All reviews copyright 1984-1998 Evelyn C. Leeper.
TOWARD THE END OF TIME by John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-375-40006-0, 1997, 334pp, hardback):
If the appeal of science fiction to you is to examine how societal changes will affect people, then this book is not for you. It is set in the year 2020, after the Sino-American War, after things fell apart--although not enough to cause any problems with food, water, electricity, gasoline, etc. The level of change seems to be, as the first person narrator says, "Once my species had been strong enough to put [a space station] up there, and now it is out of our reach."
But instead of any sort of examination of how this might affect society, we get, "One advantage of the collapse of civilization is that the quality of young women who are becoming whores has gone way up," and we get pages and pages of descriptions of sexual activities in the sort of detail that used to be reserved for adult magazines. So one doesn't get much of a coherent view of the post-apocalyptic future except to learn that some middle-aged men prefer positions other than the missionary one. Whoopee.
Someone is sure to tell me I am reading this the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. Perhaps, but at least I can serve as a bad example to others who might hear that John Updike has written a science fiction novel. Unlike another well-known "mainstream science fiction novel," Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, this novel doesn't examine the consequences of its premise in any meaningful way, so if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere.
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