Introduction by Boyd White

From the moment humankind first drew breath, all cultures and religions have envisioned the end.  Gods and devils war over creation.  Great floods and fires destroy the Earth.  In Norse mythology, during Ragnarok, the Midgard Serpent spews poison over the world, the sun dies, and the Earth sinks into the sea.  In the Book of Revelation, the Four Horsemen ride, and creation is plunged into war, disease, starvation, and death.  From the very beginning, the end has always been with us.

Given our pressing concerns with global warming, dwindling natural resources, cyberterrorism, and flourishing pandemics, no one should be surprised that grappling with the apocalypse has become the dominant motif in our popular culture.  Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014) depict futures ravaged by climate change.  Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) chart humanity’s demise at the hands of unstoppable viruses.  Such books have inspired the term “eco-thriller” and have become huge best-sellers, attracting the attention of A-list filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and Alex Garland.  Likewise, the Zombie Apocalypse is now the defining scenario for expressing our culture’s anxieties about our future.  Robert Kirkman’s enormously successful graphic novel The Walking Dead (2003 to the present) has spawned two television series and host of imitators, including films such as Zombieland (2009) and novels such as The Girl with All the Gifts (2014).  Apocalyptic themes are no longer just the purview of writers whose work critics often categorize pejoratively as science fiction or horror.  Contemporary literary giants have also embraced such concerns, including Kazuo Ishigoru (2005’s Never Let Me Go) and Cormac McCarthy (2006’s The Road).

 Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions shines a spotlight on speculative fiction that explores humanity’s future in often unexpected, unusual ways.  The catalog is the result of a lifetime spent reading and reflecting on trends in fiction.  The range of books Lloyd has selected is remarkable and refreshing--science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, rare first editions, paperback originals, genre high spots, and obscure or virtually unknown gems.  Lloyd's approach both challenges and invites us to discover what radically different works like Margaret Oliphant’s The Land of Darkness (1888), Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (2000) actually have in common. All of us are familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” (1936) or Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), but how many of us have even heard of Cicely Hamliton’s Lest Ye Die: A Story from the Past or of the Future (1928) or Sam Lundwall’s 2018 A.D. or the King Kong Blues (1975)? As a unique thematic grouping, Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions breaks down genre boundaries and allows these books to engage in conversation with one another.

As Lloyd’s catalog demonstrates, the threat of human extinction or the destruction of civilization via natural catastrophes, widespread pandemics, and nuclear warfare has been a core part of fantastic fiction from the beginning.  A great rarity with only a single recorded copy in the Library of Congress, Alexander Pitts Bettersworth’s The Strange Ms. By --, M.D. (1883) imagines a world in which the polar ice caps melt, and most of humanity has perished, the few survivors fleeing Kentucky amidst a new Ice Age in hopes of finding a warmer climate in which to live.  The threat of a nuclear holocaust first rears its head in Robert Cromie’s The Crack of Doom (1895) as a telepathic political radical threatens to destroy the world with an atomic explosion, a theme that dominates science fiction over the next century.  M. P. Sheil’s The Purple Cloud (1901) is the seminal last-man-on-Earth novel, the story of Adam Jeffson who travels the world after a cloud of poisonous gas devastates civilization.  These early works prefigure later classics of their kind, including John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), J. G. Ballard’s The Drought, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), a landmark fusion of science fiction and horror in which a pandemic spread by dust storms and mosquito blooms turns everyone into a vampire.  As the novel George Romero has long acknowledged as the inspiration for his influential film Night of the Living Dead (1968), I Am Legend, a direct descendant of The Purple Could, is the grandfather for the Zombie Apocalypse.

 Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions also illustrates how the current crop of dystopian fiction, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008 to 2010) and Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking (2008 to 2010), which floods the young adult marketplace and has clear adult crossover appeal, pales in comparison to its predecessors.  First collected in The Eternal Moment and Other Stories (1928), E. M. Forester’s “The Machine Stops” imagines a future in which technology rules the world, and most of humanity lives underground in individual rooms they never leave, their daily needs met by an omnipotent, self-repairing mechanical entity known as “Machine.” In Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn (1952), set in a world in which the Nazis have won World War II, Reich Meister Count von Hackelnberg and his guests hunt women dressed as birds for sport and watch genetically engineered leopard-women feed on deer.  One of the most harrowing and prescient visions of the United States ever created, Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) confronts us with a police-state dictatorship which confines professors and college students to underground communes, sterilizes African-American couples after the birth of their first child, and promotes widespread recreational drug use.

The most intriguing and rewarding aspect of Lloyd’s catalog, however, are the “Terminal Visions,” unique, unclassifiable works whose highly imaginative scenarios both thrill and terrify us.  William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912), David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), and Mervyn Peake’s Gorgmenghast (1946-1959) are undeniable visionary masterpieces, but the obscure or little known gems Lloyd has included are equally gripping and powerful.  Alfred Gordon Bennett’s The Demigods (1939) introduces us to highly intelligent giant ant-like beings living underground in Africa that threaten to take over the Earth using powers derived from an ancient hive mind, including the ability to hypnotize humans.  In Peter Brown’s Kafkaesque Smallcreep’s Day (1965), we meet Pinquean Smallcreep who, after spending years his inside a vast, labyrinthine factory slotting slots in pulleys, decides to learn the purpose of what he’s been making by seeking out the mysterious General Parts Store deep within the bowels of the factory.  Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer (1975) charts the quiet destruction of Harlowe, New Hampshire, at the seemingly benevolent hands of Perly Dunsmore, a kindly auctioneer who wishes to raise money via weekly auctions to rejuvenate a struggling town.  Nothing, however, can prepare the most discerning reader for M. John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings (1980), which recounts how the dying consciousness and bloated corpse of a lunar explorer unwittingly trigger a psychic invasion centuries after a nuclear holocaust on Earth as alien and human realities attempt to rewrite one another, creating unstable lifeforms, shifting landscapes, and decaying cities.

 A society that allows its members to mortgage their own bodies for spare parts (Richard Engling’s Body Mortgage, 1988)?  An America devastated by environmental ruin whose government rests upon the constant oppression and humiliation of the unprivileged (Rebecca Ore’s Gaia’s Toys, 1995)?  What, indeed, does the future hold for us?  Start perusing Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions and find out.