible for it.
That is only half the story, which spans decades and generations, from 1997 to 2065.
Clever and chillingly plausible, with many nods to SF, and digs at the genre’s tendency to settle on easy answers with no consequences. Bloch felt that too many science fiction authors of the fifties and sixties saw only visions of WW3 between the superpowers or humanity conquering the stars. This dystopian vision takes a rather different route and strangely vanished into obscurity. It deserves a revival of interest.