When tombstone engraver George Paxman is offered a bargain, he doesn't hesitate. His beloved daughter gets an otherwise unaffordable survival suit to protect her from radioactive fall-out and all George has to do is sign a document admitting that, as a passive citizen who did nothing to stop it, he has a degree of guilt for any nuclear war that breaks out. George signs on the dotted line. And then the unthinkable happens.
The world and everyone in it (survival suit or not) is destroyed in a nuclear Armageddon - except for George and five others who must now face prosecution from the great mass of humanity who will now never be born. And George Paxman stands accused in the name of all the people who stood by and never raised a finger to stop the horror of nuclear war...
Born in 1947, James Kenneth Morrow has been writing fiction ever since he, as a seven-year-old living in the Philadelphia suburbs, dictated “The Story of the Dog Family” to his mother, who dutifully typed it up and bound the pages with yarn. This three-page, six-chapter fantasy is still in the author’s private archives. Upon reaching adulthood, Jim produced nine novels of speculative fiction, including the critically acclaimed Godhead Trilogy. He has won the World Fantasy Award (for Only Begotten Daughter and Towing Jehovah), the Nebula Award (for “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge” and the novella City of Truth), and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (for the novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima). A fulltime fiction writer, Jim makes his home in State College, Pennsylvania, with his wife, his son, an enigmatic sheepdog, and a loopy beagle. He is hard at work on a novel about Darwinism and its discontents.
This is a trenchant, intelligent, clever, and deeply moral examination of the madness that lies at the heart of the threat of nuclear war. Written in the mid-80’s, when the long Cold War was on its last legs, reading it now is a sort of time capsule experience, but a satisfying and provocative one nonetheless. Morrow isn’t quite as brilliant and compulsively readable as Vonnegut at his best, but he displays excellent and thoughtful craftsmanship, and a rare gift for satire that truly bites.
My reading of this was slower than it might otherwise have been due to a very busy work schedule; the unusually long time I took to complete it is not reflective of its quality.
Wry, facetiously bleak, and surprisingly kindly satire on human condition, operating around themes stereotypically/quintessentially American: God, military, and a nuclear family with 1.8 children.
Quite a bit more fanciful, rumbustious and fabricated, than what one perhaps expected, recalling the closest perceivable equivalent - the less sentimental, conceivably more universally piercing and innately sardonic Vonnegut.
For essentially a biting caricature, unexpectedly sweet, too, with its handling of vulnerability; our narrator's reproductive secondary inner voice had one both entertained and sympathizing, the constant wistful regard to desired family life added a powerfully humanizing effect.
Dire themes, intent sarcasm, droll takes, aptly grim elements, and chummy general attitude towards individual's humanity. Occasionally the prose got coincidentally poetic with certain moments or with its more fantastically surrealistic approaches, as well.
My third read by Morrow and, while in all honestly, least favorite, still very, very good. Started off amazingly, then slogged somewhat. But thematically so clever and thought provoking and so funny. Might be the funniest book ever written on such a dire subject. Subject whose relevance may have ebbed for a while, but much like bell bottom jeans and other ugly things from the past, rears its hideous mug again via convoluted politics of the present day. This book is a well executed satire about the dangers of mutually assured destruction told from a perspective of a man who inadvertently veered off the path of innocent bystander into one of a perceived collaborator. Bring in Australian marsupials and let them set a court. Justice and reason don't mean as much at the end of the world. Strikingly poignant for something so funny, albeit darkly so. Strange and difficult balance that Morrow achieves here. Very compelling read. Recommended.
I think that for all of us who read regularly to the point where we can't imagine a life without doing it, there are one or two books that feel like they're Ours. Things we found without prompting, discoveries we made ourselves with no help or guidance from anyone or anything, but which change us in a way and refract our expectations into smoother, deeper and more pleasing waters. This is one of mine. Dear God, it has everything! I grinned and laughed, I sighed and I cried - without being too specific, there are two scenes toward the end within about 10 pages of each other and they both left me choking back my sobs. You're with the protagonist, George Paxton, all the way too. He's an ordinary man in extraordinary and surreal circumstances, victim of a monstrous loss, dealing with it by becoming the Perseus we all must at such times, having [metaphorically in George's case] to kill the thing he daren't even look at. Yet still he finds some hope and some heart and, most of all, some desire to continue. There's a side-piece featuring Nostradamus as well - that is the way the book begins. Someone to whom I recommended this book told me she had never read anything like it before - she's right, neither had I. Or since. Don't believe I ever will. One of the previous reviews describes this book as being, among other things, warped. It is, kind of, but only in the same way as putting gravy on cheese - if that's your bag, go for it, there's no harm. So what's the way this review ends? With a bang or a whimper? With a smile and by saying this book is wonderful, of course. What else could I say?
George Paxton wants to buy a scopas survival suit for his daughter for Christmas, but can't afford one, as he works on commission as a tombstone carver. A mysterious old woman sends him to a remarkable shop, where he signs a contract admitting complicity in the nuclear arms race in return for a suit. World War Three erupts; as nasty and brutal as everyone expects. A handful of men, including George, are saved and brought to Antarctica for the purpose of being put on trial by a surprising, yet logical group of people.
Published in 1986, in the middle of Reagan's second term and four years before the Soviet Empire crumbled, this novel depicts an all-too-possible future for that time. The chapter describing the results of the nuclear strike is poetically gruesome; I'm somewhat surprised I didn't have nightmares.
More magical realism than science fiction; the plot is paced well, with some interesting twists. The Alice in Wonderland theme was almost too clever for its own good, and I was kept guessing as to who a couple of the characters represented. The legal trial got a bit tedious; however, it wasn't as turgid as the trial in Blameless in Abbadon, another of Morrow's novels.
Recommended to survivors of the Cold War who are still haunted by [b]The Day After[/b].
Two stars for trying so hard, being in English and not having very many typos.
This book, which aspires to a great deal, ends up being utterly pedestrian. I picked it up thinking it would be funny; I mean, would anyone seriously title a book "This is the Way the World Ends"? Apparently, the answer to that question is an enthusiastic "Hell Yes!".
There's plenty of room for humor in a subject as over-the-top as the apocalyptic extinction of the human race. However, Morrow leaves that fertile ground to lie fallow and instead chooses to belabor the various evils of nuclear war and the foibles of the men responsible. It comes off as a mediocre and befuddled polemic on the subject of "Why mankind should not blow itself to smithereens".
We poor readers are faced with a clumsy, confusing and often frustrating account of a gaggle of loosely connected, poorly developed characters suffering through the worst kind of Deus Ex Machina plot-line imaginable.
The many, many flaws in the book may have been salvageable in the cold war mindset of freedom v. communism, but features that may have been redeeming in the 80s seem utterly anachronistic now.
George Paxton is a carver of funeral stones. Being a decent man George needs to ensure that his daughter is safe in a world of nuclear proliferation and wants to buy her a Scopas anti radiation suit. As George's wife has just been fired from her job at a pet shop for 'blowing up' a tarantula, the cost has become prohibitive. George is then approached by an old woman whom he assumes at first to be a ghost. She sends him off to meet with a Mad Hatter character who sells him a golden Scopas suit but also makes him sign a document which implicates him in starting World War III. World War III duly begins as George is travelling home. And thus begins this peculiar and very disjointed novel. Whether or not it is SF at all is debatable but immaterial. I would term it a political fantasy, since some of the science involved, such as The Mad Hatter's human automata are completely unfeasible. It bears comparison with other novels which feature grotesques and caricatures such as 'Roderick' and Richard Cowper's 'Profundis' but quite unfavourably I am afraid. 'Profundis' - another satire based on characters in a submarine in a post-apocalyptic world - was a far tighter, more structured work, with far less main characters, all of whom had a depth of character. Morrow's novel, to its detriment - seems to pay little attention to characterisation, apart from occasionally infodumping the history of his characters' lives in one way or another. There are also too many concepts to deal with, one of them being 'the unadmitted', a horde of black-blooded potential people who never actually existed, but have invaded our world because of some fissure in reality that the nuclear exchange created. There is no real reason why Morrow could not have simply had survivors of the war take their place, since the role of the unadmitted is simply to put Paxton on trial and sentence him to death. Their presence is both unnecessary and confusing. And the structure of the novel could have done with some work. There is a charming introductory section featuring Nostradamus who could, it appears, very accurately predict the future and had Leonardo da Vinci paint a series of scenes of George's life and consequently the end of human existence on magic lantern glass plates. Nostradamus appears again once during the novel for no good reason and again at the end in a closing scene. It's not hard to determine why the Nostradamus scenes work so well and the rest of them don't since Nostradamus is established quite elegantly and efficiently with a personality in an all too brief number of pages. We could really have done with far more since Morrow seems to have padded the remainder with reams of unnecessary and somewhat self-indulgent text, space which could have been better-employed on furthering the narrative and exploring some actual characterisation. There is also the seemingly interminable trial of George and his so-called co-conspirators which almost had me wishing for nuclear destruction to arrive and put an end to my torture. Maybe it's the US sense of humour (although I suspect not) but I really must be missing something since this is published in the prestigious Gollancz SF masterworks series and praised by such luminaries as Brian Aldiss and Justina Robson. I can't presume to fault their judgment, but I can't find it within me to agree with them. This is the way the book ends... with a whimper from me, praying to the Great Mythical Being that there isn't a sequel.
Two simple intertwined premises, near-perfect execution. The first is that citizens of a free society carry with them an extraordinary responsibility for the responsible governance of that society. The complaints about everything from fast food to sleazy politicians are little more than tilting at windmills unless The People decide to stop empowering that which we loathe.
The second is that effects of war--especially in an age of mass destruction--have with them the ability to wipe out our history, our culture, the very things that we use to define a civilization.
In what we refer to as a democracy, the power of war was supposed to rest with the legislature (the House, specifically) keeping it as close to the people as possible. When we abdicate that responsibility and give it up to a single person, and then buy in to the manufactured climate of conflict, the consequences are catastrophic.
- The beginning is very funny. Usually I feel a bit bored reading the introduction part but I think Morrow knows how to entertain while building the story.
- I notice the further unto the story it gets more serious. It doesn’t lose its humor but it’s like I was offered another focus, another things to enjoy. At some points it even raises interesting points for debates and discussion if you want to.
- I love the idea of unadmitted future and invalidated past. And I love the trial. Awesome ideas.
- Towards the end, I feel like it could stop at several points and called it the end and I would feel it’s finished. Depending on where it stops, I would feel triumph, sad, more sad, weird, face-palming, and devastated. I think this is the part where I decided to rate this book 4.
- I feel like I’m missing something in the epilogue because I’m not familiar with Notradamus.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The first 100 pages of this book were one of the best 100 pages I've ever read. It sparkled an incredibly great amount of interest in me. The narrative was fluid, captivating, itriguing and geniune.
But, after page 120, you start to loose interest, It's as if the author had gone crazy in while writing the novel. The story becomes convuluted and the plot all over the place. The author begins to preach his ideals onto paper, and that's when I usually start to hate the book.
I didn't really hate this book per say, because of that inicial contact with it. People use to say that the first impression is always the one that stays, and this was the case.
Conclusion: Interesting premise, wonderfully written until page 100. After that, it's a dull fest of nothingness.
An odd little book, which only gets curiouser and curiouser the further on you read.
Constantly switches between absurdism, satire, commentary (on Mutual Assured Destruction and other deterrence doctrines), pure horror (briefly, but sharply) and extremely human, moving sequences. With generous dollops of Alice In Wonderland.
Hope you like your nuclear apocalypse whimsical but harrowing.
Triste novela sobre el fin del mundo tras un holocausto nuclear donde ni siquiera el surrealismo o el humor habituales en Morrow atenúan la angustia ante la desaparición de toda la vida en el planeta. Gran parte de la narración se sostiene sobre cómo se pone en solfa la dialéctica de la Guerra Fría, la política de disuasión y el concepto de la destrucción mutua asegurada. Morrow hace corresponsable a todo el pueblo estadounidense en un juicio final despiadado. Muy bien escrita, se pierde un poco a la mitad en un pequeño meandro narrativo y cuando se pone ñoña.
the back cover says: Picks up where Dr. Strangelove leaves off.
i must have read that when i picked the book out of the bargain bin, so i must have known it wasn't your usual (serious) dramatic end-of-the- world-as-we-know-it story. still i'm surprised when i start it to find the dark humour, the satire, the irony, the absurd fantastical elements. i don't usually think of humour and post apocalyptic themes going together. well, except for Dr. Strangelove.
i'm about halfway through and while there was a rough bit where the story started to lose me, i pushed through and am quite enjoying the story. our accidental hero is a most sympathetic character and his humanity balances out the absurdity of both the military and the alien forces.
so a little further in, and there is a definite shift. the argument regarding deterrence - definitely still absurd and smart and clever - is also insightful and well presented. the story has a strong intellectual bend the earlier chapters didn't. and then ....
another sharp shift. the tragic element has been building, but towards the end the tragedy becomes personal ... and, the story becomes emotional. it seems it is our way to be impacted more by the suffering of a single individual we have connected with, than for the millions who suffered as much if not more than that one indidivual. and so it is with This Is The Way the World Ends. it is the fate of our unlikely hero that sets me reeling ... not the fate of the world.
A great book about the horror of nuclear holocaust from the point of view of an Everyman and from those responsible for making Armageddon possible. It makes one horrifying point that I had not considered
Turgid, over-long and terribly dated. The idea is a good one but gets lost amidst the quite bizarre surrealism of the unfolding narrative. If you want to understand the idiocy of MAD you'd be better off watching 'Dr Strangelove'.
A strange mishmash of tones and narrative devices, This is the Way the World Ends never coalesces into a good story and doesn’t have any clear message to deliver either. It’s not weird enough to be fascinating either, but merely caused me to scratch my head and wonder what Morrow was trying to achieve.
The book opens with a frame narrative of Nostradamus telling a young boy how the world ends in a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. What is the purpose of this frame narrative, you ask? It has no purpose. Sure, Nostradamus’s prophesy drive the main character for much of the book, but that prophesy could easily have been a part of the text without the frame narrative. Nothing is added by having a frame story disconnected from the main action being depicted.
We then meet our main character George the American tombstone carver in the 1980s, who we are told is content, but who is continually shown as being anything but content, as he’s fighting with his wife, worrying about money, and fearing the possibility of nuclear war. He’s not sympathetic immediately, as he’s initially portrayed as gullible, but this is one of those stories where a fundamentally decent person has to go through tragedy after tragedy, so by the end you feel for him as an automatic human response (and not because of any particular writing skills on Morrow’s part). Following these early pages, the nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. occurs and then the story gets far stranger.
This is the Way the World Ends attempts to have a tone that is playful, absurd, even a bit whimsical for much of its length (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is referenced many times), and it just doesn’t work with the subject matter. First off, even if it doesn’t all make sense, there’s an internal logic that the book follows that prevents it from being an absurd dream story like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Furthermore, it’s a story of death, war, guilt, and loss, which does not mesh with a tone of whimsy. It could, perhaps, have worked as a dark comedy in the same vein as Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, but it never attempts to be overtly funny. Even if it did, the ending of the book is uncut sadness (achieved through low-skill emotional manipulation, but effective nonetheless), so the dark comedy elements would have been stripped away at that point.
Alongside the problems with tone, This is the Way the World Ends is baffling in terms of message. The horrendous outcome of the Cold War that the story posits means that it cannot help but be hypercritical of the political policies that led to that outcome, but the book ends up making a stronger argument for mutually assured destruction and deterrence through military strength than against it. The political message seems to be to keep up the status quo of 1986 and keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t end in annihilation, but I don’t think Morrow intended that message.
The tonal problems and confused message are the big problems, but there are some minor problems as well. At times the writing has problems that could have easily been fixed, but weren’t. Also, at one point an air force officer is introduced with the last name “Tarmac,” and I rolled my eyes. George doesn’t pay enough attention to some strange things that occur before the reveal, but he’s supposed to be sort of a moron so I suppose that makes sense. The title is pretty lackluster.
This is the Way the World Ends has some major problems, and it’s not a good book. However, it was weird enough that it didn’t commit the cardinal sin of being boring. It had some emotionally impactful moments as well, even if they were created by Morrow going after low hanging fruit. I’m giving this book a 2.5/5 and I’m currently inclined, by the thinnest of margins, to round up. Though I might think better of that later.
"Scopas Suits" are marketed which are supposed to protect people from radioactive fallout and nuclear weapons. George Paxton is tricked into signing a statement that in buying a scopas suit he is complicit in the destruction of the human race in a nuclear holocaust. This then takes place and it turns out that the suits don't work and everyone dies. Paxton ends up on a submarine where he is nearly murdered and falls in love with a doctor. It emerges that all the people around him are the potential human beings who will now never be born because of nuclear war and he is tried as a representative of the human race in Antarctica. He later gets to spend a short period with a simulacrum of his dead daughter. The story ends with his erection of a plaque commemorating the memory of humanity in Antarctica.
The story has stayed with me and recurs to me since I've read it. I was struck by two things. One was Paxton's foolishness in signing the contract in the first place, and on reflection I don't find that convincing. The other is the injustice of holding him responsible for the extinction of the species just because he's the only human left. Having said that, Morrow does a really good job of portraying the sheer irrationality and terrible risk of the Cold War and the sadness of the unrealised potential which would result from a nuclear holocaust. The black blood of the unadmitted is also an enduring image.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is from a genre that does not appeal to me. I found the premise of the book ridiculous - six people spared from nuclear annihilation just so they could be tried and hanged for crimes against humanity. I found the narrative disjointed . It didn't flow from one scene to another at all. I didn't much like the main character. But then, I didn't dislike him either. In terms of where I am with the book, it's a real miss.
I think that the book is meant to be a parody of 1950s American consumerist society. There are some parts where this is captured quite well, but there are too few of these and they are spaced too far apart. At no point did I find myself sliding into understanding what the author was trying to say. It is just a bit too obscure for me. Perhaps I'm too thick to understand this book?
Anyway, it was a real struggle to read it. I didn't like it and I would recommend that those people disposed like me ought to avoid it.
George Paxton who engraves tombstones for a living, wants to get his young daughter, a protective suit against nuclear radiation that has become the must have item across America. Unable to afford it, he’s offered one for her, if he just signed a document admitting responsibility for letting any nuclear war happen. He signs, and it happens. As one of the survivors, Paxton is taken with the five others, by people who will now never exist because of the nuclear war to be put on trial for it in Antarctica. This is a very dark satire with a lot of witty prose with surprising but appropriate references to Alice in Wonderland. It follows on from ‘Dr Strangelove’ with discussing the mentality that leads to war, but this time throws in an everyman figure as well. A great comment on the 1980’s cold war that makes you remember that the weapons are still there. Recommended.
The world ends in a nuclear holocaust. But blame can only be shifted so far, as those who would never be born hold five warmongers and one ordinary guy to account.
I like the story on this, but the style was difficult to endure through an entire book; it's like watching someone kick a bunch of people in the groin. Arguably, at least some of them deserve it, but there's only so long it's funny, which for me wasn't very long. By the end I was too numb to be much effected by what should have been the most effective part.
Recommended if you like harsher humor and SF. A combination of Stand on Zanzibar and Cat's Cradle, maybe.
The first section is compelling and well written. The rest is a surrealist mess. Yes nuclear war is terrible. But better stories have been written about it; Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence for one.
Even at the end of the world the male gaze persists; "Her excellent skin had the color and vibrancy of boiling fudge .... her splendid breasts floated upward like helium balloons released in celebration of some great atheletic or political victory." Yes even watching someone about to hang herself, men think about women's breasts, isn't that just great? On the plus side, he does have enough imagination to see a future where the Catholic church has female priests, in the character of Mother Mary Catherine.
First I was disappointed... as a James Morrow fan, I found both the characters and the plot a little too much ordinary - a little too much ‘nothing new under the sun’. I was even thinking about giving it up and I would have made a terrible mistake. From the trial on, this novel really gets a grip on you. Makes you remember all those terrible years when it seemed that a nuclear war was something that could have really happened (not that situation is better now, we won’t die for a war but we have destroyed the planet). A lot of tears in the final pages, even if I’m afraid the writer wasn’t fair playing with the deepest loves and feelings of the readers
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I don't know what to do with this book... The writing is vivid and intriguing while the plot is allusive and difficult to follow. A mix match between surrealism and science fiction, this story left me feeling interested and confused throughout the entire read. I feel that Morrow could have polished this story better: maybe by sacrificing some of his offbeat humor for literary clarity? I would give it five stars for the wonderful imagery, but then would have to give it zero stars because the wonderful imagery leads to no where.
I confess, I’m a big fan of end-of-the-world, post-apocalyptic scenarios, with the usual faire of unlikely heroes; however, our hero is not what one would expect. While I enjoyed the premise, the resolution was less than ideal. Sure, it was an inventive story what with mixing of ‘real’ historical data as well as scientific, social & philosophical as well as ‘unadmitted’ fantastical creatures. We were not told why the tribunal chose George Paxton, but at least we found out why Nadine volunteered to complete the task. Def recommend ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Een gast maakt de nucleaire oorlog mee en een nieuw ras mensen : de mensen die nooit geboren konden worden door de oorlog onstaat. Ze nemen hem en 5 andere mee naar Antarctica om ze te berechten aan schuldigheid met de oorlog.
----- Ik ga je eerlijk zeggen uiteindelijk vond ik dit best een goed boek. Was het verwarrend???? Ja absoluut. Maar qua metaforen etc vond ik het een boek die zo op de leeslijst had kunnen staan. Helaas snapte ik dus de helft niet door mn brainfog en t feit dat er geen SparkNotes analyse is maar zelfs dan vond ik het 3.6 sterren waard.