First came a supernova, dazzling the universe in brief, spendthrift glory before ebbing into twisty, multispectral clouds of new-forged atoms. Swirling eddies spiraled until one of them ignited–a newborn star.
Earth is as vast and wide as its title character. Set 50 years in the future, it depicts an Earth fully feeling the effects of global warming, where refugees from flooded lands have built a floating country called Sea State; where recycling, conservation and Gaia worship have become religions; where no one can venture out in the sun without extreme protection and endangered animals are sheltered in life arks. On this Earth, the Net has become the only legitimate forum for debate, information sharing and decision making. On this Earth, secrecy has been outlawed, the result of a devastating war against Switzerland that has destroyed all notions of hidden bank accounts and squirreled-away piles of wealth. The elderly record every moment with goggles to prevent crime, and privacy no longer exists.
In this setting, a physicist — experimenting with microscopic black holes — discovers an unusual singularity deep inside the planet that is voraciously consuming its mass. He enlists the help of his mentor and a billionaire geologist to figure out a way to dislodge it, and in so doing, discovers that the tiny black hole can be used to focus a beam of gravity that can either be a destructive, unstoppable weapon or a very useful means of lifting things off the planet and moving them through space. As their activities become apparent, they are joined by a relentless investigative journalist and a former Space Shuttle pilot who witnessed the destruction of a space station and death of her husband as a result of one of these “gazers.” The group is frantically trying to control the singularity, but others — governments, clandestine groups, a lone environmental warrior with extreme ideas — have other plans for how to use its power.
I reread Earth because of my renewed interest in global warming and the efforts of groups like Worldchanging, where I believe Brin is a contributor. Also, I wanted to see if any of Brin’s future predictions were coming true, now 17 years after the book was published. I do think technology and the Net are becoming as pervasive and as critical to our global society as he predicted. The eroding of privacy and other civil rights in favor of safety has definitely become a threat as cameras and similar technologies become more ubiquitous and wearable. But I feel we are still firmly entrenched in “TwenCen” mode, unwilling to give up even a little luxury to preserve what really is our only home (although the optimist in me says the tide is turning on that issue, too).
Brin offers hope — in the ingenuity of human thinking, especially under crisis situations; in the discovery of unimagined technologies that are as likely to save us as destroy us; and in the tenaciousness of our species. Let just hope that this part of his vision is one that comes true.