Concern as to human overpopulation is nothing new. Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population was first published in 1798 and went on to five further editions over the next thirty years. Despite his name, Malthus was a rural English clergyman. The publication of The Message coincided with the 250th Anniversary of his birth.
Although there have been a number of other, mainly scholarly, works on overpopulation since then the most significant recent contribution is probably The Population Bomb by Professor Paul Ehrlich (1968). This attracted heavy criticism for its, as it transpired, inaccurate prediction that hundreds of millions would die in the 1970s and 1980s through starvation due to overpopulation problems. The fact is that when Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb in 1968 the human population was still under 4 billion and has nearly doubled since then.
It is arguable that Ehrlich’s prediction only proved wrong because he underestimated the extent man could and would go to provide not just the extra food, but also all the other things necessary to support an ever increasing population.
This has been achieved by clearing more and more wild and forested areas (particularly tropical rain forests) for intensive agriculture; the wanton use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers and genetic engineering; and the plundering and industrialisation of the planet. ‘The Message’ is that it is the damage inflicted on our planet, a direct result of overpopulation, which is now the real and overwhelming threat to humans.
Over the years, a number of authors have used fiction to draw attention to social or political issues we would all prefer to ignore. Examples would be Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Hard Times, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as Animal Farm.
“Two hundred years ago there were just one billion of us. Fifty years ago it was three billion. Now it’s seven billion. If we go on like this there will be eleven billion of us within fifty years.”
In The Message, Yan Vana cleverly uses a mix of fantasy and science fiction to make an otherwise unwelcome message palatable. Whether you agree with it or not, the message it is conveying will be clear to any reader without the need for explanation. In many ways, it can be said to combine some of the allegorical format of Orwell’s Animal Farm with his grim factual reporting in A Road To Wigan Pier and the dystopian nature of his 1984.
It is arguable that, underneath the science fiction and fantasy, The Message is a serious philosophical study of the relationship between man and the rest of nature.
It questions many preconceived beliefs; in particular that technological advancement is a sign of superiority rather than simply an acceptance that, from an evolutionary standpoint, man is physically backward and has to rely on tools to do things which other species, ones we regard as inferior, can do naturally.
That is not to say that the plot is merely a platform for an undisguised moral message about overpopulation problems. To many it will also be a sad and moving love story, to some a study of humanity and for others a perspective view of twenty-first century environmental regulation.
It could be said that Malthus was warning what could happen as a result of human overpopulation, Ehrlich was predicting what was about to happen and Vana is telling us what is already happening.