The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

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. 😉

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  • Mr.Michael

    Piers Anthony worked in a similar vein with “But What of Earth”, although his depopulation happened when Man took to the stars. The book dealt with the repercussions of the depopulation of Earth, and how that would necessarily mean a reversal unusable technology. Fun premise, and an introduction to a key character from his Tarot series. I recommend the republished version which includes the Author’s commentary of the original editors’ changes. Man of strong opinion, Mr. Anthony…

  • JeffWeimer

    Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky and The Stars, like Dust are set in what is assumed to be a post-apocalyptic Earth, but is determined to be a form of sabotage by a robot as a means to force people to the stars and not look back.

  • lordsomber

    “The Forge of God” by Greg Bear was pretty good.

  • Wombat_socho

    Not so sure an Earth depopulated by peaceful emigration really qualifies as apocalyptic.

  • Wombat_socho

    I haven’t read those in so long that I’d completely forgotten about them.

  • Wombat_socho

    I need to read me some more Greg Bear.

  • JeffWeimer

    I was disappointed Asimov retconned it in Robots and Empire. Pebble directly stipulated it was nuclear war.

  • John Farrier

    I highly recommend The Last Ship by William Brinkley. It’s a nuclear war novel set on board a US Navy destroyer.

    I will also second your recommendation of Earth Abides by George Stewart.

    War Day by Whitley Streiber by James Kunetka is probably the most economically accurate depiction of the aftermath of a limited nuclear war.

    Arc Light by Eric L. Harry is a less realistic depiction of the same subject, but still a good read.

  • Kyle Kiernan

    Alas Babylon is not getting enough attention with the current scenario of the US facing off against Russia over Syria. eerie parallels.

  • Good Stuff

    How The Media Will Report The End Of The World?

    The Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones Plummets as World Ends

    National Enquirer: O.J. And Nicole, Together Again

    Playboy: Girls of The Apocalypse

    Victoria’s Secret Catalog: Our Final Sale

    Sports Illustrated: Game Over

    Wired: The Last New Thing

    Rolling Stone: The Grateful Dead Reunion Tour

    Lady’s Home Journal: Lose 10 Pounds by Judgment Day with Our New “Armageddon” Diet

    Pattaya One News – The Last Big Scam

    High Times: This Time It Really Is Killer Weed

    Maxim: 100 Girls we’d Like to Spend the Last Night With

    Scientific American: After Us-What Will The Next Life Forms Look Like?

    Field And Stream: Endangered Species? Now It’s Us!

    Pc Magazine: It’s Alt/Control/Delete For Mankind

    Forbes: How You Can Take It With You

    Star: Top Psychics Predict The Afterlife

    Espn: Who Would Have Won The Super Bowl?

    Family Circle: 25 Fabulous Recipes For That Last Meal

    Fitness: How To Go Out Looking Years Younger

  • M. Thompson

    Read “A Canticle for Leibowitz” a few years ago. At the time, I wasn’t that sure about it, but now, the idea is a lot more engrossing.

  • Wombat_socho

    I liked Arc Light a lot. Better than War Day, to be honest; there were a lot of parts of War Day that struck me as wishful thinking by the authors rather than extrapolation.

  • ThePaganTemple

    Check out “Swan Song”, for a horrifying post-apocalyptic novel with occult overtones in a world ravaged by a nuclear conflagration. It may be unique in that it holds to a thread of hope and ends in a positive, uplifting manner. Unfortunately, I can’t as of now recall the author’s name.