Sheila Sullivan’s 1975 Summer Rising is a stand-alone post-apocalypse science fantasy novel.
Humanity was denied the finality of a dramatic, swift nuclear holocaust. Rather, decades of economic, technological, and social mismanagement have caused a slow, inexorable collapse across the planet. By the 2040s the United Kingdom is united no more. Instead, it is a patchwork of rundown communities forced back into a primitive agrarian lifestyle.
Bara has the misfortune to be pretty. She catches the eye of White Michael, lord of the so-called Outlanders. One rape later and Bara is pregnant with White Michael’s son. She names the boy Con.
Con is destined to be an important man, if he can elude his father and if he can somehow reach the far-off land where his destiny waits.
White Michael sees no reason to burden himself with a baby. Raising babies is women’s work. Once the baby is a child, White Michael will send minions to collect Con. That will be the last Bara will see of her son.
Rather than lose Con to his cruel, beautiful father, Bara decides to flee to safety. For reasons she does not understand, Ireland, a nation now almost a myth to Bara’s neighbors, calls to her. She decides to flee her home near London’s ruins for the haven she is certain waits in Ireland.
A woman and child on a horse are vulnerable. Many dangers lie in wait between London and Ireland, not to mention a substantial stretch of water. The odds are that all will die a horrible death … or worse. Bara is determined and fate is on her (or rather, Con’s) side. After many adventures, mother and son reach Ireland.
Once there, Con is revealed as a very special boy. Like his father, he has prodigious psychic talents. This is why Ireland’s psychics have been calling to Bara and Con. Ireland has dire need of people like Con; they expect him to play a prime role in creating the Ireland to come.
The pair arrive as a crisis looms. The Irish are torn between two alternatives: total rejection of modern technology or somehow adapting advanced technology to a sustainable way of life. The Irish may have lost 95% of their population. They have lost their industrial base. They have not lost their capacity for often violent disagreement.
White Michael offers a third alternative: domination by a cruel and nihilistic psychic even worse than the Normans.
I have to admit the idea of Ireland becoming the stuff of legend in only a generation or two after travel ended is as absurd as people deciding that a pandemic was a hoax even as the bodies piled up.
There are any number of post-apocalyptic novels that take the view that civilization is inherently destructive and that humanity is better off without it. If the collapse didn’t make it clear that this civilization had intractable problems, we learn that after the collapse the Earth is severely polluted (chemicals and radiation), the ecology is wrecked, and natural resources have been irretrievably depleted. This is an indictment of Western civilization. The people of the 20th century made terrible choices.
At the same time, the plot makes it clear that subsistence farming is an unpleasant and dangerous way of life. Maladies easily handled before the collapse are now death sentences. Minor errors in judgment have fatal consequences. The absence of a state encourages widespread banditry. To borrow a phrase, life is nasty, brutish, and short.
Likewise, the novel is ambivalent about rule by wise psychics1. Their gifts do not make them infallible. As White Michael demonstrates, their gifts don’t make them virtuous. Perhaps the next civilization will be better than the one that failed. But perhaps it will make Octavia E. Butler’s Patternists look utopian.
The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (SFE) says Sullivan wrote critical nonfiction as Sheila Bathurst2. I couldn’t find much information on that side of her career. All I know of her is this novel, which is fairly competent. It seems to have been the author’s only venture into speculative fiction.
Summer Rising was also published under the title The Calling of Bara. Under either title, Summer Rising is out of print.
1: The psychics are less ambivalent about whether they should run things … if only there were more agreement about how to run things.
2: SFE also describes Sullivan’s Ireland as peaceful. Ha ha no. They might not have a large enough population to sustain a proper war, but violent assassination is alive and well in tomorrow’s Ireland.