We’re Reading SCATTER, ADAPT, AND REMEMBER by Annalee Newitz

31 May

It’s not all guns and cans – Regina Peldszus discovers a survivalist manual worth reading


Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: how humans will survive a mass extinction
Annalee Newitz
Doubleday, HB £17.70

Let’s assume you’ve recently redecorated your missile silo and you’re wondering what to include in the “fiasco” section of your carefully curated hardcopy library. You already own a stash of essential reference works, from a rugged handbook on how to make rope from material found in the woods, to an annotated volume of thought-experimental commentary on the dynamics of our planet in view of the theoretical absence of humanity per se. Despite Annalee Newitz’s disclaimer that she is not adding to the survivalist canon – she is simply offering “survival strategies” – Scatter, Adapt, and Remember may be just the right kind of meta-level survival manual to complete your collection.

Read it snug in your bunker after your prepared-for cataclysm has struck, and you will be oddly relieved to find that what you’ve just undergone was, after all, not one of the other historical and potential disasters that Newitz lays out in this book with an almost taxonomical finesse: superspreading events, mega-floods, earthquakes, famine, asteroids, glacial ages, general pestilence…

You will be comforted by the reassuringly systematic structure of the book, edified by the streak of inherent optimism that runs through it, and entertained by reference points across the cultural spectrum (Chaucer, Bruce Willis) that pad out a series of case studies on the survival mechanisms of various populations (human tribes, cyanobacteria, deep sea mammals), which involve dispersion to avoid extreme settings, adjustment to novel conditions and retaining the lessons learned in the process.

True, you should really have been reading this book prior to catastrophe, for it contains prophylactic approaches. Beyond delivering a threat-level assessment of global showstoppers, the apocalypse-obsessed, lab-trawling, volcano-hopping author documents the efforts currently in place to guard us from them, for instance by future- (and fool-) proofing our infrastructure, cities, and emergency plans through simulation (by which she means blowing up mock-up structures in giant factory halls) and by developing mathematical models to understand the precursors, circumstances, and responses to calamity. Idiosyncratic and sparingly dotted through the text, Newitz’s illustrations include those types of snapshots of hardware that are accumulated when you spend countless afternoons roaming the corridors of scientific institutes (which she did) to talk to precisely those people who, fortunately for us, spend their days fine-tuning the motors in landslide analogues and their careers scrutinising infective disease patterns.

What struck me most about the Scatter, Adapt, and Remember strategy was its scalability. So, in anticipation of the next meteor strike, viral pandemic or plate-tectonics-related upheaval (not to mention train crash, meth-lab explosion, or collapsed parking structure), I shall detach and laminate the table of contents of Part III and internalize its outline. Scatter. Adapt. Remember.

Follow Regina Peldszus Through the deep space desert in Arc 1.2: Post human conditions, out now for tablets, phones and screens.

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