Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction
Nuclear Holocausts Bibliography: V
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Vale, Rena. The Day After Doomsday. New York: Paperback
denizens of the planet of Oom whisk a planeload of people off the Earth just in
time to survive a nuclear holocaust. The aliens turn out to have been the
creators of the original humans from animal ancestors, and have remained in the
background, manipulating history. The hijacked humans chosen to perpetuate the
species have difficulty believing what they are told--justifiably, this reader
feels. Plenty of sex and violence.
Van Mierlo, H. A. By Then Mankind Ceased to Exist. Ilfracombe,
North Devon: Arthur H. Stockwell, [l960].
Surely one of
the worst nuclear war novels ever written, this brief sketch consists mainly of
tedious pseudo-technical dialogue involving absurd physics, introduced with the
unhelpful disclaimer: "This work is a novel, and is not a documentary, nor
it is scientific." Inspired by the recent launching of Sputnik, Van Mierlo
has the Russians send a party to the moon, partly to control their fiendish
plot from a lunar base, and partly to divert the attention of the foolish West
from the nuclear submarines armed with H-bombs entering its harbors. The space
shot is so popular that the demand for television sets on which to view it
sends electrical appliance stocks skyrocketing. (Van Mierlo likes to use the
stock market as a gauge of public opinion: later, when universal extinction
looms, the only stocks selling well are for funeral homes and breweries.)
Russia attempts to annex the Middle East through nuclear blackmail, producing
massive panic, civil war, looting, and suicides. When its demands are rejected,
it destroys Europe with one bomb and the United States and part of Mexico with
three others. Within days, deformed children are being born and vast areas of
the Earth are lifeless. Excessive radiation threatens to spread worldwide until
the lunar astronauts use special atomic batteries to produce "cosmic
waves" which suck the radiation away from Earth (although at the risk of
incinerating the moon and Earth together). The American president finally
surrenders, but the Australians bomb the moon and Russia, and the radioactivity
spreads relentlessly. It is just as well, concludes the dying narrator: the
Earth was threatened by overpopulation anyway.
Van Pelt, "The Long Way Home." In Gardner Dozois, ed. The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-First Annual Collection. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004.
Van Vogt, A. E. "Dormant" (Startling Stories,
November l948). In Destination: Universe. New York: Pellegrini & Cudahy, l952. New York: Signet, l953. Also
in Samuel Mines, ed. The Best from Startling Stories. New York: Holt, l953. Rpt. as Starling
Stories. London: Cassell, l954. Also in
Edmund Crispin, ed. Best SF.
London: Faber, l955. Also in G. D. Doherty, ed. Aspects of Science
Fiction. London: J. Murray, l959. Also in
Damon Knight, ed. The Shape of Things. New York: Popular Library, l965.
a Pacific island discover a radioactive rock. Hit with an atom bomb, it comes
to life, proving to be a trillion-year-old robot atom war machine which knocks
the Earth out of its orbit, causing it to fall toward the sun.
___. "The Earth Killers" (Super Science Stories,
April 1949). In The Twisted Men.
New York: Ace, 1964. Also in The Far-Out Worlds of A. E. Van Vogt. New York: Ace, 1968. Also in The Worlds of
A. E. Van Vogt. New York: Ace, 1974. Also
in Charles Nuetzel, ed. If This Goes On. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Book Company of America, 1965.
On B-Day forty
million people die in a mysterious massive atomic attack on the U.S. A pilot
who observes a missile falling observes that its trajectory is vertical and
that it must therefore have been launched from the moon. His story is rejected,
he is arrested, escapes, and vindicates himself by discovering that the unknown
aggressor was an organization of southern bigots led by a U.S. senator seeking
through this drastic means to seize the power to reimpose racial
segregation--in other words, the attack was an atomic version of the Civil War.
Compare with Will F. Jenkins, The Murder of the U.S.A.
___. Empire of the Atom (Astounding as "A Son Is Born," May, l946; "Son of the Gods," August l946 [retitled "Child of the Gods" in its book
form]; "Hand of the Gods," December l946; "Home of the
Gods," April l947; and "The Barbarian," December l947). Chicago:
Shasta, l957. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, l957. Abridged version, New York:
Ace, l957; bound with Space Station No. l. New York: Macfadden, l966. London: New English Library, l975. Sequel: The
Wizard of Linn.
old-fashioned space opera concerning a mutant boy in a post-war culture where
radioactive elements are worshipped as gods and scientist-priests monopolize
atomic power. Knowledge of the ancient war has been lost; though the boy
suspects the truth. Deals mostly with his rise to power.
___. The Players of Null-A (Astounding, October, November, December 1948, January 1949). As
The Pawns of Null-A. New York:
Ace, 1956. As Players. New York:
Berkley, 1966. Boston: Gregg, 1977. London: Digit, 1960. Sequel to The
World of Null-A.
The hero battles a
plot to spray Earth and Venus with a "one-year radioactive isotope."
He remembers that "the capital of Nirene had been leveled by atomic bombs,
and that the entire area that had once been a city of thirty million was a
radioactive desert." Energy from an atomic pile is directed against him in
an effort to destroy him, and he later dodges Venusian atomic bombs on a
spaceship. The novel is peppered with quotations from Korzybski's writings on
general sematics, which supposedly is one source of the hero's superpowers.
___. "Recruiting Station" (Astounding,
March 1942). Retitled "Masters of Time." In Groff Conklin, ed. Omnibus
of Science Fiction. New York: Crown, 1952.
Also in Strange Adventures in Science Fiction. London: Grayson, 1954.
from the future seek soldiers to fight in a fantastic time war involving--among
other arms--an "atomic storm" weapon.
___. "Resurrection" (originally "The Monster," Astounding, August l948). In Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry
Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, eds. The Last Man On Earth. New York: Fawcett, l982.
investigating the cause of Earth's destruction resurrect a man who uses a
nuclear device in a museum to attack them. They in turn attack him with nuclear
weapons, in vain. It is suggested that the Earth was devastated ages ago by the
same race. The resuscitated hero defeats the aliens and will go on to revive
and immortalize humanity. Perhaps the ultimate in "Indestructible Spirit
of Man" stories.
___. The Wizard
of Linn (Astounding, April, May, June l950). New York: Ace, l962. New
York: Macfadden, l968. New York: Fawcett, l982. London: New English Library,
l975. Sequel to Empire of the Atom.
The mutant hero
battles invading aliens with a superweapon which destroys their atomic bombs,
although he is too late to prevent the deaths of some two million Earthlings.
He then uses his newly acquired technology to force the invaders to live
cooperatively with humans. 
___. The World of Null-A (Astounding, August, September, October 1945). New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1948. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950. London: Dobson,
1970. Bound with The Universe Maker.
New York: Ace, 1953. In Triad.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1962. Revised edition: New York: Berkley, 1977.
Sequel: The Players of Null-A.
The Machine--a sort
of supercomputer ruling the Earth--is destroyed by atomic torpedoes fired by
rebels violating the ban on atomic weapons imposed by the Galactic League. It
takes several of them to blast through the outer walls of the Machine.
Vandeloo, Jos. "The Day of the Dead God." Originally in Dutch in Jos Vandeloo. Een
mannetje uit Polen. Brussels & The
Hague: A. Manteau, l965. Trans. Adrienne Dixon. In Egbert Krispyn, ed. Modern
Stories from Holland and Flanders: An Anthology. Boston: Twayne, l973.
antiproliferation satire. A holocaust is triggered accidentally when a small
nation with one nuclear weapon, in a fit of pacifism, orders it destroyed; but
the message is garbled and transformed from "Destroy bomb" into
"Destroy Bonn." Dozens of countries turn out to have secretly
constructed weapons and use them. Survivors migrate to the relatively untouched
Congo where they deliberate in a stadium. They continue their disputes along
the same old lines until someone sets off a small nuclear device he has
smuggled in. God starts over, creating man from woman's rib and making sure
there are no apple trees or snakes about this time.
Varley, John. "The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)." In Debbie Cross, ed. Westercon 37?, 1984. In Blue Champagne. Niles, Ill.: Dark Harvest, 1986.
Brief sketches of various individuals, all of whom are exterminated, along with the narrator, by an atomic attack. Basically an editorial rather than a story, urging people to think of war in terms of the suffering and death of individual victims, ending with a vivid picture of the horrors awaiting the reader's relatives after the attack. The author calls it the only true after-the-bomb story you will ever read. The following passage comments sagely on nuclear war fiction:
Aw, c'mon, I hear you protest. Somebody will survive.
Perhaps. Possibly. Probably.
But that's not the point. We all love after-the-bomb stories. If we
didn't, why would there be so many of them? There's something attractive about
all those people being gone, about wandering in a depopulated world, scrounging
cans of Campbell's pork and beans, defending one's family from mauraders. Sure
it's horrible, sure we weep for all those dead people. But some secret part of
us thinks it would be good to survive, to start over.
Secretly, we know we ll survive. All those other folks will die. That's what after-the-bomb stories are all about.
All those after-the-bomb stories were lies. Lies, lies, lies.
This is the only true after-the-bomb story you will ever read.
Everybody dies. Your father and mother are decapitated and crushed by a falling building. Rats eat their severed heads. Your husband is disemboweled. Your wife is blinded, flashburned, and gropes along a street of cinders until fear-crazed dogs eat her alive. Your brother and sister are incinerated in their homes, their bodies turned into fine powdery ash by firestorms. Your children . . . ah, I m sorry, I hate to tell you this, but your children live a long time. Three eternal days. They spend those days puking their guts out, watching the flesh fall from their bodies, smelling the gangrene in their lacerated feet, and asking you why it happened. But you aren't there to tell them. I already told you how you died.
It's what you pay your taxes for.
___. Millenium. New York: Berkley, 1983.
thousand years in the future, after nineteen wars involving nuclear and
biochemical weapons, life has deteriorated drastically and the human race faces
extinction. Using time travel, a colony of genetically healthy humans from the
past is assembled by snatching the bodies of victims of various forms of
violent death moments before their decease, substituting plausible corpses for
them. The novel concentrates on such a snatch performed on a gigantic airplane
crash and the error which creates an anomaly in time and threatens the whole
enterprise. In the end the colonists are sent by the supercomputer which has
masterminded the whole scheme a hundred million years into the future to
repopulate a rehabilitated Earth.
Vinge, Joan D.
"Legacy" (portions originally published as "Media Man" in Analog, October l976). In Binary Star #4 bound with Steven G. Sprull. The Janus
Equation). New York: Dell, l980. Sequel to The
Outcasts of Heaven Belt.
The last part
of this sequel concerns a salvage expedition to a war-wasted planet in search
of valuable nuclear reactor parts. See Carl Yoke, "From Alienation to
Personal Triumph: The Science Fiction of Joan D. Vinge," in Tom Staicar,
ed., The Feminine Eye:Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It (New York: Ungar, l982), l03-30. The other Joan D.
Vinge items listed here are also discussed in Yoke's article.
Vinge, Joan D. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. New York: Warner, 1985.
Novelization of the 1985 Warner Brothers film, third in the Mad Max
series, the only one to have an unambiguously post-nuclear war setting. Max is
ambushed in the desert, struggles to the violent trading post of Bartortown, is
driven out into the desert again, rescued by children who imagine that he is the
fabled Captain Walker who figures largely in their myths of the Pox-Eclipse
(Apocalypse), and who will rescue them. He leads the band of children back to
battle the villains of Bartortown; and they then settle in their new home in the
ruins of Sydney, Australia, where his story becomes a legend.
Outcasts of Heaven Belt. New York: Signet,
l978. Sequel: "Legacy."
adventure set in an asteroid belt where civilization is collapsing because of a
catastrophic civil war two and a half centuries earlier. The sequel (above)
makes clear that atomic weapons were used. Women are discriminated against in
order to protect their precious fertility from radiation. The sterile and
handicapped are especially favored as spaceship crew members. The story takes a
critical view of war and combativeness in general.
in the Ashes." In Virginia Kidd, ed. Millenial Women. New York: Delacorte, l978. New York: Dell, l978.
Also in Phoenix in the Ashes. New
York: Warner, 1984. New York: Bluejay, 1985.
version of the revival of learning theme. Religion bans the old technology 250
years after the Holocaust, but the peasants of North America have evolved a
highly satisfactory and ecologically sound way of life. When a Brazilian mining
expert exploring for salvageable minerals crashes in a farmer's field and is
badly injured, he is tended by a young woman with whom he falls in love. When
the Brazilians track him down, he has married her and abandoned his old,
exploitative ways for the conservationism of the natives. See note on
"Conquest by Default" (Analog,
May l968). In Stanley Schmidt, ed. War and Peace: Possible Futures
from Analog. New York: Dial, l983.
after a nuclear war has destroyed the Northern Hemisphere, aliens are
colonizing Earth, competing with the rival southern human superstates of
Sudamerica and Zulunder. The aliens are systematic anarchists who believe in
diversity and disorganization, breaking up any structure which gets too big in
their own culture, sometimes using fusion bombs to do so. However, they are unable
to understand human wars. Viewing Earth's inhabitants as unintelligent
aborigines, they plot their extinction until a sympathetic alien forces
humanity to become disorganized too, which causes them to be recognized as
equals, but spells doom for human culture. Very unusual in emphasizing the
importance of cooperation and structure. Most science fiction is highly
Vinge, Vernor. Marooned in Real Time. New York: Bluejay, 1986. New York: Baen, 1987. London: Pan, 1987.
Sequel to The Peace War.
___. The Peace
War. New York: Bluejay, 1984.
The Crash, a
holocaust involving nuclear and biochemical weapons, was ended when the
"bobble" was invented to seal off weapons and enemies. Fifty years
later the tyrannical Peace Authority still wields the embobbling machine to
suppress the scientific advances undertaken by the rebellious
"tinkers." Unfortunately, the older bobbles begin to decay, releasing
the weapons and troops which have been frozen in time for a half century. When
the tinkers develop their own bobbles and rebel, the Peace Authority plots to
render the entire Earth a wasteland through nuclear bombing while embobbling
itself to wait until it will be safe to emerge and rule the world once more. A
rebellious insider defeats the plot, and the novel ends with a dream of future
progress and the building of space colonies. A classic revival of learning
Von Hoffman, Nicholas. "The Brahms Lullaby." Harper's, February 1982.
The onset of
a nuclear war from the point of view of a lawyer turned suburban housewife.
Partly a satire on television's probable treatment of the holocaust. New York,
Los Angeles, and Chicago are evacuated. Suburban citizens prepare to turn back
by force the urban blacks who are designated to take refuge in their town. The
war begins with Russian conventional bombs being dropped on atomic reactors. At
the end of the story, the protagonist is waiting at the train station for her
husband to come home from work when New York is hit with what seems to be a
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. Cat's
Cradle. New York: Holt, Rinehart &
Winston, l963. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, l963. New York: Dell, l964.
London: Gollancz, l963. Harmondsworth: Penguin, l965.
is writing a book called The Day the World Ended about what various famous people were doing on the day Hiroshima was
bombed. Chapters 4-7 deal with a letter from the son of a physicist who helped
design the atomic bomb. He tells of his father receiving--and discarding--the
manuscript of a science fiction novel about the end of the world caused by a
superbomb. Vonnegut has someone utter Robert Oppenheimer's famous line, "Science
has now known sin," which causes Vonnegut's physicist to ask, "What
is sin?" See Daniel L. Zins, "Rescuing Science Fiction from
Technocracy: Cat's Cradle and the
Play of Apocalypse," Science-Fiction Studies 13 (1986): 170-181.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Galápagos. New York: Delacorte, 1985. Abridged cassette version, Simon & Schuster. London: Paladin, 1990.
Set in 1986, told by the ghost of the son of Kilgore Trout from a viewpoint a million years in the future when the remnants of the human race have evolved into short-lived but contented seal-like creatures in the wake of a world-wide holocaust which it is strongly suggested was a nuclear war. These survivors are all descended from a single progenitor whose mutation was caused by exposure to the radiation when Hiroshima was bombed. The story concerns a disastrous cruise to the Galá pagos islands as an international crisis builds in Latin America. Much of the story is told through references to future events, and the names of characters who about to die are marked with an asterisk. Even the narrator is dead. There are several references to nuclear war, but no unambiguous depiction of the use of atomic weapons.
Vorhies, John R. Pre-Empt. Chicago: Regnery, l967.
As the result
of a conspiracy hatched among a group of men involved with a Cub Scout troop, a
nuclear submarine is used to blackmail all nations into turning their nuclear
weapons over to a neutral international commission. The renegade sub commander
drops demonstration missiles on both the U.S. and USSR to make his point. Most
of the novel, however, is a highly intelligent satire on the politics of
deterrence, far more sophisticated than most. An all-out war almost results
from various misunderstandings and errors and from the hawkishness of the
military on both sides. This is one of the few works to depict the Russians as
basically rational. As usual, the Chinese are more foolhardy and launch
missiles which must be shot down by Russian weapons. The story is told as a
collection of newspaper articles, transcripts, speeches, etc. This documentary
mode of narration isolates each participant in the action so that we are able
to appreciate fully their profound misunderstanding of each other. American
fanatical anticommunism is also satirized: the commander's plan is attacked as
Communist in origin until research establishes that its original source was
none other than Bernard Baruch. The title refers to the first strike that his
advisors keep recommending to the president: a preemptive strike.
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