[January 9, 1962] Unfortunate Tale (Anderson’s Day After Doomsday)


by Gideon Marcus

The Earth is dead, its verdant continents and azure oceans replaced with a roiling hell.  The crew of the Benjamin Franklin, humanity’s first interstellar ship, gaze on the holocaust in horror.  Are they only humans left?  Do any of Terra’s other ships (particularly the all woman-crewed Europa) still survive?  And most of all, who is responsible for this, the greatest of crimes?

This is the setup for Poul Anderson’s newest book, Day after Doomsday, serialized in the last two issues of Galaxy.  Like his previous The High Crusade, Doomsday features a tiny splinter of humanity thrust on the galactic stage in a fight for its very existence.  Unlike that earlier book, however, Doomsday‘s tone is somber.  It’s a mood Anderson does expertly, his lugubrious Scandinavian nature suffusing much of his work.

There is much to enjoy about the first three fifths of this book.  The setting is excellent.  Our galaxy is divided into innumerable clusters of societies, true unification precluded by the relative slowness of interstellar travel.  Several of our neighboring races discover the Earth somewhere around the 1970s, and a productive trade ensues.  But shortly after Earthers begin leaving their homeworld, an alien faction destroys Sol’s best planet.  Suspects are legion – could it be the artistic avian Monwaingi?  The individualistic noble Vorlakka?  The nomadic and ruthless Kandimirians?  Or was it a kind of grisly racial suicide?  You don’t find out until the end.

I appreciated the near-equal time Anderson devoted to the all-female crew, who are as resourceful and strong as one would hope (Anderson does not have trouble writing strong woman characters).  In fact, all of the players are well-drawn.  From catatonia to mania, the response to the destruction of Earth, both immediate and long after, is plausible and far-ranging. 

But somewhere around page 80, the book starts to fall apart.  What had been a string of exciting vignettes articulating two parallel story arcs deftly mixing despair and hope suddenly becomes a fragmented chunk of exposition that tries to tie together the free-hanging threads.  It feels as if a good 60 pages were cut out of the story leaving an unsatisfactory skeleton. 

Was this an artifact of the medium?  Will the novelized version (as I imagine will inevitably appear) be more rewarding?  I guess we’ll have to wait.  As is, it’s a mediocre effort – readable but disappointing.

Three stars.

4 thoughts on “[January 9, 1962] Unfortunate Tale (Anderson’s Day After Doomsday)”

  1. Is any reason given as to why the starships should carry crews of only one sex?  Or is this just extrapolation from current military policy (i.e. all male crew aboard ships)?

  2. I wonder if Poul Anderson had recently read Murray Leinster’s fifteen-year-old near-future novel THE MURDER OF THE U.S.A.

    http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?3531

    and thought, “Hey, audacious idea for a murder victim, but I could take this one step further. . .”  If so, what next?

    Of course, Edmond Hamilton was blowing up whole galaxies thirty or more years ago, but I don’t recall that he ever did it within a “whodunnit” (of, given a cast of alien race suspects, perhaps a “whatdunnit”?) plot.  So perhaps that’s still one more step Anderson or someone else could take. . .

    Maybe there are two more steps, but the problem with a murderer blowing up the entire universe of course boils down to “Er, then where am *I* going to live?”  But perhaps if the murderer is deranged enough not to think of that. . .

    Of course, most detective stories these days seem to involve series detectives handling one case after another, and a case in which the entire universe is murdered would seem to present a challenge when it comes to making it into a money-spinning series.  But surely science-fiction (and detective-fiction) writers notroiously thrive on challenges?

    1. Hamilton *did* write that story a few years back, but he’s written so much I can’t remember the title.  In his story it was an all-male crew trying to identify the perpetrators and take their revenge before they died of old age.

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