A non-science fiction short story by the science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, first published in Remaking History and again in Vinland the Dream both being short story collections by Robinson. It is 46 pages long in standard paperback format.
Frank Churchill of New York City, a renowned author/historian who suffers from delayed sleep phase syndrome (reading the node will make the story make more sense), gets an offer of £100,000 from a London publishing company to write a 30,000 word overview of the 20th Century. He accepts, and travels to London to stay with friends. London , being further north, gets more sunlight in the spring than NYC which helps with Frank’s DSPS.
Frank begins work on the book, writing in the British Museum. Unlike his previous history books he focuses mainly on the wars of the 20th century. While studying the First World War, he becomes overwhelmed with the massive numbers of deaths, weapons and ammunition that WWI used. He remembers being "powerfully affected" by the Vietnam Memorial. During WWI the British lost a Vietnam Memorial of men every month. For fifty one months. Ten million died on the battlefields, and ten million off the battlefield from “revolution, disease, and starvation”.
As he delves further into the wars of the twentieth century the wars blur together. WWI and WWII become one, with the '20's and '30's as a twenty year interregnum. Seventy million killed in that one massive war. Then that rolled into the not-so-cold-Cold War. Fifteen or twenty million killed between 1945 and 1989 in “the big ten: the two Vietnam Wars, the two Indo-Pakistan wars, the Korean war, the Algerian war, the civil war in Sudan, the massacres in Indonesia in 1965, the Biafran war, and the Iran-Iraq war.” Then ten million more off the battlefields.
One book lists the war dead of the twentieth century at one hundred million. Two thousand Vietnam Memorials.
He finds a book titled “A History of the Nineteenth Century, with Illustrations”, published in 1902, the previous century's version of his task. On the last page is the text: “I believe that man is good. I believe that we stand at the dawn of a century that will be more peaceful and prosperous than any in history.”
Frank, sick at heart and craving more light, heads north.
Noder’s note: I advise you, the reader, to stop reading this review now. Go and find a copy of this story, and read that instead. Reading the following section will reduce your reading pleasure if you read the story afterward. Onward to the conclusion.
As he drives north, toward Scotland, he remembers the words at the end of “A History of the Nineteenth Century, with Illustrations”. Why didn’t the author see the horrors that would befall the world? He concludes that the writer, living in a prosperous age, could only imagine that the future would bring more of the same. Now, looking forward from the blood-soaked twentieth century all he too could imagine was more of the same, but worse because of the rapidly advancing technology.
He stops at Edinburgh to meet a friend but thinks only of grim death and visions of the whole world as a graveyard or monument for the millions dead. Once more he drives north, reaching the tip of Scotland and taking a ferry to the Orkney Islands. The Orkneys have their own record of atrocities much older than the twentieth century. He drives to the Point of Buckquoy, the northern most tip of the northern most part of the UK. Frank has gone as far as he can go.
As the sun sets, he takes all of his notepads crammed with the millions dead and rips out the pages, tossing them into the sea. On the last pages of one notebook he writes:
“I believe that man is good. I believe that we stand at the dawn of a century that will be more peaceful and prosperous than any in history.”