Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Loud Long Silence: A Review

Wilson Tucker's The Loud Long Silence (Goodreads) is an apocalyptic novel set immediately after a nuclear biological attack wipes out the United States in, what was at the time of its publication (1952), the near future.  The story follows the story of Corporal Russell Gary, a World War 2 veteran who is left in the devastated section of the country east of the Mississippi River.  One additional problem, the western section of the country, fearing the spread of biological agents, isn't letting one in.

The relatively elegant first edition cover

Arthur Wilson Tucker (1914-2006) was a prolific adventure and science fiction magazine writer and novelist.  He is considered to be something of a pioneer within the modern science fiction genre.  He is best known for his novel, The Year of the Long Sun, but this novel is also well considered as an early nuclear age apocalyptic novel. He made a habit of using the names of friends and family for minor characters in his novels, and from this sprung the term:  Tuckerization .  He lived most of his life in Bloomington, Illinois.

The novel, taking place sometime in the "near future" of the 1950s, starts of with our "hero" watching an old lady trying  to get across a bridge from the devastated eastern side, to the clean western side of the Mississippi river under the cover of darkness.  U.S. military units gun her down.  Our "hero", ex-corporal Russell Gary than flashes back to how it all came to be this way.

It is obvious from the start that our "hero" is not generally very heroic.  He is not a complete sociopath, and (barely) has his limits, but he is completely out for himself, and is very willing to rob and steal from others if it comes to it.  Mostly he is just manipulative and tries to trick, or coerce others into doing what he wants.  As an experienced World War 2 combat vet, he has a leg up in survival skills from most folks.

We follow Gary around as he meets up with various folks, and run across various situations along the way.  A large portion of the novel involves him trying to come up with ways to get across the Mississippi River, back to the civilization that he misses.  He is warned fairly early on that he, and most of the folks left on the wrong side of the river are probably asymptomatic carriers of the deadly plague, and thus would be of great danger on that side of the river, but he doesn't worry too much about that.  He is reflective in a scheming, rather than wisdom,  sort of way.

There is a deep cynicism to the novel that reminds me of the John Christopher's British-based, No Blade of Grass.  There is a presumption that many people are not very nice when the rules are removed, and that the government is going to deceive, and manipulate the citizens to their own advantage.   Given that a lot of people in the U.S. today look back on the fifties as a sort of golden time, the bleak mode of an author of that time period is rather telling.

What is also interesting is how many ideas about the survival genre get picked up even at this early stage.  They almost immediately begin worrying about burning a smokeless fire, and how to avoid giving away their position, Gary pulls off the old prepper standby of working for a farmer guarding his fields at one point,  by the end of the novel he has come to prefer a .22LR as his primary weapon.  It is quieter and draws less attention than heavier weapons, and is still deadly enough at short range.
Did I like it?  Yes, it is bit dated, and the scenario is not one of the more likely play-outs of a post nuclear collapse, but it has a harder edge in its own way than many of the more overly heroic fair that fits within the same genre today.  It even manages to pull off a jaded, slightly happy ending which isn't even remotely reminiscent of the "cozy"-type novel.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is straightforward.  It is a novel set within its day.  The bacteriological warfare is a little too quick acting, but it follows the science of it's day.  People who cannot fend for themselves are preyed upon by people like Gary.  I have the scene which hints at cannibalism in my British print that was apparently removed from the U.S. first edition.  Knocking off a point for being a little dated, and another for some of Gary's plot driven, slightly unlikely escapades, I'll call it a 5.

Readability is straight forward.  It is a little chatty, and in its unconventional way, too contemplative to be a modern day page turner.  Beyond that the story moves along fairly quickly, and we get a lot of little vignettes of action:  a 6.

Cover of my copy - a 1980 British edition

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