Science Fiction Friday: Frederik Pohl “Earth Eighteen”

“Earth Eighteen” is a fun one. If you’ve ever looked around your house and taken a closer look at some of the things you hold near and dear to your heart (books? iPod? That weird lopsided beaded necklace your four-year-old neighbor gave you last time you babysat and you can’t bring yourself to get rid of?) and wondered what this must look like to someone else, someone way far away in the future, then this is your kind of story. “Earth Eighteen” is an unapologetic tourist guide of what used to be planet Earth. Where did all the people go? Away from here, apparently.

Specifically, route Earth 18 focuses on all of the once-famous sites along Earth’s planetary route from Los Angeles to what’s now known as Old Nueva York. The guide aims to direct tourists along route Earth 18 by retracing the steps of early Americans which would be us. And it’s also the perfect vacation outing for those who are low on money and are not expecting too much. Huh. Taking place some one billion years in the future, Pohl declares that Earth is in a pretty sorry state by this point. In America, our monuments, National Parks and amusement parks now lie mostly deserted or left in shambles, sorely misunderstood by the creators of the guide.

The satire pokes fun at Earth’s once coveted resources such as oil. It describes the natives of South Florida to be friendly, cooperative and intelligent, though aren’t dolphins always? Humans are just about extinct at this point, with all that we’ve worked for gone to dust and left to decay. Pohl gives hints at the cause of Earth’s demise as the tour arrives in Old Nueva York where it is observed that what was once the center of commerce for Earth deteriorated shortly after the abolition of money. Either that or the city was obliterated by nuclear conflict though my money’s on the latter. It is hard to determine as the tour guide states, no race would be that crazy. No, no, of course not. But the traveler should be warned, even considering visiting the old Earth 18 route is considered a total and complete waste of time.

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