Saturday, October 3, 2009

No Known End to the World - Science Fiction

(I thought about this for several years before finally writing it down in early 2006. I submitted it to a story contest on 3/17/2006.--MUW2)

No Known End to the World

Explorers from a far distant planet arrived on Earth in what would have been the earth year of 3200, if there had still been people on earth to measure years, but there weren't.

The visitors found some ancient books and calendars and they were very puzzled. They could calculate when the last houses were occupied, the last pieces of clothing made, the last humans died. "Human civilization ended around 2400 in the earth dating scheme," they wrote in the Final Report on the Visit to Earth. But almost no physical objects with dates later than about 2010 could be found: no papers, no paintings, no books. There were plenty of machines the investigators could not turn on, and some things made of plastic that seemed to fit into the machines. A few machines seem to have numbers stamped on them, and some of those numbers might be dates after 2010, but none was later than about 2027.

A spokesperson for the explorers explained,
"Before 2010, the creatures that dominated the earth were enormously creative. We found paintings, sculpture, works on paper. Much was well preserved, although mostly in buildings that apparently had fallen into disuse by the second decade of the 2000s. We've also found some beautiful objects, human-sized and smaller, that we believe were used for making music: some wood, some metal, some with ivory, but our dating shows that these, too, are all from before 2010.

"Something happened to human civilization around that time, and because of it people stopped creating physical objects that would document their existence, their ideas, their souls. We hope for their sakes that they were able to express themselves some other way, maybe by using all those machines.

"We did find vast numbers of shiny circles in what look like huge trash heaps. But even those shiny circles were a short-lived phenomenon: manufacturing seems to have ceased by around 2015. There are also little plastic sticks with plastic covers over a metal end, often attached to ribbon, apparently to be worn around the neck. We don't, however, think those are jewelry. They may have been an alternative to the shiny disks. They, too, ceased to be manufactured well before the middle of the 21st century.

"How the civilization managed to survive another 400 years we may never know. They did keep building, but nothing built in those last centuries is beautiful: it is functional without joy, useful without delight.

"We have brought back to our planet specimens of many machines, and we hope to be able to make them work soon. Was it a factor in the death of this planet that its inhabitants lost the ability to create permanent records of their aspirations and achievements? Our committee agreed that we could only speculate about this. But in any case we grieve for the death of this planet. Had there been any descendants of the people who created the art and literature of the previous ten thousand years on earth, the universe would have been richer."                                                 //

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