1984’s A Day for Damnation is the second volume in David Gerrold’s The War Against the Chtorr series1.
America has not had a good decade. It has lost a war with the Fourth Worlders and had to submit to shameful surrender conditions. It began to covertly re-arm, only to be hit with an alien invasion. Those who survived the plagues had to deal with voracious alien animals, an entire ecology that was shouldering Earth’s native lifeforms aside.
Jim McCarthy stumbled his way into America’s elite forces in the first book. Although not entirely convinced that he belongs in the special Uncle Ira group, he does show a talent for not dying, something the majority of humans cannot say. Of course, even the luckiest person eventually rolls snake eyes.
A helicopter foray into the desolate countryside encounters a previously unknown phenomenon, one that fills the air with alien cotton-candy. Unlike almost every other aspect of the alien ecosystem, this is not directly or at least not immediately lethal to humans. It is, however, death to engines such as the ones keeping the helicopter aloft. Providentially, the machine Jim and company are in is equipped with a parasail, so they do not die in a flaming wreck. Instead, they are marooned.
Having no choice but to wait for rescue by airship, Jim and his companions, Duke Anderson and Lizard Tirelli, get an extended, close-up look at this novel phenomenon from within the safety of their downed helicopter. Intriguingly, an adorable new lifeform, dubbed bunnydogs, appears. Not only do the bunnydogs not immediately attempt to eat the humans, they appear to be able to control the giant, caterpillar-like Chtorrian worms. Perhaps the hidden masters of the invasion have finally revealed themselves.
Rescued from cotton-candy doom2, Jim witnesses peculiar emergent behavior from those most affected by the last decade’s waves of calamity. Some humans, it seems, are so stressed as to abandon their very humanity in favour of living in an animalistic now. Nevertheless, these people show emergent behavior that is all too seductive to witnesses.
Jim has an epiphany concerning the lifeforms that have tried to kill him. Perhaps it is significant that he was always armed when he confronted them. There may be a way to open communications with the invaders, to negotiate some sort of deal short of human extermination.
The only way to find out is for Jim to put his life on the line.
Although this is no doubt inadvertent, American bitterness over defeat and subsequent cunning stratagems to elude treaty obligations and Make America Great Again have a real “Soon Alsace-Lorraine will be ours again!” vibe. The text does acknowledge that nation-state politicking in the face of an inexorable alien invasion is both counter-productive and inevitable. Humans. Can’t live with them, can’t turn them into a nutritious slurry without attracting complaints from municipal authorities.
A Day for Damnationwas revised and expanded in 1989. That’s not the book I re-read. I was such a diligent little Gerrold fan back in the day that I own the original Timescape version. My impression is the extras in the 1989 version included some Solomon Short witticisms, Short being a Heinleinian Wise Old Man figure. A little Heinleinian Wise Old Man goes a long way so I am content with missing the Shortisms. I believe they can be found on Gerrold’s website.
Not mentioned in the previous synopsis: Jim’s encounter with his old friend Ted, now named Tanjy. Tanjy is a telepath reveling in the very sexy post-human potential of being able to hop from body, free of conventional moralistic hang-ups. Interestingly, it turns out that Tanjy is less an uninhibited post-human free spirit who is really in touch with themselves than an abusive horny predatory asshole who cheerfully leaves their messes for other people to clean up. Consider this a warning to potential readers who don’t want to read about Tanjy.
Unusually for a series about People Making Hard Choices, the US does its best to take care of the mindless hordes and people like Duke who will never be able to contribute to the war effort (Duke does not take being crippled at all well). Which is to say, a fictional US, years into a losing war, takes better care of its people than the actual US does now.
This book contains two sorts of filler: interpersonal stuff combined with musings on human nature and details re the invasion ecosystem. The touchy-feely stuff leaves me utterly cold, which should not be surprising, as I like hard SF of the Clement, Forward, and Sheffield variety. The Chtorrian ecosystem stuff, particularly the emergence of cuckoo-like socially manipulative behaviors, were interesting. (Note: as the series hasn’t ended, we don’t know enough to tell if it adds up to a coherent whole.)
This was my favourite volume in the series. Your mileage may vary.
A Day for Damnationis available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), and here (Amazon UK). Barnes & Noble seems only to have the audiobook and the same is true of Book Depository and Chapters-Indigo. There is a link to Barnes & Nobleon Gerrold’s site but it does not link to the book when I click on it.
1: The series is not finished. It may never be finished. I advise you not to start this book unless you are OK with that.
2: Not before Duke discovers the hard way why one should not use a flamethrower while in a cloud of flammable dust.