Josephine Saxton’s 1969 The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith is a stand-alone post-apocalyptic novel.
The boy has wandered the world for a decade. It is a world well-supplied with fully-stocked stores and yet very nearly empty of animals and other people. Sensing that other people are dangerous, he seeks solitude.
This changes the day he finds a still-living newborn baby girl next to her mother’s corpse.
Rescuing the baby will bring only complications. The sensible course of action would be to walk away and trust time to erase the memory of the baby. The boy is not sensible. When he continues his wandering, he is carrying the baby.
A fourteen-year-old boy who has spent the majority of his life alone lacks the knowledge and skills needed to care for a newborn. The boy is lucky, the baby even more so. The boy fumbles his way through caring for the child, arriving at solutions faster than need can kill the baby.
Years pass. The baby becomes a toddler and then a child. The boy does his best to educate her. When she realizes that they lack names, he becomes George (later Sam) and she becomes Beryl (later An).
Fourteen years after Sam found An, Sam is a man and An is a teen. Nature is about to take its course.
By modern standards, this would be a novella.
An would argue angrily that at fourteen, she is a woman and not a girl. Well, it’s a different time. Specially, one where two humans have never been informed about the cultural expectations of our modern society and thus will slide from a parent/child relationship to husband and wife more effortlessly than any Heinlein couple.
If this had been intended to be a coherent world, one might protest that elements of it are hard to swallow. Specifically, humans (and most animals) appear to have vanished a decade before the book begins. Nevertheless, stores remain fully stocked, their goods still useable by the nomadic boy and his companion. Events near the end of the book suggest that Saxton didn’t intend this as a straightforward post-apocalyptic novel. I am not entirely certain what it was supposed to be.
Nevertheless! When it comes to the particulars of caring for infants, the novel is relentless realistic, to the boy’s increasing distress. Infants cry, vomit, and poop. They need foods that a nomad boy is ill-equipped to provide, even in this well-supplied world. The early narrative features episode after episode in which the baby nearly dies.
Saxton’s prose is deceptively simple. She delivers an enthralling narrative despite limiting herself to two characters on an empty stage1, only one of whom has the power of speech (at least in the initial stages of the book). Readers unfamiliar with Saxton (and if her selection for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award is any indication, a lot of readers are unfamiliar with her work) will find this a worthy introduction to Saxton’s work.
1: Leaving aside the unfortunate dog who fails to ingratiate itself with the suspicious boy and is forced to pursue its own story offstage.