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OMEGA: The Last Days of the World
Camille Flammarion
Univ. of Nebraska Press/Bison Books, 287 pages

R. W. Boeche
OMEGA: The Last Days of the World
Camille Flammarion
Camille Flammarion (18421925) was a well-known French astronomer and writer who popularized science in the late 19th century. Robert Silverberg (who wrote the introduction) is an acclaimed science fiction writer with many awards including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards.

ISFDB Bibliography
Univ. of Nebraska Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Turn the clock back a hundred years, to the last decade of the nineteenth century. You are a young person with an eye toward the future, and the wondrous possibilities being opened up by recent discoveries in physics, chemistry and the evolution of living things. You've read Mary Shelley and Edward Bellamy and everything you can find by Jules Verne. Wondering where they get all those crazy ideas, you've tracked down and are currently reading OMEGA: The Last days of the World, by Camille Flammarion, a French astronomer whose gift for combining accurate scientific information with philosophical musings on the ultimate fate of humanity have made him the most popular science writer of his time.

A hundred years later, OMEGA is re-issued, and the forward-looking science fiction reader is granted not a bold new vision of the future, but instead a fascinating look into the mind of a man living at a time when classical science was about to give way to radical new ideas. OMEGA begins as 25th century earth discovers the impending collision of a comet. In the guise of a learned debate over the consequences, Flammarion takes us on a tour of cosmology as known in the 1890s.

But this is not just an end of the world novel with a lot of exposition. After the comet collides with Earth, the writing becomes more introspective, and takes on a speculative tone. Flammarion's interest in life after death becomes a dominant theme, and we follow as humanity and other animals evolve toward the final end of the solar system.

While somewhat crude in form, and extremely dry in its prose, OMEGA nonetheless presages much of 20th century science fiction with its combination of current scientific thought and speculations in evolution, a theme that runs from H.G. Wells to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Greg Bear and many other present day SF writers. Writing before relativity and other staples of modern physics and cosmology were discovered, Flammarion envisions a universe immense in space and time. Perhaps the one surprising omission by present day standards is the lack of space flight. In OMEGA, human beings never venture out into the greater universe but instead are doomed to remain on Earth.

OMEGA is not written to meet modern sensibilities and expectations as to the content of a novel. It's not the 19th century equivalent of Armageddon or Lucifer's Hammer, it's closer to the serious speculations of science writers like Paul Davies or Michio Kaku. Flammarion uses the fictional form to take his readers to the very edge of what his science, and his mysticism, had to offer. If you can get past the dry language and the occasionally sexist remark, you'll find a long over-looked work that had a direct influence on many people at the turn of the century. It's certainly hard to believe that Olaf Stapledon didn't read OMEGA before he wrote Last and First Men. For anyone with an interest in how science fiction came to be, the publication of OMEGA is an important event.

Copyright © 1999 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is waiting for the end of the world while livng in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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