The Vinge Prophetic Epitaph
By James Donahue
When Wired Magazine sponsored a contest among science fiction
writers for creating complete stories in brief one-line sentences, they got over 30 responses. The contest was inspired by
the American author Ernest Hemingway who was said to have written the world’s shortest novel in only six words.
From among the crop of contemporary entries, a six-word
line by writer Vernor Vinge titled Epitaph, caught my eye. It is a brilliant statement of the looming end of civilization
brought on by the careless destruction of our planet and a blind indifference by world leaders to do anything to save it.
Vinge wrote: “Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped
And that, according to noted British Physicist Stephen Hawking,
is exactly what we must do if we expect to escape the inevitable . . . the looming extinction of mankind. Hawking warns that
we need to be working hard to find a way to send humans to the stars and find another place to call home. It seems that we
have upset the ecological balance of our own world to such an extreme that it is dying and some already believe it cannot
In spite of the opinions of many noted world scientists
that we may be rushing toward extinction, there is no sign that world leaders are willing to do anything about this growing
Vinge, a retired professor at San Diego State University
and prolific writer of science fiction novels, appears to have chosen his words well. His works have expressed an “anarchocapitalist”
theme, which suggests that he believes that a socialistic one-world government may be necessary before we can expect to go
to work at the great task of saving ourselves.
Thus the Vinge Epitaph appears to be a prophetic glimpse
of our future.
What is really frightening is that most humans alive today
may live to see the planet die under their feet. And they probably will not die of old age, but rather, of war, starvation,
dehydration, disease or lack of oxygen.
The words should be carved deep in stone for space travelers
to someday find: “Foolish humans, never escaped Earth.”