The Day It Finally Happens
Mike Pearl
Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99
By Alastair Mabbott

Mike Pearl used to write a column for Vice entitled “How Scared Should I Be?”, and seems to have found his answers researching this book, in which he explores the kind of future scenarios most of us don’t have to think about.

To be fair, it’s not all about apocalyptic endings. Chapter titles like “The Day Nuclear Bombs Kill Us All”, “The Day the Next Supervolcano Erupts” and “The Day Antibiotics Don’t Work Anymore” are in the minority. Most of his speculations are extrapolated from existing concerns, such as “The Day a Tech Billionaire Takes Over the World” (a low probability, in Pearl’s estimation, but “Scary? Extremely”) and “The Day Anyone Can Imitate Anyone Perfectly”, which is more or less upon us already.

Pearl admits that “The Day Doping is Allowed at the Olympics” would probably closely resemble the late-80s/early-90s Olympics, but even the more innocuous titles evoke a slightly queasy feeling, signalling dramatic changes which are not necessarily unwelcome but underline what a strange and foreign place a future like that would be. Like “The Day the UK Finally Abolishes its Monarchy (“Plausibility rating: 5/5”), or “The Day the US Finally Bans Guns” (what, with all those tooled-up militias out there?).

Pearl has long suffered from anxiety, and putting this book together made an effective coping strategy for him. Now it’s us who will be kept awake at night by questions we would never have thought of asking. Will our cemeteries eventually run out of room? If every slaughterhouse shut down, would the global economy collapse? Will lunar colonists be contractually obliged to stay childless until Space Health & Safety works up the nerve to greenlight a low-gravity birth?

Given the epic, world-changing nature of the events being considered here, Pearl couldn’t be expected to keep a solemn tone for the duration, so there’s levity, irony and understatement in the scenarios he devises for each chapter and the ratings he gives them. Pearl believes we’re right to be both excited and terrified by the future, though the balance of this book tips just a bit to the “terrifying” side.

But if the future looks frightening, think of the changes we’ve already weathered in our lifetime. On consumer resistance to laboratory-grown meat, Pearl sensibly remarks, “And just as with existing meat products, as long as the stuff tastes good, consumers probably won’t spend much time agonizing over how it got in the package.” On the other hand, contact with extra-terrestrials would be a mixed blessing. British astronomer Chris Impel tells Pearl, “Our tribal world culture is fairly unstable already, and this will just be another destabilizing element coming out of science, which we sort of don’t need.”

One thing to look forward to is that there are multiple ways in which the human lifespan could be prolonged. The bad news is that if immortality were to be rolled out among the general population humans would quickly fill up the entire solar system. Laboratory-grown meat not sounding so bad now?