Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

5
FROM THE ASHES COMES THE CUCKOO: CHARACTER AND MYTH IN POSTHOLOCAUST NARRATIVES

William Lomax

Insofar as science fiction is about today rather than tomorrow, postholocaust narratives normally respond to sociopolitical developments stemming from the advent of the atomic age during World War II. Thus, the drive during the 1950s to establish a viable civil defense system and the subsequent scramble to build, stock, and even live in underground shelters inspired a series of stories, including Mordecai Roshwald Level 7 ( 1959), Daniel Galouye Dark Universe ( 1961), and Philip Dick "The Defenders" ( 1952), which questioned, with typical science fiction skepticism, the practicality of such a defense strategy. Less obvious, but equally significant, postholocaust narratives reflect cultural needs and fears which reach far beyond the limited, temporary effects (as devastating as they may be) of the existence or use of the bomb, which, in effect, is only one specific expression of a larger cultural pattern. Furthermore, such narratives achieve this by manipulating traditional literary symbols and conventions within an apocalyptic context of radical change. This melding of the radical and the conventional is particularly apparent in the relationship of character, traditionally one of science fiction's biggest liabilities, to the unique landscapes of postholocaust worlds.

At first glance, it may appear that holocaust fiction renders character superfluous. The vast power of the bomb, multiplied beyond conceivability in the Armageddons which smash civilization, dwarfs merely human scale, and the fates of individuals seem insignificant compared with the fate of the race. This is the case, for example, with Whittley Strieber and James Kunetka Warday ( 1984), a fictionalized documentary with a cast of well-coached but generally faceless sideline witnesses to the magnificent destruction of America. Here indeed

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