Updates: Recent Mostly Apocalyptic Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXIX (Nevil Shute, Walter Tevis, Philip McCutchan, and Lawrence Watt-Evans)

1. I’m finally the owner of one of the 50s/60s post-apocalyptic novels…. I suspect the 1959 film adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), which I did not enjoy, was the reason I’ve taken so long to acquire a copy.

It’ll fit neatly into my recent themed review sequence:

2. A far lesser known UK post-apocalyptic novel–SF Encyclopedia compares Philip McCutchan’s A Time for Survival (1965) to the relentless despair of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006

3. I’ve yet to read any of Walter Tevis’ SF–I’ve acquired his post-apocalyptic novel Mockingbird (1980).

4. And finally, the least-known quantity of this post…. an impulse buy (SF and noir is a fun combo) at my local Half Price.

Let me know what books/covers intrigue you. Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?


1. On the Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1986 edition)

From the inside flap: “In the south of Australia, the last survivors of a nuclear war await the deadly radiation that has already claimed the entire population of the northern hemisphere. One by one, towns to the north report cases of radiation sickness… and then fall silent. The said, frightened remnants of humanity count the months before they, too, will die, and choose how they will live them.

Scientists John Osbourne tunes his racing car for the Grand Prix he hopes to win.

for Peter and Mary Holmes, their remaining time is best spent caring for their baby daughter, and planning a garden they’ll never live to see.

Effervescent Moira Davidson chooses to stay as drunk as possible… until Dwight Towers enters her life. Towers–highest ranking officer in what’s left of the United States Navy—find solace with Moira, but he also has a mission: to trace the mysterious message being received from Seattle, where supposedly no one could still be alive. On the remote chance of finding human life, Towers pursues that elusive transmission—desperately searching for a sign that perhaps mankind has not yet written its own death sentence….

On the Beach was one of the first works of fiction to confront the grim reality of nuclear war and its devastating aftermath. As a novel and then as an acclaimed motion picture, it shocked the world with its unsparing account of the extinction of the human race. Yet it is also a compassionate portrayal of the lives of ordinary men and women who are doomed but still exhibit the highest form of courage: to live and dream and hope when all hope is gone.

Now, 30 years after its initial publication, Nevil Shute’s On the Beach is more potent than ever—as a gripping, deeply moving novel… and as a warning.”

2. A Time for Survival, Philip McCutchan (1966) (MY REVIEW)

(Uncredited cover for the 1st edition)

Note: the copy I purchased does not have a dust jack (tip: read bookseller descriptions closely!) hence I included the only clear image of the cover I could find online (above).

Here is SF Encyclopedia’s spoiler-containing blurb on the novel: “A Time for Survival (1966), a Post-Holocaust story of unremitting bleakness, is set in a lifeless landscape after England has been A-bombed by the Chinese; a few survivors trek away from Portsmouth, along a road nearly as bleak as that depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006); after they alert the American navy of their existence, the Americans drop further A-bombs on the dead land, driving those still alive into the sea, a Slingshot Ending with only one conclusion.”

3. Mockingbird, Walter Tevis (1980)

(Uncredited cover (Lou Feck?) for the 1981 edition)


A world where humans wander, drugged and lulled by electronic bliss. Where quick sex is best, where people would rather burn themselves alive than endure. A dying world of no children, no art, no reading. Where some still refuse to surrender. And love is the only hope.

A strange love triangle. Spofforth, the most perfect machine ever created, whose only wish is to die. Paul and Mary Lou, whose passion for each other is the only future.

A haunting novel, reverberating with anguish. The beats with the force of life. And celebrates joy and love, the strength of hope, the force of the world, and the magic of a dream.”

4. Nightside City, Lawrence Watt-Evans (1989)

(David Schleinkofer’s cover for the 1st edition)

From the back cover: “DAYLIGHT AT THE EDGE OF TOWN.

Nightside City was built on the dark side of Epimetheus, back when everyone was sure that the planet had stopped rotating. Now, slowly but surely, Nightside City was moving toward the dayside—and doom. Already the first rays of deadly sunlight had begun to hit the tops of the tall buildings of the West End, and that part of the city had become a ghost town.

So when private investigator Carlisle Hsing heard that somebody was buying up all that worthless West End property, she was intrigued. And when the clues pointed to a secret plot to save the city from dawn, she had to learn more. If such a plan could succeed, Hsing was all for it. But why keep something like a that a secret?

Hsing was determined to find the answers. And suddenly her enemies were all too willing to show her the light…”

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

24 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Mostly Apocalyptic Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXIX (Nevil Shute, Walter Tevis, Philip McCutchan, and Lawrence Watt-Evans)

  1. You may already know this, but Walter Tevis had a habit of making significant changes to the text of later editions of his novels, making it important to note what edition you’re working from.

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      This is the first paperback edition of the novel — I doubt it was changed. I could be wrong but there’s no mention in the isfdb.org entry: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?184173

      Are you referring to a particular novel? It seems like The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) was updated in 1976: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?2915

      Wilson Tucker’s The Long Loud Silence (1952) was revised in 1969 — references to the Vietnam War were added and I’m guessing editorial cuts (references to cannibalism etc.) were re-added in the 1969 ed. I highly recommended the novel: linked in the post.

  2. Excellent post, and delighted to have found your blog. I’ve read a few of these titles, I remember On The Beach as scaring me as a teen, and enjoying nightside city as a SF noir almost. But don’t remember reading the other titles.

  3. Hi

    On the Beach, I saw the movie but I can’t remember if I read the book later. Mockingbird I read and enjoyed but it has been decades. In the mood for some SF/Noir I just went down and found my wife’s copy of Nightside City. I really like David Schleinkofer’s cover, it reads SF with no exploding rockets just a quiet moment with a cup of ? in a very futurama city.

    Happy Reading

  4. I read Mockingbird about a year ago. The idea of framing the story initially through the perspective of Spofforth, a suicidal robot, is great. I found Spofforth a more compelling character than the humans in the story. The novel is overall very good–solid.

  5. I’ve had that McCutchan on my to-find list for awhile. Am eager hear what you think.

    I liked Mockingbird, despite some annoying aspects – too many simplistic rants in there. It’s very different from The Long Loud Silence. Wilson writes in an amazing, elegiac tone that I liked.

      • No worries. Happens all the time — but I have the option to edit my comments!

        I can find almost nothing, other than the SF encyclopedia article, written about the McCutchan novel. The one I really want (but is far too expensive online i.e. $40+) is McCutchan’s dystopic The Day of the Coastwatch (1968). SF encyclopedia describes it as follows: “[The novel] describes a Near Future Dystopian UK where emigration is forcibly forbidden; the protagonist of the novel, brainwashed partway through, never recovers and causes justified Paranoia in his wife and children.””

        He seems to be an author who has deep-seated suspicions of military values and tackles difficult subjects such as brainwashing… count me intrigued!

        What is the general philosophical perspective of Mockingbird (1980)?

  6. I think I’ve finally getting the hang of your site. Coming in through the List By Authors skewed my understanding for a long time.
    Now I’m looking at a novel which is still in its whaddya-think stage. On the Beach was one of the most tedious novels I ever encountered. It made me wonder why the author bothered. I won’t give spoilers, but the driving mystery behind much of the action turns out to be unbelievably inconsequential.
    I read most of the 1960s nuclear disaster novels as they came out. They were of varied quality; Philip Wylie was usually good and Roshwald (which you reviewed) was outstanding. This was the only one that put me to sleep.

  7. I am a re-reader by nature, but I have never re-read any of the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novels from my teens. They were useful to a young man trying to figure out the world, but they weren’t much fun. I would probably find them hard to read today for bits of sexism that seemed normal fifty some years ago. Certainly both you and Thomas Anderson make me aware of how much modern judgment differs from the judgements of my youth. I reject most of political correctness, but changes in sexual morality reflect changes I have personally undergone.

    That said, these are the serious early apocalyptic novels I remember from then, in four categories: Seven Days in May and Fail Safe. Phillip Wylie’s Tomorrow and his Triumph. Earth Abides and On the Beach. Roshwald’s Level Seven.

    The first two were best sellers. Then as now I find that such novels are adequately well written, but seem watered down compared to books like Wylie’s. The polish of the first two contrasted with the gritty, pulplike coarseness of Wylie. Rough was better than smooth for that kind of story.

    For me, Earth Abides was not SF because it failed the first test: the protagonist just sat on his ass and watched the world collapse without fighting back. And On the Beach was so slick that it had no heart.

    Roshwald, like most of Ursula LeGuin, is genuine literature, as opposed to the dead-rich-white-folks works they teach in college.

    Yes, I’m opinionated.

    I checked out your reviews of Coppel and Christopher. They both seem fine, but I probably won’t read them. The older I get, the harder it is for me to face futility in human behavior.

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