2014 October 08 • Wednesday
Before J. G. Ballard's The Drowned World there was this very different take on apocalypse by water, John Bowen's After the Rain.
It seems quite indebted to John Wyndham's end of the world/survival of the species novels (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes—water again—and The Midwich Cuckoos) but pursued its story in a different direction.
One day it starts to rain and never stops, all over the world. The cause of it is ambiguous. While it coincides with an experiment by a rainmaker, the actual rain appears to begin before the release of the mysterious rain catalyst. It could be a combination of the experiment and natural forces or one or othe other.
The main action is confined to a ship with a handful of survivors who find themselves together by chance. They become a society unto themselves and pass through democracy and despotism to a messianic worship arrived at so gradually and in reaction to such extreme hardship that it's lunacy is perfectly acceptable. (It's also slightly reminiscent of the future of society in George R. Stewart's Earth Abides.)
It's a great book and interesting to read now, as more and more people talk about climate change. The main character is a copywriter and when the rain starts and never stops, the reaction of his employers is that their periodicals must be "flood-conscious".
There's a good amount of this satirical kind of writing, never overdone, and it makes the book much more than an exploration of a "What If" premise. Certain passages gave me pause, such as "It is not bad to be a coward; that is a natural thing. But it is bad to make excuses and feel ashamed". The coverage of the British government's plan to take care of its people is grimly realistic. The way people actually behave is left out of the equation, and so the plans are doomed.
Stories like this should help us appreciate what we take for granted and how much better we could make the world if we fought harder against greed and fear.
That comes after this:
Things get much, much worse than this, and at least half of the book takes place among the small group of characters sailing and drifting on an endless ocean.
The cover, wonderful though it is, does not depict a scene from the book though it will be echoed years later in advertising materials for The Day After Tomorrow. I'm beginning to pity Lady Liberty. She's always the first to hit the ground, it seems, when the world slips on a banana peel. The previews for the 2014 Godzilla movie flaunted a battered Statue that was absent from the movie itself and who could forget her cameo in Planet of the Apes?
Fans of The Goon Show may wonder if the introduction of the character of Sonya (holding on to a floating piano) is a reference to "Napoleon's Piano".