Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction

by Paul Brians

Nuclear Holocausts Bibliography: V

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Vale, Rena. The Day After Doomsday. New York: Paperback Library, l970.
In l979 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.
Scientists exploring 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.
An 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.
Recruiters 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.
Aliens 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. [74]

___. 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.
An 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.
Fifty 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.

___. The Outcasts of Heaven Belt. New York: Signet, l978. Sequel: "Legacy."
A space 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.

___. "Phoenix 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.
A revisionist 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 "Legacy."

Vinge, Vernor. "Conquest by Default" (Analog, May l968). In Stanley Schmidt, ed. War and Peace: Possible Futures from Analog. New York: Dial, l983.
Two centuries 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 individualistic.

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 novel.

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 neutron bomb.

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.
The narrator 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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