‘Scatter, Adapt, and Remember’: Annalee Newitz’s Surprisingly Optimistic Look at Catastrophe


I grew up plagued with fears about the end of the world. I was an eighties kid, and it seemed sometimes like a barrage of Soviet nuclear warheads hung over my head like the Sword of Damocles. I bet that if you asked a Russian man of my age he’d probably say the same thing about the United States. The threat of war – a war that none of us would come back from – was always in the back of my mind. Blame it on movies like Testament, The Day After and Threads. (Oh God, Threads. I watched that one again a few years back and found it just as disturbing. It’s here if you want to watch it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.) I just knew that one day the bombs would drop, and in the fleeting moments before my eyes melted I’d watch everything around me burn. If I’m really honest, I have to admit that I still worry about this kind of thing, although instead of bombs I fret about deadly pandemics.

According to Annalee Newitze, editor of science fiction website IO9 and author of the new book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, my fears of total human annihilation may be unfounded. Newitz set out to write a book about how humankind is doomed, but during her research discovered, in her words: “…a single bright narrative thread running through every story of death. That thread was survival.” How could she move forward with her pessimistic premise? She couldn’t.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember looks at previous catastrophic events during human history, deriving lessons from all of them that together build toward a welcome message: Human beings are tenacious. As a species we’ve survived several events, like plagues, that could have led to utter extinction, but through a combination of culture, technology and sheer adaptive strength, we’ve managed to pull through. We’ll do it again, too, at least according to Newitz. I hope she’s right.

The book doesn’t just focus on the past, either: Newitz’s strong scientific background comes shining through as she looks at new and upcoming scientific innovations that might allow us to slip fate’s noose once again. Terraforming, space colonization and improvements in the way we handle emerging disasters will make us more resilient than ever.

If you’re interested in hearing a little good news about bad times, then I can’t recommend Scatter, Adapt, and Remember enough. In a world where disaster seems to always be lurking around the next bend, Newitz’s optimism is a welcome change of pace.