Loudly Proclaiming My Thoughts on the Quiet At The End of the World

When I started reading this book I was lulled into a false sense of security. Initially, I believed it to be a cleverly done concept, following the aftermath of a pandemic that caused human infertility. As gloomy as the setting was, I found myself absorbed by the melancholic tone and intriguing ideas. And if nothing else, I appreciated the schadenfreude that our current apocalypse situation wasn’t quite as dire. I liked how it engaged with archaeology of the present, mining social media to uncover both individual histories and an entire global reaction to a crisis. While it lacked some prevalent aspects of our recent reaction to a pandemic (eg humour), I was impressed that the author had been able to predict how some people would react to an existential crisis. I liked the social media acted as a time capsule for this moment. I thought it was showing us a Black Mirror style possibility of people turning to apps to fill the void inside themselves.  

… except that was not where it was going at all. Because when the twist came (*spoiler warning*) that the world was inhabited by the robot-baby devices created to help with feelings of loss, the last two humans on earth decide to advocate for robots as the next stage of evolution. You see, in the story, human extinction is a shame, but not the end of the world, because robots would be more responsible with the planet- yay?!

To me, this is entirely nihilistic and human-hating. There is a heavy-handed implication that people shouldn’t have been so selfish as they went extinct and should have thought about keeping the robot babies “alive” (whilst ironically showing that the robot babies are prone to the same foibles, so aren’t exactly an upgrade). There is the oh-so-typical modern guilt imposed upon the reader that humanity should repent its existence. Then there is the message that humanity can just be replaced and isn’t worth fighting for- which didn’t sit well with me- because, well, I love humanity.

To my mind, this narrative speaks to a deep sense of self-loathing. Any attempt at nuance is drowned out by this underlying emotion. I know there are people out there who think that robots would make an adequate (or even superior) replacement to humanity- yet I am not one of them. I do not think that an entity that shares the same consciousness, but have a different aesthetic, would be an improvement. I do not think that immortality, giving an endless amount of time to achieve less (and without any of the moral qualms to hold it back), would be an improvement. I do not think that a human’s value goes bone-deep.

I think to go down this “perfectionist” line of argument is somewhat dangerous. I think it is troubling to suggest the world would be better off without humans. And it is most disturbing to see this idea presented to teens without any kickback. When one reads YA like this, it is unsurprising that so many young adults are depressed and anxious. I would have been- if I wasn’t so infuriated.

I respectfully disagree with the author calling this “uplifting”. It seems more death cult-y to me. Though the author clearly has talent, I was less-than-enamoured by the end:

Rating: 2/5 bananas

So, dare I ask, what did you think of this book? Have you read it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

20 thoughts on “Loudly Proclaiming My Thoughts on the Quiet At The End of the World

  1. This does sound disturbingly misanthropic/nihilistic. C. S. Lewis warned against a similar sort of transhumanism all the way back in 1945 in the third installment of his Space Trilogy, “That Hideous Strength.” It’s a truly bizarre book, and his non-fiction philosophical book on the same theme, “The Abolition of Man,” is a difficult/odd read. However, I find it interesting that for at least this author “humans ‘evolving’ into something wholly different via technology” is seen in such a different light. I wonder how many would agree with this book’s point of view…

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    1. Yes- I was surprised that it went in this direction and pretty horrified by the conclusion (and shocked that this was presented as a good outcome). That’s really interesting- I didn’t know he wrote about that- definitely sounds worth checking out. Incredible that he thought of this even then! Yes- I was surprised to find so few people identifying these issues in the reviews (though, from what I’ve read, a lot of people seem unsettled, they just can’t put their finger on why)

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      1. In “That Hideous Strength” it’s mixed in with a lot of other stuff, including Arthurian legend, political correctness, astrology, and even a bizarre reference to Tolkien’s Numenor (though Lewis misspells it), but it’s definitely there as a major part of the story. Unlike the first two books of the trilogy it’s written after Lewis and Charles Williams became close friends and it definitely has a Charles Williams mystical vibe. The non-fiction is more straightforward, but I don’t remember much of it because I read it as part of a graduate school class when I was utterly exhausted.

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  2. That is something deep and serious and made think on the topic. 🤔 it’s kind of arguable and I feel robots might make things better but I agree with you they don’t have same conscience and no matter how much world is full of horrible humans doing all horrible things, there are good people out there and for those few number who made everything earth, human race worth it, it’s wrong to say ‘world would be better off without humans’. Amazing review!

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    1. I don’t know- they’re created by humans, so why would we not assume they’d have the same faults *and* new ones we hadn’t thought of? Perhaps I am a pessimist (ok I’m definitely a pessimist) but I would guess they’d mostly make things worse. Yes that’s what I think- I think humans have the potential for greatness, and to discount that is wrong (and a troubling perspective). Thank you!

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  3. So often we see the A.I. trope where, as soon as true Artificial Intelligence becomes a thing, it sees us as a threat and tries to wipe us out. While some of those stories can be interesting and/or exciting and/or raise some good points of discussion, it always makes me a little sad to think of HOW OFTEN we imagine a superior intelligence and imagine it’s first order of business would be to get rid of us. That’s such a dark vision of ourselves! This sounds as bad…if not worse, as humanity seems to just sort of shrug and give the world over to the robots because they have to be better than us. Such a bleak, hopeless vision is rough anywhere but I agree, it feels especially problematic in a YA book.

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    1. That’s a good point! I think the “AI trying to wipe us out” stories are getting a little done to death 😉 and they are depressing! But I felt like this was far worse as an alternative- not just because I don’t like the idea of humanity just rolling over, but because it’s creating this narrative that humanity is not good enough/an inferior species and ought to be replaced… Which is just messed up!

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  4. I haven’t read the book but from what you wrote I thought at first, that the author wanted to provoke his/her readers. But when you mentioned the end was supposed to be “uplifting” my reasoning crumbled. Would have to read it first to be able to make up my mind properly 😊

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    1. Ah I see your point, and maybe she wanted to do that in some respect, it certainly got me thinking got me thinking at first… But the conclusion (and her interviews about the book) made me see things differently. Please do! I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts!

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