Poul Anderson’s 1962 After Doomsday is a standalone science fiction novel.
Twenty years after first contact with galactic civilization, humanity has assimilated much off-world technology. The Americans send a mission of exploration, the USS Benjamin Franklin, to the core of the galaxy and back. The Franklin returns to an Earth scoured clean of life, orbited by alien missiles.
At least three hundred humans have survived the apocalypse: the three hundred on board the Franklin. Thanks to American views on staffing potentially dangerous missions, all three hundred are men.
After eluding the missiles, the Franklin flees to Tau Ceti. After a mutiny leaves the captain dead, Carl Donnan takes command. His goals:
ensure the survival of the human race under his command;
search for any surviving human women;
discover who is responsible for the annihilation of Earth and the demise of every human in the Solar System.
Not every star-faring nation was as blinkered as the US when it came to staffing its long-range ships. The one hundred crewmembers of Pan-European starship Europa are all women. Like the Franklin, the Europa returned to find the Earth dead. Like the Franklin, the Europa evaded the alien missiles orbiting Earth, managed to disable and identify one missile, and fled to a safe haven.
If the crews could fraternize (nudge nudge wink wink say no more), the human race could be saved. But the galaxy is immense beyond human comprehension. How can the two ships ever hope to find each other? Or even know of each other’s existence?
There’s another route to species salvation: biotech and parthenogenesis. The alien Monwaingi are biotech whizzes and some of them like humans. The women of Europa alone could revive the human race — if the aliens and the humans can figure out how to do human parthenogenesis in time.
Will the humans find each other? Will the Monwaingi succeed in their tech mission? Will the humans manage to eke out a living (the men as mercenaries, the women as traders) while waiting for species doom or salvation?
Although this does not seem to be one of Anderson’s better-known novels, I was always fond of it. The characters may be familiar Andersonian types, but they suffice to carry the plot. The women get to do important things. The world-building sets up the problem facing the human survivors: space is vast and there is no central authority. There’s no galactic post office or telephone exchange. News from one sector may never reach another. Result: narrative suspense!
Pre-Doomsday Earth seemed an interesting setting: factions on a disunited Earth jockeying for position, cultivating off-world allies but trying to keep as much autonomy as possible. Intrigue, backstabbing, space opera. I would have like to read some stories in this world, without the Earth-annihilation ending. Oh well.