Reading I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War got me thinking. Does anyone write nuclear war stories now?
The bottom seemed to have fallen out of that particular literary market when the USSR’s flag was lowered for the last time on December 25, 1991. No more USSR, no more nuclear war seemed to be the popular thought.
It’s not that nukes went away. The famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists now reads three minutes to midnight. It was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991. (Though the calibration between dates is off because now we figure in “unchecked climate change” in the equation.)
Pakistan and North Korea are now in the nuclear club. And, of course, the headlines are full of Iran trying to get in too.
So the real world danger is not that much less since 1991. There are still thousands of nuclear warheads about. But the danger is not on the mind of readers and writers much.
I spent most of the first three decades of my life in the Cold War. My memories are filled with it.
Looking at some government publication on nuclear blasts complete with a moveable chart of effects given warhead size and distance from the blast and pictures of charred bodies and the ghostly nuclear shadows of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A bunch of us crowded into a dorm room to watch the premiere of The Day After and later watching, with far fewer people, the better British nuclear war movie Threads.
Discussions at college about, should we hear the civil defense sirens go off, if it was just better to go up on the roof of the dorm and die in the blast.
Small town residents in Iowa telling me what sites nearby where rumored to be prime Soviet targets.
The songs of the 1980s like “99 Luftballoons” and “Two Suns in the Sunset”.
The missile fields of South Dakota near where I lived which were, along with Omaha, always a target in any scenario of a nuclear war with the USSR. In those warcrete silos, men waited with dread for the klaxons to sound and the message: “EWO. EWO. Emergency War Orders, Emergency War Orders. I have a message in five parts. Message Begins. TANGO. XRAY … ”
I thought back to those days a few years back when reading Ian Sales’ Adrift on the Sea of Rains and when reading Clarke’s work. Sales’ alternate history has a nuclear war in it.
My suspicion was that the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was the end of the nuclear war novel..
One of the nice things about the Web of a Million Lies is that, sometimes, you find someone has done your homework for you. In this case, Paul Brians’ site Nuclear Holocausts Bibliography has done the work for me and confirmed my suspicion. Last updated, January 5, 2015, it lists the following post-1991 science fiction works with exploding nukes which I show below.
I have not mentioned mere short stories or series, like Deathlands, Outlander, and the Survivalist, that began before 1991 and continued on. (The sort of books that The Books That Time Forgot has covered.)
I have also not listed books with just EMP effects since using an electro-magnetic pulse weapon does not have to produce the full effects on the ground of a nuclear blast. Brians also has a nuclear war in popular culture site, and has put the entire contents of his 1991 book Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction online.
- The Memory of Earth, Orson Scott Card,1992.
- Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman, 1997
- Arc Light, Eric L. Harry, 1994.
- Dragon Fire, Humphrey Hawksley , 2000.
- Amnesia Moon, Jonathan Lethem, 1995.
- The Nostradamus Prophecy, John S. Powell, 1998.
- Toward the End of Time, John Updike, 1997.
- Playing God, Sarah Zettel, 1998.