Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday was my first space-and-aliens apocalypse book. And the people rejoiced? No, not really.
The Earth has been bombed and boiled to a sterile crisp. The oceans are boiling. An all-male space mission has returned to find out that you really can’t go home again. Sick with grief and bent on finding out who the frog did this, they set out to find other living humans and the jerks who killed all their moms. After putting a few radio transmitters down on nearby planets, they decide that the best way to find other humans is to do something so epic that the tale is told across the galaxy—inevitably reaching any other surviving humans who would then know where to find them.
“A war is a good chance to make a splash.”
Well, yes, that is one way to think of it. While their plan has an element of desperate creative genius to it, it also made me feel like these guys were pretty short-sighted: risk the lives of what may be the last of the human race in hopes of getting a good spot in the gossip columns? Have fun with that.
Meanwhile, an all-female crew has a similar experience and similar reactions. They decide they need to raise money to buy a fleet that can search for other human survivors, so they start a business in another part of the galaxy where, being humans, they are so good at capitalism (hardeeharharhar) that they become wildly successful, piss people off, and almost get killed.
Meanwhile, meanwhile, the men hop from planet to planet interrogating world leaders about whether or not they “murdered Earth.” We meet a lot of aliens, learn a little about their cultures, and hear descriptions that, as usual for me when reading about aliens, I am utterly incapable of picturing in my head. There are interesting moments, and I feel that I can say it is not a bad book. But I can’t say that I liked it either. Mostly, I was just bored, and very, very glad that After Doomsday is only 145 pages long.
See, what I love about post-apocalyptic stories are the ruins and the survival stories. I love ruins, I love hearing how people get by in extreme situations, and I really enjoy the way a good catastrophe can shake up the status quo. In After Doomsday we get a brief glimpse of the broiling Earth from space, the end, roll endless stars and other planets. The characters didn’t have to worry much about survival because they could just go to the next civilized planet and get jobs there. The only element that kept me from putting the book down was interest in what would happen once the men and women found each other after so many years living in segregated societies. (One guess on how that panned out, but to his credit, Anderson didn’t make this icky or schmaltzy.) But this story was about galactic politics. The issues that I wanted to hear about were not the issues that Anderson was exploring.
In short: This story wasn’t for me, and I am beginning to wonder if there are any post-apocalyptic alien/space stories that are. (Suggestions in the comments?) There’s no accounting for taste.
One out of five eye tentacles.
Where I got it: Borrowed, epub
Where you can get it: Almost fucking nowhere, as it is apparently out of print. There are a few used copies on the US Amazon, but if you want to read it, now is probably a good time to go root around your local library.
Fun fact: Anderson was one of the founding members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).
Another fun fact: After Doomsday was published as a serial called “The Day After Doomsday” in Galaxy magazine between 1961 and 1962 before being published as a novel in 1962.