A 20th Century Dilemma
The planet Earth is a spaceship—a small, self-contained system with limited resources—and the Earth’s people are passengers on that spaceship.
What would happen if the provisions ran low? The water supply became polluted? Mutinies and fighting started to break out? The energy supply was being depleted?
You had better start thinking about what you would do because you are on that spaceship!
Isaac Asimov probes vitally important questions about our population problems and what we must start to do to bring about solutions.
This is a book which Asimov prepared for UNICEF and attempts to teach children about the global impact of the increase of human population.
This is one of Asimov’s two jeremiads in book form about the negative impact of having so many people on the world around us (Our Angry Earth with Fred Pohl is the other), and this is certainly a subject dear to Asimov’s heart. He wrote numerous essays on the subject, he wroteshort stories on the subject, he mentioned it casually in books like The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science, he made an overcrowded Earth central to The Caves of Steel, he edited a non-fiction anthology on the subject, namely Living in the Future. Ordinarily, then, one would take this as an important book to read to understand Asimov, and should be rated accordingly high.
And yet I cannot do that, by virtue of one of my basic criteria—I really don’t remember the book very well. I’ve read it at least three or four times, but there’s nothing in it that I could bring to mind without actually picking the book up and leafing through it. (One contrasts this with Asimov’s other writings on the subject, many of which I remember vividly.) This is not a good sign, as it isn’t for The Stars, Like Dust; and so although I would like to rate the book highly, I really can’t. It pretty much covers only old ground and is a little too easy to forget.
That is, I can’t rate it highly for the general Asimov fan. For younger readers, I would still consider it an excellent source of information regarding population and the human impact on our environment, although it’s over thirty years old and a little bit dated.
Besides, it does have an incredibly classic sentence: “Babies are born as a result of the mating between men and women, and most men and women enjoy mating.” That’s virtually worth the price of the book in and of itself.