Reading this (virtually) back to back with the excellent STATION ELEVEN, it struck me that in an end of the world scenario, religion really isn’t your friend. The religious types encountered across both books are likely to either stone you or forcibly marry you. Okay, those are the very extremes, but even the milder examples would be insane zealots in any other type of fiction. Now I’m an atheist to my bones, but even I think this a little strange. Surely there’s hope in religion. The word ‘faith’ after all is an extremely positive one. Isn’t there anybody – after the power fails and the lights go out – who is just content spending their time singing a few cheery hymns? Of course science fiction does have a habit of defaulting to ‘Science = Good; Religion = Bad’ (even in this book, where science actually causes the cataclysm). But just to be on the safe side, if you do happen to find yourself still alive after the apocalypse, I’d be wary of any religious type, if I was you – particularly if they have a well-thumbed copy of The Old Testament.
Whilst I enjoyed a great deal of this, the very first post-apocalyptic novel – the vast spaces of the destroyed American landscape are beautifully captured, alongside dangerous levels of paranoia and distrust – there was one thing which held me back from truly loving it: the characters. At the centre we have two snot-nosed, full of themselves boys on the cusp of adulthood, whose rebellion seems almost willfully petulant. ‘The Long Tomorrow’ was published in 1955, they can only be (the newly dubbed) ‘teenagers’. These aren’t sympathetic examples of youth. Frankly they’d be difficult people to spend time with in a good world, let alone a nuked-out wasteland. As much then as I greatly admired this book, I did wish the narrative would wander a little further afield and find some more pleasant protagonists.
In summary: if Brackett is really suggesting that at the end of the world all we’ll be left with is unyielding religion and teenage boys, I think I’d rather run towards the bombs.
Fancy reading some of my own short fiction (some sci-fi elements are included), then you can read a collection for free here!