Ten Worst Mass Exterminations in Science Fiction

It’s troubling how often sci-fi Superior Beings... lofty & large-brained, detached & dispassionate... engage in mass murder. These Sheldon Cooperish super-rational minds, these scientific geniuses, sometimes with great intentions and well thought out justifications, seem to find it necessary to exterminate a sizable portion of the human race... eliminate all those inferior superstitious childlike barbarians.

One sci-fi writer described these Superior Beings: “their massive brains ballooning upward turning up their faces lifting their gaze to the horizon, their slender flaccid necks now able to support their huge hairless heads, puny withered bodies barely touch the ground, drift upward aside white gleaming towers, excelsior above mountain peaks, rise up and up to the pale dead moon, to their rightful place, rocket toward stars, now lost in cold black dead limitless space.”

When you see them, run!

The Top Ten

1 1953 Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Space aliens called the Overlords land on earth and take over the planet, though for decades they don’t show themselves. They create a sort of utopia, which some find a bit dull. These Overlords intervene in human affairs once for example they act to protect the white minority in South Africa but only rarely. So far so strange, but what happens next is really disturbing. Eventually hundreds of millions of children are transported away from their families as the children lose their individuality and become part of the Overmind. These children “naked and filthy, with matted hair” seem to spend a lot of their time dancing (their faces ”emptier than the faces of the dead”) and eliminating the plants and animals. In the end Homo Sapiens goes extinct.

2 1971 Omega Man directed by Boris Sagal
3 1826 The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s The Last Man pursues some of the same themes explored in her Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. In The Last Man a plague wipes out the human race. By the end of the novel in the year 2100 only one man is left alive. Literary scholar Kari Lokke has called the book an attack on “Enlightenment faith in the inevitability of progress through collective efforts”. The last man is a tragic figure as he wanders: “Neither hope nor joy are my pilots - restless despair and fierce desire of change lead me on. ” One of Shelley’s inspirations was Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s 1805 Le Dernier Homme.

4 1971 The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

George Orr’s dreams are “effective”... they become real. He is managed by the sinister Dr. Haber who wishes to use George to create a perfect world. Dr. Haber’s attempt to engineer a world free of racism, overpopulation, and war leads to truly awful unintended consequences. For instance, Haber’s attempt to control human population leads to “The Crash” a carcinomic plague that kills off 6 billion people. This drastic population reduction doesn’t even solve any of problems it was meant to cure

5 1984 The Terminator directed by James Cameron

Now robots get a chance to destroy humanity. A Computer system, Skynet, gains self-awareness and sets about liquidating its main rival: us. You may think this scenario is far-fetched but take a look at James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, which argues convincingly that robots will exterminate the human race. Many works of science fiction take up this theme of robots at war with humans - the Matrix series for example. I’m sure it’s not just me who detects an evil smirking expression on coffee makers, cars, desk lamps.

6 1963 La Planète des singes, known in English as Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Pierre Boulle, who also wrote The Bridge over the River Kwai, gave us an extraordinary parable about alleged superiors oppressing alleged inferiors. Apes are used as slaves by corrupted humans until the apes revolt and kill humans en masse. A remnant of mankind is pushed into the wild where they devolve into beasts. These bestial humans are in turn brutalized by the apes.

7 1930 Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Stapledon follows the course of history millions of years into the future as mankind develops into a bizarre collection of breeds: some dwarfish, some huge, some aquatic, some that can fly, some with six fingers. Man’s future includes acts of genocide which Stapledon seems okay with. For example the “Fifth Men” need living space so they look to Venus. Unfortunately all kinds of living creatures call Venus home including an intelligent deep-sea race called the Venerians. The Venerians are not intelligent enough, however, as they are deemed inferior by the Fifth Men. Their destruction is called by Stapledon “terrible, but right. ”

8 1988 Akiru directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira is a dystopian movie which deals with a world desolated by nuclear war. The film is an example of the cyberpunk style, which combines elements of film noir with science fiction. Featured are street gangs, a secret government lab, psychic powers, and guerilla attacks. So much fiction, both within and outside the science fiction genre, is concerned with World War I and its aftermath. Think of The Road, On the Beach, and A Canticle for Leibowitz.

9 1936 War with the Newts by Karel Čapek
10 1975 The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Whileaway is a radical feminist utopia wherein the men were eliminated centuries ago and the women form lesbian unions and reproduce via parthenogenesis. At first we are told in the novel that the men died of a plague, but we eventually learn that the men were murdered, the whole sex exterminated. My questions are 1) In a technologically advanced civilization would wombs be needed to procreate and would mammary glands be needed to nurture? And 2) If wombs and mammary glands are unnecessary isn’t the male body more functional?

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