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When I was young, I thought people were much nicer to each other. This, I think, was down to the sci-fi books I read. When things went wrong in them, people pulled together, showed their mettle, overcame the odds like stars in a matinee war movie. It was a glowing, warm idea that was seriously dented when I saw ‘When worlds collide’, a classic sci-fi movie about a spaceship escaping the destruction of the Earth. In a key scene, a grumpy old rich guy states that people will fight to get on the spaceship. The young hero replies ‘No, that crowd out there will willingly stay and die while you, me and our strange, aryan business class cult head off into outer space’ (I’m paraphrasing here but if you saw the contents of that ship, you’d agree with me). The grumpy old man was proved right. I was shocked, I was an 11-year-old shocked kid. Would people really fight to get on a plane escaping their doomed planet even if they didn’t have a ticket?
Since then, science fiction has sent my view of humanity steadily downwards. The Day Of The Triffids was followed by Alien, then ‘1984’ but nothing prepared me for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s a novel about a man and his son surviving a nuclear winter in an America without food. It is the most harrowing story I have ever read. The suspense is appalling but engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading its sparse, simple prose, like Of Mice And Men, except with cannibals. The book still haunts me, two weeks on, but what haunts me more is the thought of what’s next. What future piece of science-fiction brilliance will give me an even lower view of humanity? I dread to think.