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Just a Little Breeze

The End of the Dream

By Philip Wylie 

6 Jun, 2023

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Philip Wylie’s 1972 The End of the Dream is a stand-alone ecological disaster novel.

The date (Old Calendar) was June 6, 2023, and the place, Faraway, New York, again in the Old Geography. 

The 2020s are an age of hope. To reach that point, however, despair and calamity came first. This is why for every hundred people alive in 1970, only one still lives in 2023.

The 1970s begin optimistically enough, as even President Nixon is motivated to begin mandated regulations to protect the environment. Now that humanity has seen the error of its ways, no doubt people will happily pay the cost to create a sustainable economic system. Rampant pollution will be a thing of the past! Huzzah!

As related in dozens of anecdotes, reality proves somewhat different from dreams. Rather than accept the enormous cost of radical change, not to mention the curtailing of the American dream of endlessly growing prosperity, rich and poor alike opt to ignore the grim, inevitable results of their obstinacy. Everyone has valid-to-them reasons for continuing business as usual, confident that since the world had not ended in the past, it would not end in the future.

Result: calamity after calamity, each more horrific and implausible and lovingly described than the one before. Power outages combined with fire level much of New York; exploding rivers destroy Chicago; reactor waste heat boils rivers and the children boating on them; explosive farts scatter body parts; poison air kills legions; and vast swarms of killer worms rise out of the oceans to kill multitudes. Even the nymphomaniacs are not spared [1].

Happily, it turns out that humanity needed only the mild rebuke of the extinction of the vast majority of the species to amend its ways. The bad old ways are gone forever! A new, ecologically rational order rules the world. Humanity has the means to restore the world.

But, as it turns out, not the time.


I moved my review of a Merril anthology to a later date to make room for this novel, as I was amused to discover that The End of the Dreams opening scenes are set June 6th, 2023. That date is the only amusement to be had from the book, although it does at least provoke wonder (that it was published at all) and amazement (that it is still in print when so many superior books have vanished without a trace). I both rue and lament my decision to reread this botch of a novel.

There are considerable parallels with John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, including the year of publication. Both concern themselves with ecological disasters provoked by human greed, both proceed towards final catastrophe along a path of escalating disasters, both conclude that human nature is incapable of adjusting to reality in time for their enlightenment to matter. The similarities do not work in Wylie’s favour, as the Brunner is superior in every respect. It turns out that lofty goals and a worthwhile cause cannot compensate for dreadful writing.

My synopsis of the Wylie book mentions no characters, as there are none of note. One or two exist to be the author’s dogmatic voice. The rest are ephemeral witnesses to calamity. All are paper-thin at best, existing only to facilitate Wylie’s fulminations about human folly.

Likewise, there isn’t much of a plot beyond escalating episodes of breathlessly described mass death from increasingly ludicrous disasters. This might be sufficient for a Jerry Bruckheimer movie (it would be an excellent Jerry Bruckheimer movie) but it makes for a disappointing book.

In the author’s defense, he was operating under the considerable disadvantage of having died while writing the novel. Mortality is a challenge many authors have struggled and failed to overcome. Perhaps had he lived longer, the novel would have been better. Having read other Wylie novels, that’s not the way I’d bet — but let us give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the fact is this is a terrible [2] book and you will be worse off for having read it.

The End of the Dream is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Despite the chapter inexplicably devoted to the entirely irrelevant-to-the-plot sexual revolution.

2: The End of the Dream is at least mercifully short.