Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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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".

As the rain continued, and the snow followed it, our copy became more and more "flood-conscious"—"Get flood-conscious copywise," one of the directors told me, and an account executive nearby said, "Surely, surely!" I was concerned to sell, not the raincoats, gum-boots and all the various forms of water-proofing that people were already buying without encouragement, but the luxury articles that nobody in his senses would want during an emergency. It was all a little like a New Statesman and Nation competition. "STOCKING A RAFT?" I wrote, "Remember OYSTERS! Succulent and easily digested, Buxtable OYSTERS carry a lot of nourishment in a little space…."

I wrote copy about barometers ("FIRST WITH THE GOOD NEWS"), diamond necklaces ("SO LIGHT, SO HANDY, SO EASY TO CARRY"), and for Ford cars with the new rustless finish.

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.

The drawers had been lined with newspaper, and the columns of print told of an old happy time before the Flood. They told of the tantrums of statesmen and Trade Union leaders and of the divorces of film stars. They told of hydrogen bomb tests, and of geneticists who protested against the increase of radioactivity in the atmosphere, and of Cabinet Ministers whoo accused the geneticists ofcommunist sympathies. We read of the dangets of Britain's becoming a second-class power, of inconvenient documents suppressed, foreigners of liberal sympathies deported, private citizens dismissed from their jobs for reasons of security which they were not permitted to answer, and of Her Majesty's Home Secretary, who had remarked while opening a Charity Bazaar at Hendon, that he could not doubt that Great Britain, in these troubled times, was an example of enlightened democracy that the world would do well to copy.

That comes after this:

The rain turned to snow, the flooded fields to ice. Planes were earth-bound; trains ran slowly and infrequently; buses, cars and vans clanked about in chains. Attendances at factories and offices fell away, and the people stayed at home (and for the most part in bed) fireless and hungry. The London County Council organized a service of vans that brought one meal a day to old people, but, even so, many of them died. So did the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

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".