Written by: Neville Shute, 1954
Instrument of the Apocalypse: Nuclear war and subsequent fallout
Summary: This may be the most quietly horrifying book I have ever read. The northern hemisphere has been decimated in a large-scale nuclear conflict, and the resulting cloud of deadly fallout is slowly making its way toward Australia, where the citizens have no recourse but to wait for it, suicide injections at the ready. And so they wait. And prepare. And when the time comes, they know what they have to do. There’s a baby involved. It’s just awful.
On Screen: A well-regarded 1959 film starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. An Australian remake from 2000 starring Armand Assante, Rachel Ward, and Bryan Brown seems to have done its best to make the story a bit more upbeat, focusing on the not-quite-romance between two of the characters and attempting to render the final scene just a hair less bleak. Given the subject matter, however, there was really only so much the filmmakers could do.
Very soon, perhaps in a month’s time, there would be no one here, no living creatures but the cats and dogs that had been granted a short reprieve. Soon they too would be gone; summers and winters would pass by and these houses and these streets would know them. Presently, as time passed, the radioactivity would pass also; with a cobalt half-life of about five years these streets and houses would be habitable again in twenty years at the latest, and probably sooner than that. The human race was to be wiped out and the world made clean again for wiser occupants without undue delay. Well, probably that made sense.