BY SEAN CLARK
[Bad Idea Books is a new column in which we read an old (or perhaps not) book that is not without merit, but happens to contain or be based on a very flawed premise. Read other entries here.]
Published: 1973, Doubleday
Bad Idea: The sanctity of microbial life is more important than humans eating, breathing, speaking, or existing.
Synopsis: In the future, science reaches a point of understanding and empathizing for microscopic life, and humanity decides to euthanize itself for the sake of the planet. Citizens, who communicate silently via a finger-on-wrist technique that blends hand shakes with a Morse-like code, breathe through filters to lower CO2 contamination, and live exclusively off a sludgy, microbial friendly “e-diet” don’t put up a fight when the government hands out the suicide pills.
Only one man, Dominick Priest, isn’t really into offing himself. Released from prison (in a forested Yankee Stadium) to die with his wife, Mary, Priest races home to upstate New York along overgrown highways and state-sponsored wilderness.
What Went Right?: The whole thing is pretty dumb, but it’s also sorta fun. Much like I am Legend (the book, though the first twenty minutes or so of the Will Smith movie also apply here) it is fascinating to experience a post-apocalyptic (or in this case, in medias apocalypse) that depicts nature overrunning human monuments, rather than a barren wasteland.
So yeah, there’s some adventure, and some killing, and some exploring. What makes this book stand out is the ludicrous premise. Putting aside the fact that no government, ever, will opt for mass suicide for the sake of bacterial happiness, none of the logistics of the thing make sense. For instance, why are human eating, breathing, and noise-making a harm worthy of death, when every other critter on the planet does the same, and indeed many bacteria surely depend on humans to survive? Why wouldn’t they just ban pollution, or technological progress, or industrialized farming? How the heck did they get the people to go along in the first place?
I’m going to go ahead and guess Mano was a stoned hippy that read too much Ayn Rand and maybe an encyclopedia entry on jainism. The logistics of his premise get tossed out the window, because he has an agenda with this book, to prove that: government is evil and stupid; humans are not doing this planet any favors, but we’re not going anywhere unless kicking and screaming; Christianity is a brutal, overblown parable; women are for the exclusive purpose of man’s sexual gratification and procreation (Mary has a name, but she gets raped and killed, then replaced by twelve women all belonging to Priest and just called Eve…).
What Would It Be Like Today?: Glenn Beck would try and frighten America with a Bridge-like novel in which the government is run by non-Evangelicals, who mandate cultural euthanasia in the name of Allah or a Shinto god, and one NASCAR fan stands up and bears the torch of a religion crippled by misinformation and laziness, and knocks up a lot of women from Red States, thus saving society.
Verdict: Actually, his agenda is kind of awesome, and the book is ridiculous to the point of enjoyable. The Bridge is worth reading, not worth taking seriously.