Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Worlds Without End Blog

Fire or Ice? Posted at 11:03 PM by Rico Simpkins


Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.

– Robert Frost

As you may or may not know by now, today is the last day…. ever. At least, that’s what Harold Camping and the Family Radio network have been preaching since the last armaggedon failed to appear in 1994. Since this may be our final blog post on this earth, we thought it might be a good time to remember other predictions of our impending doom. Perhaps we can finally settle the question posed by the good Robert Frost a mere 88 years ago. Will the world end in fire or ice?

First up: Walter Miller. His Hugo winning novel A Canticle for Leibowitz is a personal favorite of mine (as you can tell from my avatar). In it, the world undergoes a nuclear holocaust, plunging humanity back into the dark ages where the only shreds of written knowledge are preserved by ascetic monks in the southwestern deserts of North America. A Canticle for Liebowitz This classic features not one but two armageddons, illustrating the futility of technological conflict. He wrote the book as a sort of penance for his involvement in the destruction of Montecassino during World War II. The event left such a scar on his psyche that only beating out this masterpiece could quell it. Miller’s vote: FIRE.

Jack Vance invented the “Dying Earth” sub-genre with his novel, The Dying Earth. Unrecognized in his time, the trendsetting novel has been named one of The Classics of Science Fiction and is included in the Fantasy Masterworks list by the Orion Publishing Group. This Earth of the distant future revolves around a red giant that is inexorably dying out. Like the sun, the human race is also a dim reflection of its former self, relying on the remnants of forgotten technology and magic. Tales of the Dying EarthVance was known for the mixing of science fiction and fantasy, and the trope of a massive but cooling sun dominating a now red sky provides a fantastic backdrop for both genres. Though the planet is not quite destroyed in this 1960’s series, its inevitable fate is known. Jack Vance votes ICE. (P.S.: I’ve always wondered whether Jack Vance was the inspiration for Vance Refrigeration in The Office.)

Rarely do we get to see the Earth actually die in a science fiction novel. Sure, it might sustain a few nuclear wars or a couple of extinction events, but it’s hard to continue a story when all of your characters are dead. You can imagine my delight, then, when I re-read H.G. WellsThe Time Machine. Sure, everyone rememebers the Morlocks and the Eloi. You might still have a few whispy dreams of the lovely Weena, the Time Travellers demure girlfriend from the year 802,701 A.D. What I forgot, however, was the protagonists final trip to the ends of the Earth (literally). For those who are a little foggy on the details, we’ll fill you in. After rescuing his shorty, the Time Traveller travels another 30 million years into the future, where he witnesses crabs and butterflies sparsely inhabiting blood-red world of simple vegetation. A few jumps later gives us the answer we seek: the Earth’s rotation stops and the sun shrinks away until the earth and everything in it sets in for a deep freeze. For Mr. Wells, that’s a definite ICE.

The Time Machine

A few other WWEnd author votes include:

Gene Wolfe votes ICE with his classic series, The Book of the New Sun, which describes an “Urth” in a distant future whose sun is dying.

The great Larry Niven begs FIRE in a big way with Lucifer’s Hammer, where the planet gets smacked with a (near) extinction event in the form of an asteroid.

If you want a definitive answer to the way the world ends, you can’t get any closer than This is the way the World Ends, by James Morrow. He nabbed nominations for both the Nebula and Campbell awards, casting his vote for FIRE by way of a nuclear war.

This leaves us with a tie of 3-3, but what do I know? I just picked six books at random. Please add to the list by citing your favorite WWEnd authors, or even authors not yet in our database. Hell, cast your own vote. We just need to break this tie. Please hurry, though. We only have until 6PM before the latest scheduled apocalypse.


Meridian   |   21 May 2011 @ 14:15

John Christopher: "The World in Winter". (You can guess which way that one leans).M

Wintermute   |   21 May 2011 @ 14:23

Is it 6PM EST or GMT or PST? "The Songs of Distant Earth" by Arthur C. Clarke was not that good in my opinion but Mr. Clarke’s vote was for: fire (the sun went hydro-nova a little sooner than expected).

Kat   |   21 May 2011 @ 16:21

What about Hitchhiker’s Guide? Essentially, I’d class that as apocalypse by eminent domain, but is it fire or ice? I’d say it was literally fire (they blew up the planet, after all), but it’s probably metaphorically ice, since it is a particularly callous way to end humanity and shows the seeming insignificance of the Earth in relation to the hyperspatial express route about to be built… Thoughts?

Rico Simpkins   |   21 May 2011 @ 17:01

Good point. As a fan of metaphor, I’d have to agree that the decision was cold as ice. I’ll mark it, however, as fire.

Mattastrophic   |   21 May 2011 @ 21:10

I also like the metaphor, but would place it under fire as well due to the method in which it is carried out. I’m going to try to throw a monkey wrench into the fire/ice binary and suggest the bio-pocalypse in Bear’s Blood Music. Hmm, it COULD be technically classified as ice since the world does seem to rapidly cool in the conclusion…The Frost poem is a great example of clever implementation of major themes in a compact set of lines, although I tend to prefer the end of Elliot’s "The Hollow Men:" "This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper. " As for today’s non-event, I take continuing comfort that every end-of-the-world prediction to date has been proven wrong. I was brewing beer with a friend earlier, around the time of the supposed apocalypse. We saw it as a good investment in the future, an act signifying our belief that there will be a tomorrow, and that tomorrow will have homebrew!

Wintermute   |   21 May 2011 @ 21:44

As long as we’re nominating poets writing about the apocalypse I would like to offer my favorite poet and poem: "Darkness" by Lord Byron. It’s not long, you can find it at the link below, but here is the conclusion (notice the "moon" and "mistress" line, has a familiar Heinlen ring to it). Byron chose neither fire nor ice. Neither a bang nor a whimper. He went with darkness. "The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, The moon their mistress had expired before; The winds were withered in the stagnant air, And the clouds perished; Darkness had no need of aid from them – She was the Universe."

Emil   |   22 May 2011 @ 03:43

There’s "The Road." We are not told what the calamitous events were that ended the world, but all that remains is a scourged Earth. Another notch for ‘fire’ I’d say. And in Clarke’s "Childhood’s End" the Earth actually ‘explodes.’

Mattastrophic   |   22 May 2011 @ 12:25

Good suggestion Emil with "The Road"! I’m kicking myself for not thinking of that. A ‘post apocalyptic’ Earth or a ‘scourged Earth’ theme seems to prevail in most SF instead of a completely obliterated earth, it seems. The first book in Simmons’ Hyperion cantos describes how earth was destroyed when a black hole was accidentally created inside of it, so, fire?

Meridian   |   23 May 2011 @ 01:15

"Snow" by Adam Roberts.

Dave Post   |   24 May 2011 @ 11:54

Harold is at it again. Judgement Day has been postponed, due to rain I guess, until October 21. The end is STILL near but at least I’ve got 5 months to read some more of these books you guys have mentioned.

Rico Simpkins   |   24 May 2011 @ 17:09

Apparently, the original prediction was that humans would be put through torments for five months. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Rebecca Black announced that she was producing a new video on May 21. That’s at least as bad as earthquakes, isn’t it?

Wintermute   |   24 May 2011 @ 17:33

As far as apocalypses go, I’ve had better. But not many. Here’s to Harold.

Emil   |   25 May 2011 @ 07:15

Earthquakes, tornado’s, tsunamis! Now Rebecca Black. And if they release another Twilight movie or book, then that’s certainly the end!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.