Mona Clee’s 1996 debut novel Branch Point is a product of the mid-nineties, the period after the fall of the Soviet Union and before the endless War on Terror. While it acknowledges the dramatic changes in Russia, its sensibilities remain informed by Cold War anxieties. Given how many nuclear weapons remain (then and now), that’s not an unreasonable stance.
Today’s translated work is Robert Merle’s Malevil, first published in French in 1972 and translated into English by Derek Coltman in 1973. I remember it being pretty popular in the 1970s, enough that it got a movie adaptation in 1981, but as far as I can tell it has almost entirely fallen into obscurity1 and out of print. That’s a pity, because Merle has some interesting angles on well-tested tropes.
1986’s The Shore of Women takes us to a time in the distant future after nuclear war has nearly destroyed civilization. Just as it happened in Suzy McKee Charnas’ novel Walk to the End of the World, those in charge after the war decided to lay all of the blame on one sex. This time round, the people in charge are women and the ones assigned scapegoat status are the men.
There’s a cognitive deficit that shows up in my family on my father’s side frequently enough that I have wondered from time to time if it’s an example of nature or of nurture. It is an inability to tell if, when an opinion on a matter is solicited, the person or organization asking is actually only interested in a positive answer1. I myself am entirely free of this deficit but I know it when I see it in others. Peter Watkins seems to have at least a touch of it because I would wager that at no point did BBC say to him “please produce a short piece on the subject of nuclear war for The Wednesday Play that both the BBC and the government will conclude is too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting,” and yet that is exactly what he did.
The great war between the American-led allies and their enemies killed untold millions as cities burned across the planet. In the aftermath, victorious America resolved that the means to preventing another nuclear war was to prevent great concentrations of people. Accordingly, the 30th Amendment forbids communities of more than a thousand people and limits density to no more than two hundred buildings to the square mile.
What I (re)learned from this is my memory of books I have not read in twenty-three years can be unreliable.
Some of this will come across as negative so I’d like to begin with “Citizen of the Galaxy is in many ways the most ambitious of the juveniles and it was that ambition that put Heinlein’s blind-spots out where I could see them.” This could easily have been a much more straightforward, much less interesting space adventure book.
Like Masuji Ibuse, Keiji Nakazawa (1939 – 2012) was a native of Hiroshima. Unlike Ibuse, Nakazawa was in Hiroshima on August sixth, 1945 and while he and his mother survived the destruction of Hiroshima, his father, two sisters and younger brother died as a result of it. Nakazawa’s manga series Barefoot Gen is a thinly veiled autobiographical work, telling the story of the destruction of Hiroshima and the immediate aftermath from a small boy named Gen, just the same age the author was when Hiroshima was destroyed.
Sorry about the cover image. For some reason none of the nice images of the original Gene Szafran would let me save a copy.
Rather like yesterday’s Canticle, Walk to the End of the World examines the Earth transformed by nuclear war – the Wasting – but where the mob in Canticle turned on the intelligentsia deemed responsible for nuclear weapons, the handful of high officials who survived the final war in their hidden Refuge decide that the true villains were not the men who finally pushed The Button, because that would mean accepting responsibility. Instead they decide to blame all who opposed them and so made that war inevitable:
Walter M. Miller, Jr. was a respected and prolific author whose career as a published author was confined for the most part to the 1950s. Despite the comparative brevity for his career, he won two Hugo awards in that time, one for “The Darfsteller” and one for the only novel he ever published while alive, A Canticle For Leibowitz. If modern audiences know Miller at all, it’s usually for this novel.