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Novel solutions to the planet’s problems

By Tim O'Dwyer - posted Thursday, 18 June 2009

Don’t despair! The Internet may be coming to the rescue of all mankind and our planet. This is the mind-boggling, yet not entirely incredible, notion at the heart of David Brin’s future-techno-thriller Earth.

When a local bookstore remaindered hardcover editions of the novel Earth for $9.95, I immediately snapped up four copies. One was for my own indulgence (no matter that I still had my original dog-eared paperback). The others were to give, with personal explanatory notes on the flysheets, to each of my three children when they had finished secondary school and were about to enter university.

Earth, set 50 or so years into the future, moved me like no other novel I had ever read. I wanted to share it with my children who would live most of their lives in the 21st century. Hopefully, before they were tempted to begin abandoning old-fashioned books and the like for new-fangled information technologies, my children would enter adulthood enlightened, no less excited and similarly moved by Brin’s thoughtful and expansive depiction of one possible tomorrow for their world.


This extraordinary novel (still available new and second-hand in paperback and hardcover) speculates on how planet Earth and its people will be faring after the “Helvetian holocaust” and just before the ultimate “Gaia conflict”. Wars have always been part of human history and, as Brin frankly anticipates, will continue to be part of our future. Meanwhile, the fastest growing communication medium in history, the Internet, will clearly remain well and truly entrenched in tomorrow’s world.

Yes, our net/Internet/world wide web/information super-highway will be used and abused in Brin’s not-too-distant future by millions of humans beneath a still-failing ozone layer, in the grip of a thickening greenhouse effect and under terminal threat from a microscopic black hole in the earth’s core.

One reviewer has explained how a multi-faceted struggle to save the planet gives Brin the occasion to recap a number of imagined but plausible global events:

... a world war fought to wrest all caches of secret information from the grip of an elite few; a series of ecological disasters brought about by environmental abuse; and the effects of a universal interactive data network beginning to turn the world into a true global village.

Initially in the novel the internet provides a vehicle for a constant commentary on Brin’s central topic - the so-called “Gaia Hypothesis”. This posits that the earth may be legitimately compared to a living organism. When our living planet faces imminent death and destruction, Brin’s radical resolution of several global conflicts involves the net, metamorphosised into the ultimate saviour of humanity, civilisation and the very planet itself. Trust me, salvation in this complex context involves more than a simplistic deus ex machina or dues in machina. Think, perhaps, a little fiat lux (“let there be light!”).

David Brin has a doctorate in astrophysics, has been a consultant to NASA and is a graduate-level physics professor. A natural story-teller, he is the award-winning author of several popular science fiction novels and two collections of short stories. Another of his future novels, The Postman, was made into a less-than-successful, post-apocalypse movie directed by and starring Kevin Costner.


Earth is much more than science fiction, although you will most likely find it on science fiction book-shelves and catalogues. This novel, dedicated to “our common mother”, transcends every genre in scope and significance to become, in effect, a predictive and impassioned testament about humankind’s responsibility to an endangered planet.

Yet Brin himself has explained that he did not intend to make predictions of what the future would hold: “it is an extrapolation - nothing more”. His prime purpose, he acknowledges, is essentially to ask questions. Will we wake up quickly enough to save ourselves and our world? How will we acquire the necessary wisdom to accompany increasingly god-like scientific powers?

In a short preface to his novel he candidly remarks:

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About the Author

Tim O’Dwyer is a Queensland Solicitor. See Tim’s real estate writings at:

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