Forgotten Science Fiction: Goslings by J. D. Beresford

James W. Harris over at his Auxiliary Memory blog (see below) started an interesting discussion on post-apocalyptic novels, a favorite subject of mine, so I’m doing something different and reblogging his post and adding a list of some of my own favorite post-apocalyptic novels.

A note on taxonomy: the science fiction subgenres of the disaster and post-apocalyptic novels often blur. I’m not going to mention novels where the old order is essentially reasserted after some convulsion be it via plague, war, asteroid impact, or nanotech disaster.

For purely sentimental reasons, I’ll start with Christopher Anvil’s The Day the Machines Stopped. This one has electrical technology grinding to a halt after some accident in the Soviet Union. To be honest, I don’t even remember how it ended, so I don’t know if qualifies as a true post-apocalyptic novel or not. I read it decades ago, in grade school, during the 1970s. I just remembered the gun battles around grocery stores, and my young brain thinking, “Why, yes, that’s how it would be if there was no more electricity.” A lifelong fascination was born.

Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer is long and goes the whole spectrum from pre-disaster, through cometary impact, and the new world after. Some issues raised: Are accountants really useful after civilization ends? How do you store books in a hoard? If you’re a feudal lord who used to be a U.S. Senator, do you really owe anything to that one time campaign contributor?

One of the characters in Lucifer’s Hammer was a postman still making his rounds because communicating with other survivors is still useful after life as we know it ends. I suspect he inspired David Brin’s The Postman. Its titular character not only helps bind communities together, but he becomes the accidental and reluctant nucleus for a revival of civilization. Yes, the novel ends with silly super-survivalists, but I still liked it.

Perhaps not a truly post-apocalyptic novel but still good and a fascinating look at the possible effects of even a limited nuclear war was Whitley Strieber (yes, the Communion guy) and James Kunetka’s War Day. Using the John Dos Passos mosaic style, it’s a trip through an America that survived in a shaken and rattled state.

Something a little different but along the same line are the first two installments of Dean Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy: Systemic Shock and Single Combat. Set in a “streamlined America” after a limited nuclear war (specifically Ing used, as his starting point, the events of Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War there’s a recent look at it here), it has America under the thumb of a Mormon theocracy with its young hero, Quantrill, as a government assassin. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot. (Ing wrote a straight up survivalist novel called Pulling Through which featured an appendix on how to build an improvised fallout shelter in a hurry.)

John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass  aka The Death of Grass is a very good novel, another work that starts in the world before it falls apart, covers the unfraying of civilization due to the death of all grain crops, and covers the beginning of the new order.  There’s Pierre the gun store owner who is one of those memorable characters who comes into his own during the disaster. But he’s not the protagonist. The hero becomes the de facto leader of a group of survivors, and the novel ends memorably with a tragic incident that shows the loyalties and relationships of the old world now count for nothing.

For reason’s Jim covers ably in his reviews, George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids are rightly regarded as classics. (I take an extended look at the tter here.)

Wyndham’s Out of the Depths is also worth a read. It’s a combination post-apocalypse and alien invasion novel. Wyndam’s interest in the practical skills needed to maintain life and society probably owe something to his unusual education at England’s Bedales School, an education which emphasized gardening and crafts besides traditional academics.



Auxiliary Memory

Goslings by J. D. Beresford , is a 1913 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague that sweeps across the world and kills mainly men.  If you follow the link from the book title you can read a 23-part serialization from HiLobrow Books, which is illustrated with period photographs.  HiLobrow also has reprinted the novel as a paperback and ebook as part of their Radium Age Science Fiction Series .  I listened to the Dreamscape edition from that was elegantly read by Matthew Brenher who did a bang-up job narrating the British dialect – just look at this reproduction of the English edition to see how hard it would be for a modern American to read.  The book was called A World of Women when first published in America.


Beresford was an admirer of H. G. Wells, and combined fiction with scientific philosophy in Goslings, that is part satire, part…

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5 thoughts on “Forgotten Science Fiction: Goslings by J. D. Beresford

  1. jameswharris May 13, 2014 / 10:10 am

    Of the ones you mentioned, War Day is one I haven’t heard about before, and the one that sounds most interesting to try. Have you read any of the more recent post-apocalyptic novels that were getting great reviews like The Age of Miracles, The Dog Stars, and Life as We Knew It?

  2. marzaat May 13, 2014 / 7:17 pm

    I have not read any of those.

    In fact, they didn’t even sound familiar, so I looked up reviews. Of the three, I’d probably go for The Dog Stars. I’d have to be convinced that the ceasing of the Earth’s rotation in The Age of Miracles will have at least a pseudo-scientific rationale. I’m also not real fond of young protagonists — true even when young — so I’d be unlikely to go for Life as We Knew It?

    Last year, I read Jeff Carlson’s Plague trilogy. It’s apocalypse — the death of warm-blooded life lower than 10,000 feet above sea level — was intriguing in its effects. There’s not only the political fallout and wars over the small amount of inhabitable land, but Carlson talks about some of the ecological effects of cutting out such a significant part of the ecosystem.

    Have you ever read Terry Nation’s Survivors. Like you, I liked the first, 1970s vintage, BBC versio. I have not seen the recent remake. I understand the novel has a much different ending, the one Nation wanted for the series.

    • jameswharris May 13, 2014 / 9:50 pm

      The Age of Miracles is a beautifully written book. It and Life As We Knew It, are post-apocalyptic novels written by women, and they’re different. Life As We Knew It is a YA series. I think there were four books, but I’ve only read the first. I wrote a review that some women accused me of being sexist because I said it was a woman’s view of surviving the post-apocalypse. I pointed out American men writers often see such times as opportunity to shoot anything that offends, whereas this woman had her survivors playing by rules. Interestingly, the British survivors are less gun blasting than the Americans. I was also surprised in the British TV series Survivors, both the old and the new, when the main characters didn’t shoot people. If Americans had written the show, a lot more people would end up dead.

      • marzaat May 13, 2014 / 9:59 pm

        Speaking of shooting everything that moves, have you read Andrew Offutt’s The Castle Keeps?

        It’s described in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia being an ‘acid examination of survivalist shibboleths”.

        I have a copy. But it’s in the hundreds of books in the house I have not read yet.

      • jameswharris May 13, 2014 / 10:54 pm

        I haven’t read The Castle Keeps, but I have read some Andrew Offutt, but it’s been a long long while. I bet it was written in reaction to the survivalist movement decades ago. I need to track down a copy.

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