March 28, 2011


The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead

by Robert Brockway
272 pages, Three Rivers Press, 2010

Review by Paul Fenton

When I read this book, I laughed and I tittered. I thought: that would be awful, obviously, but what are the odds of anything like that happening in my lifetime. But after all the earthquakes and floods and tsunamis of recent months … I keep checking the news for reports of an erupting supervolcano, or a building hypercane, or a marauding swarm of vampire robots terrorising Croydon (which would at least give authorities the excuse they’ve been looking for to the wipe the place flat).

The book is divided into sections covering near misses, current threats, natural disasters, nanotech threats, space disasters, biotech threats and robot threats.

If you’re a paranoid recluse, you should probably steer clear of Everything is Going to Kill Everybody.

One of the most spine-tingling accounts is the summary of Stanislav Petrov and the nearly nuclear Armageddon. Petrov was the man responsible for pressing the USSR’s Big Red Button during the cold war if a threat was detected by their new missile detection system. When the system began telling him five missiles were approaching from the USA, Petrov didn’t panic and hit the “well, f**k you too, buddy” button, as was his duty. Why not? “Because Petrov is a stone cold mother f**ker, that’s why.” Petrov and his “enormous steel-clad balls” saved the world by holding his nerve and risking his career to call the system’s bluff. In the end, it proved to be a computer glitch, but anyone else in his position could have quite reasonably kicked off the end of the world.

If you’re wondering, the quotes above are straight from the book. If Stephen Hawking had written A Brief History of Time in a similar style, I might have stood a chance of finishing the thing.

Many of the natural disaster threats are events which have happened at some point in the planet’s history, those often-discussed extinction-level events, and we’re well overdue for another. The supervolcano: if you live anywhere near Yellowstone, you can either stay where you are and hope for a quick finish, or move as far away as you can in order to extend your life and the inevitable terror and pain by a few minutes, maybe more. The hypercane: winds will be powerful enough to turn you into a kind of organic slushie, so don’t worry too much about getting the washing off the line before it hits.

When we move into the man-made threats of nanotech and biotech and robotics, Brockway draws some clear and perfectly reasonable conclusions about where these technologies are leading. Nanotech, for example, will inevitably result in “a sky eternally darkened by sinister patrols of helicopter sharks.” It’s all enough to make you seriously consider that underground bunker you saw for sale in Norway. And I haven’t even touched on space disasters, but to summarise using Brockway’s own words:

“If you’re the kind of person who likes to look on the upside, though, you could think of it this way: It’s like a bonus! You looked in the box expecting only one, but now you’ve got two free, heaping scoops of explosive death in every box of your terror flakes. There’s also a supersecret prize inside. (Hint: It’s more explosions.)”

Best. Science. Book. Ever.

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