Pat Frank’s 1946 Mr. Adam is a standalone science fiction comedy.
On September 21, 194_, Bohrville, Mississippi’s nuclear fission complex went boom, taking Mississippi with it. Yeah, it was a tragedy … but then, it was just Mississippi. The world shrugged its collective shoulders and went on with business as usual.
Months later, reporter Stephen Decatur Smith stumbles over a heretofore unnoticed consequence of the nuclear catastrophe. Nine months after the atomic calamity, babies stop being born. It seems that the Bohrville explosion sterilized the entire human race. More specifically, while women appear to immune to the radiation, all men were rendered sterile .
At the moment of calamity, Homer Adam, geologist, was a mile below the surface of the Earth in a lead mine. Judging by the baby girl his wife has just delivered, that means he is the only known remaining fertile man on Earth. That makes him a very valuable commodity, a 100% American commodity. It means that every woman in America and the world at large (well, women who can get pregnant and want to be pregnant) are likely to the tall, gangly redhead with a covetous eye.
America wastes no time assembling several huge, competing bureaucracies to best manage Adam’s unique potential. Since house calls would be too consuming, clearly artificial insemination is the way to go. All that remains is the tricky problem of selecting who gets some of Adam’s valuable … resources.… This is a particularly delicate matter, since no group or nation wants to vanish quietly as their population ages to death, while almost everyone can think of one other group or nation they would happily consign to extinction.
Selecting sperm recipients would be tricky enough. There’s a further complication: Adam is happily married, has little experience of the world, and very little interest in being a public figure. Some men would be flattered to be chased by a billion women. Mr. Adam finds it upsetting and scary.
Enter popular movie star Kathy “The Frame” Ridell. The alluring Miss Ridell has her eye on Adam; she has knockout looks, a genius-level IQ, and several academic degrees. Many women might try to seduce Adam with purely physical charms. Kathy lures Adam with her intellect.
Alas for poor Mr. Adam, Kathy’s interest in him is not what he assumes it is.
You may think I’m kidding about Mississippi. To quote:
Besides, nobody really missed Mississippi. The explosion eliminated Bilbo and Rankin, and anyway Mississippi was the most backward of states. People felt that if any one of the forty-eight states had to be sacrificed, it was just as well that it happened to Mississippi.
The issue of genocide by negligence gets a lot more attention than I would have expected from a 1946 novel. The reporter who broke the news, Smith, appears to court universal neutrality — he seems a bit surprised when his wife takes the whole mass sterility thing personally — but he does try to be neutral observer of the infighting that follows his revelations: some groups energetically campaign for access to Adam, while others helpfully point out how convenient it would be if certain other groups were to die out.
On the whole, however, the book doesn’t present readers with many surprises. It’s mildly comic in a predicable way and unlikely to end with the extermination of humanity. (Spoiler: it doesn’t. This ain’t Greybeard. ) The author has fun mocking early Cold War posturing, red tape, self-aggrandizing bureaucrats, and rear echelon officers whose chests full of medals don’t include any for actual combat. The book is mostly harmless. I can just imagine the movie that could have been made from this book (in the late 40s or the 50s; the premise might have been toxic in later times). No such movie was ever made, though apparently the book spawned a short-lived play.
I picked this up because I enjoyed the author’s other work, Alas, Babylon . This book was very popular in its day, but it isn’t Alas, Babylon .
1: Don’t ask how the explosion affected the other animals. We’re not told.