I was wondering about this after I realised that Dr. Isaacs in Resident Evil wants to wipe out humanity again and then restart it with a chosen few so life stands a better chance.

Dr. Isaacs: I propose that we end the world... But on our terms. An orchestrated apocalypse. One that would cleanse the world of its' population but leave its infrastracture and resources intact. It's been done once before. With great success. The chosen few will ride out the storm, not in an ark as in the book of Genesis, but in safety. Underground. And when it's over, We will emerge onto a cleansed Earth. One we can then reboot. In our image.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

And that Thanos from Marvel has a similar idea but on a universal scale. I know that his motivations aren't the same in the original The Infinity Gauntlet comics but in the MCU and specifically Avengers: Infinity War he wants to do it so life can succeed.

Thanos: Little one, it's a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.

Avengers: Infinity War

But, what was the first work which brought about the idea of deliberately wiping out half of humanity, a species, life, a planet, a universe in order for it to survive?

  • 20
    God in the Bible, maybe? He wiped out 99% of all life on earth with the Noah episode...
    – Lyzvaleska
    Jan 3 '19 at 14:36
  • @Lyzvaleska Good point! Though religious texts are not considered SFF-nal.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 3 '19 at 14:38
  • Piers Anthony's 1974 novel Triple Detente (the answer to this question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/193259/…) revolves around this idea, but it is unlikely to be the first Jan 3 '19 at 14:55
  • 2
    @Lyzvaleska That's referenced in the first quote in the post.
    – Alex
    Jan 3 '19 at 15:45

1950: "The New Reality", a novelette by Charles L. Harness, first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1950, available at the Internet Archive.

Professor Luce, a mad ontologist, constructs a device with which he intents to reset reality, expecting that only a select few (himself included of course) will survive.

Prentiss drew deeply on his pipe.

"I saw it."

"Did you understand it?"

"No. It wasn't all there. At least, the apparatus on the table was incomplete. There's more to it than a Nicol prism and a goniometer."

"Ah, you are clever! Yes, I was wise in not permitting you to remain very long — no longer than necessary to whet your curiosity. Look, then! I offer you a partnership. Check my data and apparatus; in return you may be present when I run the experiment. We will attain enlightenment together. We will know all things. We will be gods!"

"And what about two billion other human beings?" said Prentiss, pressing softly at his shoulder holster.

The professor smiled faintly. "Their lunacy — assuming they continue to exist at all — may become slightly more pronounced, of course. But why worry about them?" The wolf-lip curled further. "Don’t expect me to believe this aura of altruism, Mr. Prentiss-Rogers. I think you're afraid to face what lies behind our so-called 'reality.'"

[. . . .]

He knew in a brief flash of insight, that for sentient, thinking beings, Time had suddenly become a barricade rather than an endless road.

The exploding bomb — the caving cottage walls — were hanging, somewhere, frozen fast in an immutable, eternal stasis.

Luce had separated this fleeting unseen dimension from the creatures and things that had flowed along it. There is no existence without change along a temporal continuum. And now the continuum had been shattered.

Was this, then the fate of all tangible things — of all humanity?

Were none of them — not even the two or three who understod advanced ontology, to — get through?

[. . . .]

She'd got through!

The whole world, and just the two of them!

His heart was pounding ecstatically as he began to run lithely upwind.

And they’d keep it this way, simple and sweet, forever, and their children after them. To hell with science and progress! (Well, within practical limits, of course.)

As he ran, there rippled about his quivering nostrils the seductive scent of apple blossoms.


Probably not the first, but:

1964. In Stanley Kubrick's movie Dr. Strangelove, towards the end, with impending nuclear war in sight, the titular character suggests gathering a few hundred thousand selected people (including, of course, top politicians and military personnel) underground to wait for the surface to become habitable again, repopulating the planet. He suggests a 10:1 female/male ratio for faster breeding - which isn't rational in my opinion, since it would probably take several generations before the surface becomes habitable again and you don't want the underground habitat to become overpopulated. But of course, the outlook of having access to plenty of women helps persuade the decision-makers to adopt the plan.

  • In Dr Strangelove the wipeout was unintentional. Jan 3 '19 at 15:47
  • 2
    Worth noting that this answer was posted before I edited to clarify I was asking about cases where the destruction was intentional.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 3 '19 at 16:13

The basic concept long pre-dates the science-fiction and fantasy genres: it's a widespread theme in mythology and religion. In addition to the well-known Biblical story of Noah, the Mesopotamians, Mayans, Chinese, Australian Aboriginies, and many others all had flood myths. For non-flood destruction, the Greek Silver Age ended with Zeus destroying the human race for impiety, and in some versions of the story, Talos, the bronze guard of Crete, is a remnant of another destruction. Among the natives of the southwestern United States, the Hopi Four Worlds creation narrative tells of three consecutive destructions of the human race for misbehavior, and surrounding areas have variations on this story, often with five worlds. There are probably also other examples I can't remember right now.

With this sort of existing tradition to draw on, asking "which SFF work first had the idea?" isn't really a meaningful question. It's more a matter of where you draw the line between fantasy and mythology.


I think that Jack Chalker's Well World series is the best answer. But it's not really the antagonist who does the reset, it's the protagonist, Nathan Brazil.

The Well World Page (Geocities)

The Stories

Of the Well World stories, the first (single volume) and the fourth (multi-volume) end with the arrival of all Entries at the Well of Souls. They are judged by Nathan Brazil, who sends the baddies to some awful punishment and the good guys to a second chance at doing right (or back to simply live out the lives they were already living); Brazil then goes back to being who he was in normal human space.

The second story (multi-volume, comprising the second and third volumes) does not have Brazil, although he is later revealed to have influenced some of the events in that tale; Obie assumes the deus ex machina role, although only Mavra Chang is aware of Obie's full role in the events.

The third story (multi-volume) ends with Nathan Brazil and Mavra Chang resetting the Well of Souls, deleting and then recreating the universe, repopulating it, etc., before they also return to Earth.

The fifth tale does not have Brazil at all; although he is mentioned, it is not by name, although they do mention that he is of the human species. Some of the Entries that survive return to the Realm as human beings.

Also, see Well World Series (wikipedia)

  • Does the universe here go back to its former state when the recreate it or is the population diminished? That said I didn't explicitly say that was what I was asking for in the question...
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 3 '19 at 17:26
  • the univers is reset to the beginning, and all of history ... ALL of history ... repeats.
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 3 '19 at 18:45
  • 1
    @pojo-guy: It doesn't repeat, except in so far as similar conditions cause similar outcomes. It can't repeat because the conditions after the reset are different. Brazil can't get as many types of life forms or as many of each as there were in the last reset - the universe after he resets it is populated differently than in the universe before.
    – JRE
    Jan 3 '19 at 19:42
  • And, the reset isn't to change people or reduce population. It is because a few members of the current population damaged the fabric of space/time. If the damage were to reach the well world, the universe as created by the Markovians would cease to exist. The reset is a way to repair the damage. It isn't some philosophical "get rid of the deadwood," it is "shutdown and put things back together then restart."
    – JRE
    Jan 3 '19 at 19:47
  • 1
    I still like "I'll never write another Well World novel again .. not even if they offer me $xxxxx" and then "It's amazing how many ideas you can come up with when someone actually offers you a signed check for $xxxxx""
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 3 '19 at 21:22

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