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Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future (1990) is a speculative evolution book written by Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon. The theme of the book is a science fiction-based exploration of the possibilities of the future evolution of humans. Unlike Dixon's previous two books, his story context focuses on individuals rather than entire species, even giving them human names.
The main plot of book starts 200 years from now, which for the book's scale is almost the present day. Humanity begins to play around with its own Genetics, like a kid with LEGO blocks on a large scale, creating new Humanoid creatures known as aquamorphs and aquatics (or basically Fish People), and vacuumorph beings that have been engineered for life in the vacuum of space. Their skin and eyes carry shields of skin to keep its body stable even without pressure as living space probes.
Unfortunately, a century later, environmental deterioration finally kills off most of the planet's fauna. Humanity is one of the only species left standing and so a faction of the survivors (a cybernetically enhanced offshoot known as the Hitek) begin to create new Biotech Human species for the next 500 years en masse to fill in some of critical ecosystemic niches left by the general absence of the Earth's now countless extinct animal species. Meanwhile some of the remnants of unaltered humans decide to leave the wrecked earth and return when it gets well...better, while others, without the benefit of technology, return to barbarism and later a form of civilization again.
Unfortunately that doesn't happen when the Earth's magnetic field flips. The Hitek (and also the remaining normal humans) went extinct themselves, allowing the altered humans to naturally evolve for a few million years (which is the main point of the book). Ironically, the descendants of humanity that went to the stars and now return have themselves been altered - and possibly evolved - so much they no longer recognize their ancestral planet, let alone the animals on its surface, and exploit both to the point of eradication.
Near the end of the book, most of the Earth's inhabitants either leave or die out, leaving only a species of deep-sea aquatics to eke out hand-to-mouth lives on the ocean floor, although someday (according to the book) they would eventually leave the water and become the new dominant species on the planet.
The majority of tropes below might lead you to think that this is some sort of horror novel or film. However, this is far from the case. In fact, it's only a flight of fancy created as a fictional textbook Ya Know, for Kids!
Man After Man provides examples of the following tropes:
- After the End: The entire premise of the book.
- And I Must Scream: Mainly the Food Creature (see Let's Meet the Meat, below), a grotesque mountain of flesh and fat with distorted, but still human-like features, and many of the book's altered humans that have become worker drones, maintenance units or transportation. While some do indeed have actual faces and eyes, they don't appear to be able to to react to the general external world in any way.
- This also includes the Vacuumorphs exoskeletal Humans that are used as living space scouting probes that have all of their vulnerable parts sealed up so they can survive the natural elements of outer space without the need of a ship. And since its never mentioned no one from Earth retrieves them. In other words Vacuumorphs are cursed with staying in space without any way of directly seeing or communicating with the outside universe (except through their surgically attached planetary surveying equipment) and are (Presumably) forced to consume nothing but their own recycled natural waste until finally accidentally falling towards and burning up in a random planets atmosphere. They cannot even travel through space- it is stated that are high-orbit space ship engineers only. Their bodies cannot operate or even survive in gravity at all - and that includes the artificial gravity of an accelerating space ship. They're stuck in near-Earth space.
- Apocalypse How: A Class 1 occurs due to global warming in 2200, destroying most of the coastal cities. A Class 3 destroys Homo sapiens around 3000 when the magnetic poles reverse, and finally A Class 4 occurs at the end of the book instigated by the starfaring descendants of humanity.
- A World Half Full: See Chekhov's Gunman below.
- Blade Below the Shoulder: The plains-adapted hominid has a horn-like blade on the side of its hand for cutting grass, and this evolves into a weapon as its species becomes communal and caste-based.
- Body Horror: The Tics and the Engineered Food Creatures are the two most notable culprits.
- Crapsack World: By the book's near end this entire story pretty much embodies this trope. Humanity does not exist anymore and most of its descendants have been wiped out by its other descendants, who are no longer human by any definition of the word and leave Earth for good, with its resources depleted and its atmosphere unbreathable to anything human. The relatively near future of the 22nd-23rd Century is also portrayed as one, with modern civilization on the verge of collapse and some lucky souls pulling an Alpha Centauri. Eventually, they come back 5 million years later...
- Darker and Edgier : Compared to Dixon's previous speculative biology books, After Man a Zoology of The Future and The New Dinosaurs. The far darker and horror-like tone of the book caused some pretty big Fan Disservice for those who were expecting something similar to the previous two.
- Eyeless Face: The water-sensing species carried and cared for by desert Hivers.
- Chekov's Species: Piscanthropus profundis. About one sentence is given to a population of aquatics that colonises the deep ocean and are never heard from again. 5 million years later, we learn that their descendents have still survived and may one day re-colonise the surface of the ravaged Earth.
- Jimez Smoot also qualifies. Early on in the book, he is one of the humans to leave Earth to find another planet suitable for containing life. 5 million years later, his descendants return to Earth and kill all life anywhere except in volcanic vents deep within the ocean.
- Gaia's Lament: Most modern animals are extinct. Fortunately, It Gets Better when the Hiteks engineer new human species to fill these vacant ecological niches.
- The Ghost: A subterranean species of hominid is listed on the evolutionary tree at the start of the book. One of its ancestors is shown exploring a cave, and a later incident is mentioned in which a surface-hominid vanishes after sleeping near a cave many thousands of years later, but the Underground Monkey variant is never shown or described.
- Humans Are Bastards: Due to the massive genetic tinkering/fiddling/manipulation/outright butchering that humanity performs on its own collective self that starts this whole bizarre mess to begin with. Although both regular humans and Hitek try to justify it as either Utopia or moreso base survival justifies the means.
- Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Well, technically they're not humans anymore, but the "water sense" and race-memories of some post-human species arguably made this one a Jump the Shark for Dixon.
- Inferred Holocaust: While not visually shown, after all the massive time and energy used to create these species, the last remnants of altered/evolved humans were abandoned on a somewhat dying Earth to die a slow and somewhat painful death by suffocating and starvation with no way to save themselves simply because they were not built with the general intelligence to do so. It can be considered somewhat of a Tear Jerker as well.
- It Gets Worse: By or near the book's end, the remains of Humans left on Earth bear either little to no resemblance to what they were or even what their evolutionary ancestors were. Aliens have taken over the planet and enslaved every living thing on it. Original Humans - if there even are any left at all - are now doomed to nearly eternally roam the universe In search of a new home. And the Hitek probably acted more machine then man. It doesn't help matters that those aliens also happen to be descendants of those Original Humans to fled to space.
- Let's Meet the Meat: Many, many of the altered humans that were later used as new sources of meat. Predominately with a being known only in the book as a "Engineered Food Creature" that was another engineered human that grew as "mounds of fat and flesh, fed by chemical nutrients via a mass of pipes and tubes inserted directly into the fleshy blob. After it grows large enough, sections of its meat, tissue and body fat are butchered off..."While It's Still Alive, Bon Appetít!.
- Our Vampires Are Different: One species of hominid evolves into something convergent with vampire bats, clinging to and feeding off a much larger, bloated hominid species.
- Planet Looters: After humanity's descendants return in an unrecognizably altered form, they exploit the planet and its remaining non-sapient inhabitants to extinction and then simply leave - presumably to do it again to another planet.
- Science Marches On: For starters, the species Dixon notes as the first human, Ramapithecus, was later found to actually be an earlier-discovered species called Sivapithecus, an early relative of the orangutan, not humans. Oops. Still, his description of an early proto-human still holds water.
- Transhuman: The entire basis of the book is this as it details what humanity might appear as in the future via process of natural evolution. However the argument can also be made that according to the literal meaning of that term "Transhuman" is supposed to be something above or beyond ordinary human levels and the majority of human species that are shown seem to barely have any real human sapience or ability.