Posted on | September 30, 2013 | 22 Comments
This week’s book post is going up early since when Thursday rolls around I’m going to be busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest and won’t have time to blog. So. Apocalyptic SF goes back practically to the beginning of the genre, with novels like Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men going hand in hand with Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Seeds of Dusk” (included in The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun) and John W. Campbell’s “Twilight” (in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1). However, with the advent of the Atomic Age and the Cold War standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, books about what life would be like after somebody pushed the button multiplied like rabbits.
Perhaps the best of these is Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, in which the Church once again preserves knowledge through a new Dark Age only to see humanity screw things up yet again. Other books dealing with nuclear war and its aftermath included Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and of course Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. More recently, David Brin’s The Postman revisited the topic in the context of normal survivors trying to cope with gene-engineered survivalists.
Poul Anderson set a number of his stories in a post-nuclear world: Maurai and Kith includes the stories of the aggressively Green Maurai, and Orion Shall Rise shows where that ends. Many of Anderson’s stories in The Psychotechnic League are also set on a post-nuclear Earth. Andre Norton set an Arthurian tale of discovery, Star Man’s Son (also known as Daybreak 2250) two centuries after an atomic war has destroyed civilization.
Somewhat related: novels in which World War III comes and goes, but it’s not the apocalypse – civilization holds together and the war goes on (Dean Ing’s Systemic Shock) or shudders to a halt (Kunetka & Strieber’s Warday) or the bombing wipes out all the advanced tech through EMP (Forstchen’s One Second After). When the collapse of technology is caused by non-human activity, you get Dies the Fire.
Authors didn’t neglect the biological apocalypse, either. Jack London laid waste to the planet with The Scarlet Plague, a path also followed by George Stewart’s Earth Abides, Stephen King’s The Stand, and of course Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which was made into the excellent The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and the not-so-great I Am Legend with Will Smith.
Ecological apocalypses didn’t start with the 1960s; John Christopher’s The Death of Grass(also known as No Blade of Grass) dates to 1956. Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (better known as the movie Soylent Green) showed a world collapsing due to overpopulation, as did John Brummer’s Stand on Zanzibar. Brunner also looked at the issue of environmental damage in The Sheep Look Up, which struck me as being more dark and pessimistic than Stand On Zanzibar.
That’s enough depressing reading for one book post, I think.