We Who Survived (The Fifth Ice Age)

It’s been as while since we’ve had any good ol’ ‘Merican science fiction. This author is best known for his novel I Killed Stalin.

A few months back, daytime subzero (that’s subzero Fahrenheit) temperatures descended on my part of the world for a week. That means, as per my personal tradition, it’s time to read something appropriately frosty. However, the personal library had no ice age catastrophe novels or polar exploration works I hadn’t read, so, after a few minutes research online, I came up with this novel which I had never heard of before.

Review: We Who Survived (The Fifth Ice Age), Sterling Noel, 1959, 2012. 

This is different than any other future ice age disaster novels I’ve read. 

First, it compresses the action. There is no slow buildup and figuring out the cause of the ice age.  The book – and the snow – begins on a Saturday in September 2203, and the cause has been figured out by Gabe Harrow, a world expert in climate: earth will pass through the debris of a nova. Reduced solar radiation will result in snow falling for a 72-year long period. Already, by the book’s opening, it’s been 27 days of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures.

Secondly, most of the usual expected scenes of mass death and chaos are restricted (but still dramatically rendered) to summaries of radio and tv broadcasts. That is particularly true of the massive storms that are predicted to begin the newest glaciation of Earth and to last about a year and devastate coastal areas. 

The story is presented as an account by narrator Victor Savage, formerly a missileman assigned to an orbital platform, with some notes from Harrow. The Harrow Group is formed to shelter in place at a farm near Fallon, Kansans and, after the storms die down, travel to the Atlantic Coast and, eventually, to the equatorial regions. Harrow’s prediction of a very long-term glaciation is ignored by the government. (I suspect, like the ENLAV in Fenton Wood’s Nightland Racer, it was inspired by the “legendary” design of a proposed Antarctic Snow Cruiser.) 

The book’s main interest isn’t the various heated suits, nuclear powered snowmobile, nuclear powered cities, and nuclear “convertors” used as weapons, blowtorches, and to melt snow, but the psychological tension within the Harrow (later renamed the Savage) Group, particularly sexual conflict. 

There will be a momma’s boy whose mother commits suicide because he’s taken up with the crazy, femme-fatale Georgia Lawrence, a mutiny, and a crazy servant who kills several people in the Fallon shelter on New Year’s Eve before the shifting of the glacier above them makes the group leave Fallon early than planned, and Gabe who has to be drugged to leave Fallon since he’s despondent at the murder of his wife. 

The group will go to the St. Louis Complex where a group of survivors, representing what is left of the national government, considers Harrow’s forecast treason, another group in Kentucky where some survivors will be picked up (adding more young girls/women for sexual intrigue).  Eventually, after the mutiny, Savage (who was placed in command after Harrow’s despondency) institutes orders forbidding all sex and sexual enticement and removal of curtains from private chambers. This alienates from near everyone including his wife. Noel has some unexpected plot turns in the lives of some characters.

The book ends on something of a note of despondency after safety is reached in Brazil.

Savage notes that the casualty rate for the original members of the Harrow Group does not reflect well on his abilities as a commander. Sure, they picked up some survivors along the way, but more were left behind. Still, 100,000 people from North America and North-West Europe made their way to the equator, and the Group’s experiences probably weren’t any worse than other group’s.

There are some interesting background details. There have been two Chinese Wars, and the second resulted in so much radioactivity being released in the air that domed cities became necessary as did home oxygen supplies. Cohabitation before marriage is not only allowed, it’s mandatory. (Marge and Victor aren’t married at beginning of the novel.) There is also the matter of Howard, the group’s doctor and psychiatrist, recommended the “Gerber Therapy” for two young male survivors who may be developing an unhealthy attachment for each other. He also recognizes Georgia’s need to break up men’s marriages and attachments to other women. 

Rather simple in plot, this book actually lingers in the mind and is a well-done thriller of people under psychological stress.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.