It's Only Temporary cover

Paperback 108 pages (1 July 2005)
Publisher: Permuted Press
ISBN: 097655593X
US: $8.99/ UK: £5.99 – Amazon

It's Only Temporary
by Eric Shapiro

Eric Shapiro

Eric Shapiro lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rhoda, and works as an author, screenwriter and consultant. His writing has appeared in over seventy-five publications, in print and on the World Wide Web, including The Elastic Book of Numbers (Elastic Press) and Fedora IV (Betancourt & Co). Eric's debut short story collection on the theme of mental illness, Short of a Picnic (2002), was a critical and commercial success, and he has written screenplays including the award winning Male Revenge Fantasy which received an award from the International Radio & Television Society in 1998.

In the same way that individuals have nightmares, societies live out their deepest fears in their 'disaster' literature, most notably in cinema in the last few decades. After a spell of fearing totalitarian take-over (1984, Brave New World) and nuclear Armageddon (On the Beach, Fail Safe, World War Three) and more recently manmade environmental disasters (Soylent Green, The Day After Tomorrow, Ice, Waterworld), the dominant concern of the comfortable West at the moment seems to be the idea of annihilation by a cosmic event beyond anyone's control, such as a large asteroid or meteorite hitting the world (Armageddon, Judgment Day, Tycus, Deep Impact, Asteroid).
        What Shapiro has done in his ninety-one pages is take this current science fiction theme and turn it into something fresh and engaging by the simple expedient of taking it seriously and trying to imagine what the anticipation of Armageddon would really be like, rather than applying the nick-of-time rescue formula or some other plot device to make such imaginings palatable to a readership weaned on comic book all-American super-heroes and invincible technical fixes for everything. I must declare an interest in that I tried to do something similar with the 'computer-comes-to-life' theme in my novel Sirat; that is, look beyond the cliché by asking the question: What would it be like if it really happened? Where does the story go if we don't apply one of the standard escape clauses?
        Shapiro refuses to become involved in the technicalities of the event or in possible avoidance strategies, or to offer us any kind of global perspective. Instead he offers a first person response to the certainty of impending death from one very ordinary, thoroughly flawed American college boy. Through his eyes we witness the reaction of others and the breakdown of civil society in the face of the unthinkable. The question that he obviously wants to pose is: Do we buy this? Is this how people would really respond to this situation? A very interesting question it is too. There are few real-life precedents for whole communities being certain that their lives will be terminated on a specific day in the near future. The closest I can think of would be the Warsaw Ghetto in the Second World War, but even then the exact moment of the genocide remained uncertain until it actually happened, and there must always have been a faint hope that (for example) the Russians would get there first. Shapiro in fact holds out one very slender blade of hope in the notion that perhaps 60,000 people, out of the whole population of the earth, are going to survive. I don't know why he does this, perhaps he feels a duty to offer some prospect of human continuation, but my own feeling is that it weakens the book and shouldn't be there. In real life it would surely change people's perception of the looming event – we would all doggedly cling to a one-in-a-million chance if it was offered – though in the book it seems to make little difference.
        This is also a 'road' book: most of the action takes place on a journey across America, and most of the characters are people the narrator Sean meets on this Odyssey. In the high tradition of the genre the hero is also pursuing a goal, which is to reach his estranged college girlfriend in time to have sex with her before the world comes to an end. Each time he gets diverted into some act of minor heroism or caught up in the lives and problems of people he meets along the way, we find ourselves worrying that time is going to run out before he can make his dream come true. Naturally I'm not going to spoil it for you by telling you the ending.
        It's easy to raise quibbles about the details of Shapiro's vision of the earth's final hours – for example I thought that (especially in America) crank religion would have played a far bigger part, and I wasn't sure about the way the suicide thread was introduced and explained – but overall the emotions rang true and, speaking for myself, while I was reading this brief tale my involvement was absolute.
        Considering the desolate nature of the theme, the feeling that the book leaves you with is a surprisingly good one. When you think about it, we are all caught up in a minor version of Sean's predicament, we are all going to die, we all have dreams we want to fulfill and we are all in danger of never getting around to the things that really matter. It's Only Temporary serves as a wake-up call. Its final message may be trite, but that doesn't make it any less true: Live and love now while stocks last, it's only temporary.