A new edition of After Man by Dougal Dixon, a landmark piece of speculative biology which influenced a generation of palaeontologists, has been released
In 1981, a remarkable book was published: After Man: A Zoology of the Future, by Dougal Dixon. As a child of the eighties, growing up in a science fiction bubble where daleks, vogons and the fighting machines of the War of the Worlds were at least as concrete to me as anything happening in the real world, After Man presented a biologically-themed alternative world to lose myself in.
The premise of the book is simple: take the Earth today, remove the humans, and let evolution take its course for 50 million years. What new animals evolve? Of course, in other hands this approach could have resulted in a throwaway romp. In Dixon’s, it produced an incredibly detailed, thoughtful book, in which the principles of evolutionary theory and ecology are rigorously applied. Crypsis (adaptations to avoid being seen by either predators or prey) is a common theme, as is mimicry. And convergent evolution (the idea that unrelated organisms in similar ecological niches evolve similar adaptations) is everywhere. Each species has a scientific name which follows the conventions that taxonomists use, and the text describes their behaviours and inter-species interactions. The striking illustrations, with copious annotations, resemble a naturalist’s field notes.