Book Review: Mockingbird, Walter Tevis (1980)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

William Tevis’ Mockingbird (1980) is a paean to the power of reading. Possessed by an encyclopedic adoration for silent films and books of all genres, Tevis creates a rich textual substate in which his characters pin together the true nature of their world. For more on the situation in Tevis’ life that prompted him to write Mockingbird–his experiences teaching and his own attempts to defeat alcoholism–and his relationship to science fiction, check out James Sallis’ review in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The World

In a rapidly depopulating world, the last humans live a medicated life. Successful indoctrination programs of privacy and individuality with catch phrases like “Don’t ask-relax” (24) and “Alone is best” (26), have deprived the masses from the desire to learn or interact with each other. Paul and Mary Lou might be the “last generation of children, ever” (32). Tevis lays out the reasons for depopulation as follows: “1. Fears of overpopulation 2. The perfection of sterilization techniques 3. The disappearance of the family 4. The widespread concern with “inner” experiences 5. A loss of interest in children 6. A widespread desire to avoid responsibilities” (145).

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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) Continue reading