Ape and Essence
Aldous Huxley, 1948

In an autofellating framing sequence, two movie producers pick up a screenplay that fell off a truck and like it so much that they go out to the desert to track down the author, who, it turns out, has just died. The rest of the book is the supposed screenplay, which is a mixture of terrible poetry, equally terrible symbolic drama, and conservative propaganda.

There are some potentially interesting ideas in here — I may not agree with all of them, but they're worth considering — but the cutesy screenplay format and awful poetry make it not worth distilling those ideas.

Riddley Walker
Russell Hoban, 1980

It is many generations after a nuclear war, and the residents of the blasted remains of England are all what we in the present would consider mentally handicapped. This is the thoroughly misspelled story of one of these people.

This might be better than Ape and Essence, but I gave up on it very quickly. There were three main reasons:

  • It took too much effort to read because almost every word was misspelled

  • It was basically a fantasy story and I don't like fantasy

  • It was way the hell too British

I looked at some other books on my list, such as Pangborn's Davy, and discovered that they too used a post-apocalyptic setting as just another variety of fantasy world. This allowed me to trim down my list substantially.

Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, 1984

In 1988, the US began to put into place its missile defense system. The USSR, which had fallen well behind the US militarily long before, realized that once the missile shield was fully activated, its nuclear stockpiles would be useless. So, in a "use it or lose it" move, the Soviets launched World War III on 28 October 1988. For reasons unknown, their strike was quite limited: they began with a 150,000-volt electromagnetic pulse that destroyed all electronic equipment in North America, then followed up with 30-60 megaton strikes on New York, Washington, San Antonio, and the missile fields of Montana and the Dakotas. Now it is 1993, and two writers are traveling the remains of the United States compiling a book on what the country looks like in the aftermath of a half-hour-long nuclear war.

This is not literature; actually, it reminds me more of a "forecast the geopolitical situation over the course of the next fifteen years" game I played on GEnie back in 1991 (and had I been thinking ahead, I would have archived that game, because it would be quite interesting now that fifteen years have in fact passed). It's a fake-nonfiction book that depicts its postwar world as much through memos and polls and maps and things as through narrative passages; over half the pages are devoted to "interviews." As such, it's only worthwhile if you are interested in watching a couple of randoms in 1984 playing nuclear what-if. I am, but I imagine I do not have a lot of company.

Return to the Calendar page!