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Tue, Dec. 10th, 2013, 06:08 pm
Review of Piers Anthony's "But What of Earth"

I have just finished reading an old novel, “But What of Earth”, by Piers Anthony and Robert Coulsen, and I have some things to say about this book.

First, the cover: It was the cover that made me pick the book up at a used book store. The Kelly Freas painting on the cover resembled Kaaba, the Muslim place of pilgrimage. The cover also had the picture of what appeared to be a Viking. I was intrigued, thinking that perhaps the book portrayed some aspects of Islam and Western culture in the future, along with other things. Considering my interest in Islamic SF (http://www.amazon.com/Mosque-Among-Stars-Muhammad-Aurangzeb-ebook/dp/B0027P87LU), I immediately bought the book and read it at my earliest leisure. It was an interesting book but had nothing to do with any aspect of Islam. I just couldn’t fathom the relation between the cover painting and the story. Irrespective of this, it is an interesting novel.


The book is about a future Earth where over population has made life miserable for the majority. Then suddenly, matter transmission becomes a reality and opens up the space frontier. People start migrating from Earth. The migration goes out of hand and as a result, the very civilization collapses.

Scot, the protagonist, is a nice guy who is denied migration due a misunderstanding. So he has to eke out survival in a post-apocalyptic scenario. He manages to do it without compromising any of his ethics.

As stated above, I found the book an interesting read but it has two significant flaws.

(1)    The world depicted in the novel is very similar to our own world in terms of science and technology except for the presence of matter transmission. As such, the matter transmission technology appears as if it has sprouted out of a technological vacuum, arbitrarily and out of context.

(2)    The title of the book is “But What of Earth”. The scenario deals just with America. The rest of the world – and in fact the major population centers like China and India, are ignored. As long as the population of China and India remains intact, there is no such thing as population implosion and so the whole premise of the collapse of civilization falls flat.

I would like to end this review by sharing an email correspondence that I had with Mr. Anthony way back in 2006, when I was editing an anthology titled “Fall and Rise”. What has this correspondence to do with the novel? Read to the end to find out.

Here is the said correspondence:

My initial email:

Dear Mr. Anthony:

This may sound totally presumptuous, coming from a relatively unknown person, and I apologize for the presumption, but I have a request.

I am editing a print anthology. The theme is: In most post-apocalyptic SF stories, it is shown that pure-bred SOBs have better chance of survival than decent folks. This anthology takes the opposite view. It will comprise of post- apocalyptic stories showing that survival is possible without letting go of any

universal ethical values. In short, I am changing the paradigm from "survival of the fittest" to "survival of the nicest".

If, by any chance, you find the theme interesting and worthy, and if you have a reprint kicking around that fits the theme, would it be possible for you to let me have it? Unfortunately, it is a shoe-string

operation and the only compensation will be a copy of the anthology.

The deadline is January 31, 2007.


Ahmed A. Khan

Ps: I will take this opportunity to thank you for some good moments some of your works have provided me - novels like Ox, Steppe, On a Pale Horse, The Blue Adept trilogy (the first one), the first two books of the Xanthe series, and stories like "Getting Through University". In fact, I consider "Getting Through University" one of my top ten all time favorite SF stories.


Thank you for your note. We have printed it for Piers Anthony and he gave us the following answer for you:

It's a tempting idea, but my sense of realism prejudices me against it. I will ponder, but suspect I will pass this by.

Piers Anthony

My counter email:

I was under the impression that one of the agendas of SF writers is to shape reality rather than follow it. :)

Counter response:

Thank you for your note. We have printed it for Piers Anthony and he gave us the following answer for you:

New science can be conjectured. A new nature for our driven human species seems less likely.


That ends the correspondence.

I am assuming that when Mr. Anthony responded to me, he must have forgotten about “But What of Earth”.