Convergent Evolution in Post-Holocaust SF and After London

Science fiction scholar John J. Pierce is still around and still producing work on his blog The Seventy Year Itch.

His post “Science Fiction Invention and Reinvention” looks at convergent literary evolution in the post-holocaust story. It’s long but well worth a look.

He has extensive excerpts from various works including Richard Jefferies After London, so, for the occasion, I’ll post my review, from August 29, 2011. Pierce’s posting, though, provides a lot better sense of the work and its influence.

Review: After London; or, Wild England, Richard Jefferies, 1885.

After LondonAfter watching the original version of the BBC’s Survivors series, which aired from 1975 through 1977, I decided to read this, one of the first post-apocalypse novels.

To be sure there were earlier stories that killed off most or all of humanity including Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” (1826) and Edgar Poe’s “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839), but Jefferies may have been the first to create and describe new social orders in the world after the apocalypse. Here, England befalls some unknown disaster which empties London and creates a vast lake in the center of the country.

The first five chapters of the book are Jefferies’ future historian narrating how the ecosystem of England has changed, and there is no mention of the hero of the rest of the novel: Sir Felix Aquila. And they stand at the beginning of a line of speculation about the decay of the world after humanity that continues through the cable tv show Life After People.

As for Felix, he’s the usual impoverished aristocrat who wants to impress the daughter of richer aristocrats, and he leaves home seeking fame and fortune. His story ends rather abruptly and, frankly, it’s not that interesting. You can get a nice sense of the book’s strengths by reading the first five chapters and chapters 23 and 24.

The ecologically centered post-apocalypse tale wasn’t to achieve these heights again until George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.

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