In the March 1955 issue of John Brunner’s fanzine Noise Level, the young author listed a handful of “thematically edgy stories”–including Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952), Theodore Sturgeon’s “The World Well Lost” (1953), and Lester del Rey’s “For I am A Jealous People (1954)–that he considered a “step forward” in the field . The previous year he had praised elements of Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952) in a fan letter to Startling Stories. According to Jad Smith, the stories feature “lived-in, morally ambiguous backgrounds much noisier and dynamic than the two-dimensional backdrops of more conventional fare” that appealed to Brunner’s embryonic views on genre . Brunner viewed social change as a “messy and unpredictable process riddled with moral complexities” .
As I recently wrote about Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1952), I thought I’d tackle the other stories Brunner listed which I’ll pair with others with similar themes that I’ve jotted in my notebook over the years. For those who might be new to the site, I am fascinated by subversive stories–especially on sex, masculinity, colonization, suburbia–from the 1950s. For me the majority of the fun comes from mapping the territory. The stories themselves are often less than satisfying. The historical contexts enriches the reading experience.
In order to understand the context of the following two stories on post-apocalyptic sexual chaos, I turn to Elaine Tyler May in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1988, revised edition 2017). She argues that “fears of sexual chaos tend to surface during times of crisis and rapid social change” . The fears of Communist ascendancy and nuclear war framed “nonmarital sexual behavior in all its forms” as a national obsession after WWII . Intellectuals linked “out-of-control sexuality with the insecurities of the cold war” resulted in “officially sponsored homophobia” . According to this logic, civil defense framed the traditional role of men and women as fortifying the home as a place of safety amid the Cold War . If the family unit collapsed in the face of Cold War conflict, the survivors of the wasteland would be possessed by destructive sexuality that must be welded back into something resembling a family. This mentality crops up in countless stories from the 50s and 60s–from Richard Wilson’s “Mother to the World” (1968) to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), whose protagonist is continuously tempted by the provocative zombie/vampires who strut outside his door. And when he lets one enter his home, a sanctum of one-time domestic bliss, the end rapidly approaches.
Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” (1952) with Wallace West’s “Eddie For Short” (1953) attempt–with varying degrees of success–to tackle the morality of the post-apocalyptic sexual landscape. Both think reflexively, returning to Biblical and other historical models of sexual behavior to give shape to the new family, one compelled to resort to incest to perpetuate the human race. Both adhere to the notion that sexual mores are socially constructed and that the human race can and should be saved. Joanna Russ would eviscerate the general premise of creating a new society with one of her best novels–We Who Are About To… (1976)
I recommend the stories only for readers interested in the history of 1950s science fiction explorations of sex and family and devotees of last man scenarios. “No Land of Nod” is the better crafted of the two.
Let’s get to the stories!
Sherwood Springer’s “No Land of Nod” first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines (December 1952). You can read it online here. I can find little about Sherwood Springer online. In a brief “Introducing the Author” article in the February 1954 issue of Imagination, he describes his career trajectory from school reporter to various other jobs in the newspaper and advertising industry. He recounts how he opened up his typewriter and started writing science fiction in 1950 after meeting with “Forry” Ackerman. “With a 21-year gap from 1956 to 1977”, Springer published fifteen short stories between 1952-1981.
Ann and Jim appear to be the only survivors of a Cold War non-nuclear conflict involving a nerve gas bomb that set off a chain reaction. Both were part of a three-week experiment in space rooms–“hermetically sealed chambers […] prepared to simulate as closely as possible the interior a rocket between worlds” (55)–at Cal Tech. They emerge to a landscape littered with the dead. The 37-year-old Ann, a college-educated accomplished research scientist, serves as the wise sage, alternatively guiding, counseling, and comforting Jim as they come to grips with their new reality. The 39-year-old Jim “never went to college” and “read western stories and science fiction when [he] was a kid instead of doing homework” seems to be a genuinely kind man, albeit perplexed at why he was selected as a new Adam, who comes to love Ann and her intelligence (55).
As they journey east searching fruitlessly for survivors, Ann broaches the moral conundrum they find themselves trapped in if they are to perpetuate the human race: “I’ve given this more thought than you know” (57). Driving past dead cities, Ann points out what they both know in their gut: “It’s possible that we’re the last people alive” (57). Due to the circumstance and inspired by historical examples (the Bible, Cloepatra and the Ptolemies, etc.), Ann proclaims “we’ve got to change our whole idea of what’s moral and what’s immoral. We have to realize that moral standards are arbitrary and change when customs and conditions change” (59). Before they decided to have children, Ann attempts to convince Jim to agree to her plan for their children to pair off: “fear. We’ve got to drive it out” (61). If they have a boy… Three girls later, Ann dies in childbirth. But she has already put another plan into motion to perpetuate the human race. There’s a reason their three children have never called Jim “father.”
“No Land of Nod” fits the pattern of stories in which the family must, at all cost, be welded back together even if it takes on a new form. I am reminded of the similar immoral morass explored (unsuccessfully) in the much later Richard Wilson story “Mother to the World” (1968). Wilson’s twist on the last man and woman formula involves the intellectual disability of Siss “who has the mentality of an eight-year-old” (9). “No Land of Nod” horrifyingly places the women of the story as those pushing for repopulating the world at all costs. Ann plans for her daughters to play the role she sets out. A profoundly disturbing thought experiment!
2.75/5 (Below Average)
Wallace West’s “Eddie For Short” first appeared in Amazing Stories, ed. Howard Browne (December 1953-January 1954). You can read it online here. This is the first Wallace West story I’ve read.
The nineteen-year-old lounge singer Lita goes through the rituals she fondly remembers from the time before the war–she sings, she shows a “startling length of leg” (88) while playing piano, and huskily croons “Goodnight, kind friends, wherever you may be” (89) into the TV cameras that daily broadcast her performance. Her sequestered dying husband–“Demon Carbon 14 caught up with me at last” (89)–attempts to prepare her for his eventual death over the telephone. He intones: “I love you too […] Maybe the human race has tried its damnedest to commit suicide. We can’t let it do stupid things like that, can we?” (89). Before he dies he extricates a promise that Lita will join up with any man who tracks her down through her broadcasts: ““An’ I don’t care whether he’s yellow, or black, or pea-green and has bat ears an’ cross eyes. If he comes you, uh, marry him. See?” (90). With great reluctance, Lita agrees. And she continues her broadcasts…
But no man comes. Instead, an old African-American woman named Verna Smith, “snaggletoothed and benevolent” (96), arrives from Key West where her dead husband used to be a shrimp fisher. She points out immediately that Lita is pregnant. Verna attempts to care for Lita, assisting her as she treks to her daily broadcasts across the abandoned Miami wasteland. With the prospect of mothering the future generation, the mostly uneducated Lita attempts to read books in the University of Miami library that might provide the knowledge needed for survival. But instead of science and technology, she’s drawn in by Greek legend. And the story of Oedipus and his mother. And she names her new child Eddie, for short.
Told with an odd joviality considering the premise, “Eddie For Short” contains deeply sinister implications in its refashioning of the family after the apocalypse. First, like Charles in Arch Obler’s Five (1951), the African American character is solely in the narrative to assist the perpetuation of the white race. There’s no indication of others surviving. That said, Lita refuses to adhere to the racism of the day in her interactions with Verna (96). Second, Lita carries with her traumatic experiences at an orphanage. With her momentary marital happiness shattered and bound by her promise to her dead husband, she yearns to create a new family–with her son.
 Discussed briefly in Jad Smith’s John Brunner (2012), 25. The ten issues of Brunner’s folk music and science fiction fanzine do not appear to be online. Here is a bit about them. I’ve checked on Internet Archive, FANAC.org, and eFanzines. If you have access to the March 1955 issue of Brunner’s Noise Level please let me know!
 Smith, 25.
 Smith, 24.
 I highly recommend Elaine Tyler May in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1988, revised edition 2017). It’s a fascinating look at the impact of WII and the Cold War on families. May, 90.
 May, 91.
 May, 90-91. For example, the Senate report Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government (1950) that argued that “sexual ‘perverts'” could spread their poison by association and destroy the United States from within.
 May, 101.
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