Breakdown Press has released an expanded anniversary edition of After Man: A Zoology of the Future, a lavishly illustrated work of speculative zoology by Scottish palaeontologist Dougal Dixon, published to celebrate the book’s 40th anniversary.
This updated edition features eighteen pages of never-before-seen sketches and production material, alongside a new afterword by Dougal Dixon.
First published in 1981 by St Martins Press, After Man is a speculative evolution book written by Dougal Dixon, illustrated by several illustrators including Diz Wallis, John Butler, Brian McIntyre, Philip Hood, Roy Woodard and Gary Marsh.
The original book was a huge success, and a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 1982.
The work explores a hypothetical future set 50 million years from now, a time period Dixon dubs the “Posthomic”, which is inhabited by animals that have evolved from survivors of a mass extinction succeeding our own time.
“Dougal Dixon has given himself the intriguing task of contemplating a future evolution on our own planet, closely based on species that exist at present,” zoologist Desmond Morris explains in his introduction. “By waving a time-wand and eliminating today’s dominant species, including man, he has been able to watch, through his mind’s eye, the lesser animals gradually taking over as the major occupants of the Earth’s surface.
“Setting his scenario in the distant future, about 50 million years from now, he has given the members of his new animal kingdom time to undergo dramatic changes in structure and behaviour.
“But in doing this he has never allowed himself to become too outlandish in his invention. He has created his fauna of the future so painstakingly that each kind of animal teaches us an important lesson about the known processes of past evolution.
“By introducing us to fictitious examples of these factual processes, his book is not only great fun to read, but also has real scientific value.”
The original success of After Man back in 1981 spawned two following speculative evolution books (sometimes called the “After trilogy”), which used new fictional settings and creatures to explain other natural processes.
The New Dinosaurs, released in 1988, explained the concept of zoogeography and biogeographic realms through a world in which the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event never happened and non-avian dinosaurs were still alive.
Man After Man, released in 1990, focused on climate change over the next few million years through the eyes of future human species genetically engineered to adapt to it.
After Man and Dixon’s following books inspired the speculative evolution artistic movement, which focuses on speculative scenarios in the evolution of life, often possible future scenarios (such as After Man) or alternative paths in the past (such as The New Dinosaurs).
Dixon is often considered the founder of the modern speculative evolution movement, and his books proved hugely popular in Japan, prompting Japanese adaptations, including both a 1990 stop-motion documentary and an animated film. To date, Dixon’s 2010 speculative evolution book Greenworld, exploring humanity’s impact on an alien ecosystem, has only been published in Japan.
To some, Dougal Dixon’s vision of an “alternative evolution”, one without mankind, was regarded as sacrilege, but Dixon himself only ever saw the decision to obliterate his own species from his vision as a practical one.
Reflecting in the new foreword he has written exclusively for this edition, he notes, “the book was about the natural forces of evolution, and man, with his big feet and his big hands, had too much of an influence, twisting the course of nature away from anything that can be predicted. With the removal of this interference I was able to let nature get back to work,”
While some of the creatures rent from Dixon’s imagination seem every bit as fantastical to a modern reader as they appeared to readers in the early 1980s, others now don’t seem so very far-fetched.
“There are now the walking bats of New Zealand,” notes Dixon, who, today, is a a full-time writer and book editor specialising in the earth sciences, and has many children’s books and encyclopaedias to his name. “Not quite as extreme and spectacular as ‘The Nightstalker’, but getting there.
“Fossils of even larger species of these bats are now being found in the same region. Then there are the snakes in Mexico that live in caves and snatch flying bats out of the air, just like ‘The Anchorwhip’.”