Back in January I bought a nice lot of 42 vintage science fiction paperbacks on eBay. Most were from the 70s and 80s, and most were in pretty good shape. Enough to keep me busy for a month, taking them out of the box one by one and cooing over them.
Most of you are probably too young to remember that far back, when the Cold War was at its height and the specter of nuclear war loomed over everything. In November 1981 Gallup found that 53% of American adults expected a nuclear war within a decade, and after Nicholas Meyer’s apocalyptic TV film The Day After and NBC’s tense mock-documentary Special Bulletin, about terrorists who detonate a nuclear weapon, both aired in the spring of 1983, some polls showed that number rocket briefly above 70%. 70%! These days we can’t even get that many to agree that the President of the United States is Christian.
Not too surprisingly, a lot of science fiction from the era was preoccupied with tales of the apocalypse. The Cold War is long over, but those paperback treasures, with their morbidly imaginative visions of the end of the world and beyond, are still with us. You can find plenty of great anthologies with that theme very cheaply if you look (the ones I haven’t hoarded in my basement, anyway.) Today I want to look at three that I pulled out of my newly acquired collection: Robert Sheckley’s After the Fall (1980), H. Bruce Franklin’s Countdown to Midnight (1984), and Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions 1.
[Click on any of the images for bigger versions.]
Here’s the back covers for all three.
After the Fall was Robert Sheckley’s sole anthology. It collects all-new stories from Harry Harrison, Roger Zelazny, William F. Nolan, Thomas M. Disch, and many others. I bought a coverless copy long ago in a used bookstore in Ottawa, which meant that for the first few decades I owned this book its cover was the inside front page, with this enticing text:
No More Namby-Pamby
No more pussy-footing, picky little disasters: earthquakes; infernos, mutant DNA plagues; giant insects, giant comets — PAH! Live a little — HAVE SOME FUN!
DESTROY THE WHOLE SHEBANG!
Which is just what happens in this one-of-a-kind book of offbeat, upbeat Armageddons. The earth, and everyone on it, is annihilated — 15 times — by the masterful satiric pens of: ROBERT SHECKLEY: ROGER ZELAZNY: PHILIP JOSE FARMER: THOMAS DISCH, IAN WATSON, BOB SHAW (and others of like fevered mind).
Does the end of the world begin to sound like fun? It is — in the ULTIMATE “DISASTER” BOOK:
After the Fall
Here’s the Table of Contents:
Introduction by Robert Sheckley
“The Last Days of (Parallel?) Earth” by Robert Sheckley
“The Day After the End of the World” by Harry Harrison
“A Very Good Year…” by Roger Zelazny
“Fire and/or Ice” by Roger Zelazny
“Exeunt Omnes” by Roger Zelazny
“Sungrab” by William F. Nolan
“Where Are You Now, Erik Scorbic?” by K. Copeland Shea
“Bud” by Ian Watson
“The Making of Revelation, Part I” by Philip José Farmer
“Rebecca Rubinstein’s Seventeenth Birthday” by Simon Gandolfi
“The Revelation” by Thomas M. Disch
“Nirvana Is a Nowhere Place” by Joel Schulman
“Heir” by J. A. Lawrence
“The Kingdom of O’Ryan” by Bob Shaw
“Just Another End of the World” by Maxim Jakubowski
After the Fall was published by Ace Books in September 1980. It is 212 pages, priced at $2.25 in paperback. The colorful cover is by Paul Alexander. It was reprinted by Sphere in the UK with a cover by Peter Elson (at right), but has not been reprinted since. There is no digital edition.
I’d never heard of H. Bruce Franklin, but according to his lengthy bio in Countdown to Midnight, he was the Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers University, and the winner of the Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association. His other anthologies include Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century (1966), which has seen three revised editions.
Unlike After the Fall, Countdown to Midnight is a (mostly) reprint anthology, collecting such classic tales as Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” Judith Merril’s “That Only a Mother,” Theodore Sturgeon’s “Thunder and Roses,” and Ward Moore’s “Lot.” It contains one novella, Yeremey Parnov and Mikhail Yemtsev’s “Everything But Love,” translated from the Russian. The front cover promises:
TWELVE MEMORABLE STORIES ABOUT NUCLEAR WARFARE BY JOE HALDEMAN, HARLAN ELLISON, KATE WILHELM, CHAN DAVIS, NORMAN SPINRAD, AND OTHERS
Here’s the TOC:
Nuclear War and Science Fiction by H. Bruce Franklin
“To Still the Drums” by Chan Davis (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1946)
“Thunder and Roses” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1947)
“That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1948)
“Lot” by Ward Moore (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1953)
Afterword to “Lot, ” by H. Bruce Franklin
“I Kill Myself” by Julian Kawalec (The Modern Polish Mind, 1962)
“The Neutrino Bomb” by Ralph S. Cooper (Great Science Fiction by Scientists, 1962)
“Akua Nuten” by Yves Thériault (Stories from Quebec, 1974)
“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison (If, March 1967)
“Countdown” by Kate Wilhelm (The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction, September 1968)
“The Big Flash” by Norman Spinrad (Orbit 5, September 1969)
“Everything But Love” by Yeremey Parnov and Mikhail Yemtsev (1973)
“To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal” by Joe Haldeman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1974)
Countdown to Midnight was published by DAW in December 1984. It is 287 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Vincent di Fate. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.
Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions 1 isn’t strictly an apocalyptic anthology per se…. but it does contain the first appearance of Gardner Dozois’ gloomy post-apocalyptic tale “A Special Kind of Morning” — not to mention Ursula K. Le Guin ‘s brilliant “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow,” and Harlan Ellison’s “At the Mouse Circus”… which could be about the apocalypse, you never know (since no one has any idea what that story is about, let’s go with that).
Introduction by Robert Silverberg
“A Special Kind of Morning” by Gardner Dozois
“The Trouble with the Past” by Alex Eisenstein and Phyllis Eisenstein
“The Power of Time” by Josephine Saxton
“The Giberel” by Doris Pitkin Buck
“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“The Great A” by Robert C. Malstrom
“At the Mouse Circus” by Harlan Ellison
“A Plague of Cars” by Leonard Tushnet
“Sky” by R. A. Lafferty
“Love Song of Herself” by Edward Bryant
“The Wicked Flee” by Harry Harrison
“The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World” by Philip José Farmer
“Conquest” by Barry N. Malzberg
“Emancipation: A Romance of the Times to Come” by Thomas M. Disch
New Dimensions 1 was very well received (ranked at #2 in the 1972 Locus poll for Best Original Anthology), and it was the first of a series that spawned 12 volumes between 1971-1981 (the last two co-edited with Marta Randall).
New Dimensions 1 was published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1971 with a cover by Nick Aristovulos (above right), and reprinted in paperback by Avon in August 1973. The paperback is 256 pages, priced at 95 cents. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.
I bought all three of these books — and 39 others — in an eBay auction for $9.50, or about 25 cents per book (see above). I’m telling you, if you’re at all interested in these articles, and would like to sample some vintage treasures of your own, buying a collection is the way to go.
See all of our recent coverage of Vintage Treasures here.