The Stories We Tell About the End of the World

Mark Blacklock at Literary Review: Evidently, the time is ripe for a survey of the branch of cultural production concerned with the end of the world. And yet, as Lynskey points out, tales have been told about it for as long as we’ve been doing story. J G Ballard, whose work is given rich and perceptive attention in the chapter ‘Catastrophe’, wrote in 1977: ‘I would guess that from man’s first inkling of this planet as a single entity existing independently of himself came the determination to bring about its destruction.’

Lynskey’s previous book, The Ministry of Truth (2019), was an astute and well-received history of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, considering both its genesis and its impact. In that work, he brought to bear the knowledge and insight he has acquired as a music critic and a commentator on politics. The influence of Orwell’s book was tracked through its many manifestations in popular culture – TV’s Big Brother and Room 101, to give just two examples.

Everything Must Go is a very different proposition from its tightly focused predecessor. More than two hundred years’ worth of narratives concerning the end of the world have been chewed through. Lynskey’s definition of what constitutes such a story is roomy. It can involve ‘the total demolition of the planet itself, the extinction of the human race, and the collapse of civilization, which is to say the end of the world as we know it’. That last allows a lot of space for interpretation.

The book is organized into seven parts – ‘The Last Man’, ‘Impact’, ‘The Bomb’, ‘Machines’, ‘Collapse’, ‘Pandemic’, ‘Climate’. These themselves comprise multiple chapters. ‘Climate’, for example, contains chapters entitled ‘Too Hot’, ‘Too Many People’, ‘Too Cold’ and ‘Too Late’. With the prologue, the epilogue, notes and index, it’s a whopping five hundred pages of end-times. Lynskey maintains his good humor throughout.

More here.