Top writer imagines going back 500 years

Future tense: HG Wells and George Orwell made some scarily accurate predictions about society.

Does life always get better? In a new thriller out this week, Robert Harris imagines that modern civilisation has collapsed and history has to start again. Our luxuries are just dim memories.

What’s happening

In The Second Sleep a devastating collapse has taken place. Our dazzling modern civilisation has turned to dust.

The survivors start again. The action is set in 1468. A young cleric is sent to perform a country funeral.

There, he discovers a secret cabinet containing a palm-sized object bearing an apple with a bite taken out of it.

Find out more

Guess what it is? Clue: what common objects these days carry the image of a bitten apple?

Gradually, we realise that the story is about the slow rebirth of our civilisation after it was destroyed.

Various traces remain, but nobody can work out what they are — or how the old civilisation ended.

The writer of the book believes that modern society is very fragile because it is based on something that we cannot touch or feel: knowledge. And he says that knowledge can vanish very fast, even though it might take centuries to create.

He warns that cyberwar is already a reality and that the structures that we all depend upon are much weaker than we think.

Some say…

This sort of scary story is wrong because it makes us so anxious. It probably will never happen anyway. So, why should we worry about it?

Others think…

No, says Robert Harris. It is the role of the writer to imagine things that are scary, even if they are unlikely to happen. Only by imagining these things and naming them can we deal with our secret fears. Also, it helps us to guard against them.

You Decide

  1. Would it be terrible to live in the Middle Ages?


  1. Write a diary entry for a day like the one in the story in which the internet is down, power is cut off, the shops are running empty…

Some People Say...

“Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), US author

What do you think?

Word Watch

Very damaging.
Failure or breakdown.
A society that is well developed and organised, with cities and communication.
A priest.
A cupboard with shelves.
Digital attacks, such as hacking and computer viruses.
The ways we organise life. For example, through government, schools, hospitals, police.

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