Before the end of 1985, when the research for the first edition of this book concluded, very few studies of nuclear war fiction had appeared, but a number of important ones appeared shortly afterward. The very first was Sam Moskowitz’s “The Atom Smashers: Fiction’s Prophetic Parallel to Fact,” in a single-sheet fanzine entitled Fantasy Fiction Field, Whole Number 210 (October 6, 1945). It was reprinted with some revisions and additions in the November 1952 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly. It lists a few nuclear war stories, but most of it is devoted to describing the depiction of atomic science in pre-Hiroshima science fiction. Philip Duhan Segal’s unpublished dissertation (Yeshiva University, 1973), “Imaginative Literature and the Atomic Bomb: An Analysis of Representative Novels, Plays, and Films from 1945 to 1972,” is a pioneering study, but it is hardly definitive. Although Segal unearthed a number of very obscure novels and plays and although his bibliography is valuable for those studying the theme in other media, such as radio, television, and film, it suffers from a simplistic statistical analysis of themes which is rendered useless by the fact that he missed the vast bulk of the relevant works, largely by ignoring most science fiction.

Only one nuclear war novel (O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah) is discussed in Margaret Esmonde’s “After Armageddon: The Post Cataclysmic Novel for Young Readers” (Children’s Literature, Volume 6: The Annual of the Modern Language Association Group on Children’s Literature [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1977], pp. 211-20). Much more useful is Albert I. Berger’s study, “The Triumph of Prophecy: Science Fiction and Nuclear Power in the Post-Hiroshima Period,” Science-Fiction Studies 3 (1976): 143-50, covering only the period 1940-47. Two related articles by the same author are “Nuclear Energy: Science Fiction’s Metaphor of Power,” Science-Fiction Studies 6 (1979): 121-28, and “Love, Death and the Atomic Bomb: Sexuality and Community in Science Fiction, 1935-55,” Science-Fiction Studies 8 (1981): 280-96. I. F. Clarke’s pioneering work,Voices Prophesying War 1763-1984 (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), an excellent study of future wars, devoted only a few pages to nuclear war. Clarke drew upon the first edition of Nuclear Holocausts, which he read in manuscript, to add a number of examples to the second edition, titled Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Robert J. Lifton’s Death in Life: The Survivors of Hiroshima (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967) contains in its tenth chapter a fine survey of fictional reactions by Japanese authors to the atomic bomb and an appreciation of Ibuse’s Black Rain. German authors are discussed in exhaustive detail in Raimund Kurscheid’s Kampf dem Atomtod! Schriftsteller gegen eine deutsche Atombewaffnung [Fight Atomic Death! Writers Against German Nuclear Armament] (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1981). A Russian view of the theme by Vladimir Gakov (“SF Writers on the March for Peace”) appeared in Soviet Literature 2 (January 1984): 158-65, which praises Western novels like On the Beach but defends the lack of anything similar in Communist nations. After I wrote to him about my work, Gakov arranged for me to participate in the Seventh World Congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in Moscow, 1987, beginning a relationship that produced his bibliography complimentary to this one entitled “Nuclear-War Themes in Soviet Science Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography,” Science-Fiction Studies 16(1989): 67-84. Gakov was able to identify and describe over seventy examples of a genre which I was repeatedly assured by Western experts did not exist.

Harold L. Berger’s Science Fiction and the New Dark Age (Bowling Green, Ohio: The Popular Press, 1976) contains a brief section on nuclear war fiction (pp. 147-55), which discusses Shute’s On The Beach, Wylie’s Triumph, Roshwald’s Level 7, and Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Postholocaust science fiction is discussed in chapter 9, “By the Waters of Babylon: Our Barbarous Descendants,” of Paul Carter’s The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction (New York: Columbia University Press., 1977). Andrew Feenberg’s “The Politics of Survival: Science Fiction in the Nuclear Age,” Alternative Futures 1 (1978): 3-23, strikingly manages to overlook most of the significant science fiction on the subject while making some intelligent observations.

Gary K. Wolfe’s The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1979) contains an excellent chapter entitled “Icon of the Wasteland” which covers a number of the works included here as well as others which deal with non-nuclear catastrophes. Wolfe’s emphasis on iconography has relieved me from the necessity of dealing with that aspect of the genre. Warren W. Wagar created a fine survey of apocalyptic fiction in Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982). Wagar’s book ranges farther in time and subject matter than this one, but our views coincide on many points. Like Wolfe, however, Wagar is primarily interested in treating nuclear war fiction as metaphorical, whereas my emphasis, reflected in the structure of this volume, is on fiction as a reaction to and a warning against the actuality of nuclear war. The metaphorical approach is generally shared by the scholars represented in The End of the World, a collection of essays on apocalyptic fiction edited by Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander which appeared in 1983 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press). The present study is offered as a complement to and not a replacement for these books.

A brief discussion of Huxley’s Ape and Essence, Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Hoban’s Riddley Walker, including comments about a few other nuclear war novels, appeared in the Fall 1984 issue of Extrapolation (Thomas J. Morrissey, “Armageddon from Huxley to Hoban,” pp. 197-213). Robert Mielke presents a suggestive typology based on a small sample of nuclear war fiction in his article “Imaging Nuclear Weaponry: An Ethical Taxonomy of Nuclear Representation” on pp. 164-80 of the Warnings anthology listed below H. Bruce Franklin’s anthology of fiction, Countdown to Midnight: Twelve Great Stories About Nuclear War (New York: DAW, 1984) contains an excellent “Historical Introduction” and authors’ notes. It is certainly a definitive collection of nuclear war short stories, although some of its selections do not meet the guidelines for the present study. My own article, “Nuclear War in Science Fiction, 1945-59,” appeared in Science Fiction Studies 11 (1984): 253-63, and was an early draft of material in this book. Daniel L. Zins’s “Teaching English in a Nuclear Age,” which appeared in College English 47 (1985): 387-406, is useful, although it relegates the few science fiction titles it mentions to a footnote. Thomas M. Disch’s The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World(New York: Free Press, 1998) includes a chapter sharply critical of SF’s treatment of nuclear war themes: “How Science Fiction Defused the Bomb” (Chapter 4, pp. 78-96).

The entire July 1986 issue of Science-Fiction Studies (vol. 13, part 2) is devoted to nuclear war and science fiction. It contains my article, “Resources for the Study of Nuclear War in Fiction” (pp. 193-97), which lists some useful articles not mentioned here. Other studies relating to the topic of nuclear war published after the first edition of Nuclear Holocausts includeDavid Dowling’s Fictions of Nuclear Disaster (London: Macmillan and Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1987), Martha Bartter’s “Symbol to Scenario: The Atomic Bomb in American Science Fiction, 1930-1960” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester, 1985), and Robert Hostetter’s “The American Nuclear Theatre, 1946-1984” (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1985).

Two bibliographies which partially overlap with the present one appeared in 1984. The first is Grant Burns’s The Atomic Papers: A Citizen’s Guide to Selected Books and Articles on the Bomb, the Arms Race, Nuclear Power, the Peace Movement, and Related Issues (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press). Its thirteenth section, entitled “The Art of Fission: Novels and Stories with Nuclear Themes” (pp. 259-91), includes several dozen of the titles also listed here, with much briefer citations and annotations. More specialized because it deals exclusively with fiction is John Newman and Michael Unsworth’s Future War Novels: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English Published Since 1946 (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx). It lists 127 books which fit the guidelines of the present study, and annotates them in considerable detail. Although the authors have overlooked a great deal, they have uncovered some very obscure works, including a score which were previously unknown to me. Both of these bibliographies include near-wars, atomic test disasters, etc., which are excluded from the present study, and will be of interest to scholars pursuing those subjects, although both are far from complete. Newman and Unsworth do not list short stories. For a list of errors in Future War Novels, see my review in Reference Services Review 13 (1985), “Recent Reference Books” section, p. 20.

It may be helpful for readers unfamiliar with science fiction research to note those reference works which have proved especially useful to this study. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia edited by Peter Nicholls (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1979) contains an excellent article entitled “Holocaust and After.” Donald H. Tuck’s The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (3 vols.; Chicago: Advent, 1974, 1978, 1982), although it contains numerous errors (some of which are corrected in the Bibliography of the present volume), is invaluable in tracking down various editions of novels. Two very helpful surveys of science fiction with extensive annotation and criticism are Frank Magill’s Survey of Science Fiction Literature (5 vols.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, 1979) and Neil Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction (2nd ed.; New York: Bowker, 1981). British science fiction is listed and annotated in I. F. Clarke’s Tale of the Future. The third edition (London: Library Association, 1978) covers the period up to 1976 and provides many titles which would otherwise have been overlooked. Recent titles were discovered by perusing back issues of Fantasy Review, a journal whose review columns and publishing previews are an excellent resource.

The location of short stories is greatly facilitated by William Contento’s Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978) and its supplement covering the years 1977-83 (from the same publisher in 1984). Short stories which appeared only in magazines may be located through the following three volumes which complement each other: Donald B. Day, Index to the Science Fiction Magazines 1926-1950, second edition, revised by Mrs. Donald B. Day (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982); Erwin S. Strauss, The MIT Science Fiction Society’s Index to the S-F Magazines 1951-1965 (Cambridge, Mass.: Erwin S. Strauss, 1965); and New England Science Fiction Association, Index to the Science Fiction Magazines 1966-1970 (West Hanover, Mass.: New England Science Fiction Association, 1971).

Critical books and articles on titles and authors listed in the Bibliography were located in the Survey of Science Fiction Literature: Bibliographical Supplement, compiled by Marshall B. Tymn (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Salen Press, 1982), in Thomas D. Clareson’s Science Fiction Criticism: AnAnnota ted Checklist (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1972); and Tymn and Roger C. Schlobin’s The Year’s Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy: 1972-1975 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1979), in their TheYear’s Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy 1976-79 (same publisher, 1982), in Tymn’s The Year’s Scholarship in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Literature 1980 (same publisher, 1983), in the volumes (same title) for 1981 and 1982 (dates of publication not given), and in the continuations, under the same title, in Extrapolation, the 1983 bibliography in volume 26 (1985): 85-142, and the 1985 bibliography in volume 27 (1986), 123-73.

Although the following collections have only a tangential connection with the subject matter treated here, they will probably be of interest to anyone concerned with nuclear war and literature: the Editors of Northwest Review, Warnings: An Anthology on the Nuclear Peril (constitutes volume 22, numbers I and 2 of Northwest Review, Eugene, Oregon, 1984); Jim Schley, ea., Writing in a Nuclear Age (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984, a reprint of NER&BLQ: New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly 5 [Summer 1983]); and Morty Sklar, ea., Nuke-Rebuke: Writers and Artists Against Nuclear Energy and Weapons (Iowa City, Iowa: Spirit That Moves Us Press, 1984). All of these emphasize poetry more than fiction.

Interest in the subject of nuclear war outside the science fiction community seems to have aroused very little interest in fiction depicting nuclear war. An entire issue of Diacritics (Summer 1984) was devoted to “nuclear criticism” without any of the contributors so much as mentioning a single piece of nuclear war fiction. Researchers interested in pursuing the subject of nuclear war as it has been depicted in the movies will want to consult Jack G. Shaheen’s Nuclear War Films (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978) and Mick Broderick’s comprehensive Nuclear Movies: A Critical Analysis and Filmography of International Feature Length Films Dealing with Experimentation, Aliens, Terrorism, Holocaust, and Other Disaster Scenarios, 1914-1989 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1991). This replaces his earlier Nuclear Movies: A Filmography (Northcote, Vic, Australia: Post-Modem Pub., 1988)

An overview of current work and resources on the subject of nuclear war in the humanities is provided in the brief but excellent contribution of Philip N. Gilbertson to the special section of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists entitled “Nuclear War: A Teaching Guide” (see the section titled “Humanities,” 40 [December 1984]: 13s-l5s).

Among many other books on nuclear war itself and the public’s perception of it. the following proved especially useful:

  • Peter Biskind, Seeing Is Believing. How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (New York: Pantheon, 1983);
  • Paul Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983);
  •  Nigel Calder, Nuclear Nightmares: An Investigation into Possible Wars (New York: Viking, 1979);
  • John W. Campbell, Jr., The Atomic Story (New York: Henry Holt, 1947);
  •  Magnus Clarke, The Nuclear Destruction of Britain (London: Croom Helm, 1982);
  •  Robert A. Divine, Blowing On the Wind: The Nuclear Test Ban Debate 1954-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978);
  • Paul R. Ehrlich, Carl Sagan, Donald Kennedy, and Walter Orr Roberts, The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War (New York: Norton, 1984);
  • D. F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins,vol. I (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961);
  • Morton Halperin, China and the Bomb (New York: Praeger, 1965);
  • Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (New York: Knopf, 1980);
  • Stephen Hilgartner, Richard C. Bell, and Rory O’Connor, Nukespeak: Nuclear Language, Visions, and Mindset (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1982);
  • Alice Langley Hsieh, Communist China’s Strategy in the Nuclear Era (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962);
  • Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, 2nd ed. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1969), and Thinking About the Unthinkable (New York: Horizon Press, 1962);
  • Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983);
  • The Pacific War Research Society, The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 (Tokyo: Kodansha Interna tional, 1972);
  • The Editors of Pocket Books, The Atomic Age Opens (New York: Pocket Books, 1945);
  • Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959);
  • and Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance (New York: Knopf, 1975).

Other volumes containing fictional nuclear war scenarios are cited in the Bibliography.

An essential source for the study of the pre-Hiroshima period is H. Bruce Franklin’s War Stars: The Super-Weapon and the American Imagination (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988). He discovered a number of early atomic war narratives which my research for the first edition had overlooked. For the period immediately after World War II, I drew on Paul Boyer’s outstanding study, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon, 1985). Its wealth of evidence surrounding the impact of the atomic bomb on the culture of the late forties proved invaluable, and helped to shape my discussion of that period. Also helpful are two articles by my colleague Alexander Hammond which appeared in the anthology Warnings, cited above: “God’s Nation Interprets the Bomb: A Collage from the Early Years” (pp. 2-11), and “Rescripting the Nuclear Threat in 1953: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (pp. 181-94).

It has been customary in books of this sort to offer apologies for the study of science fiction as serious literature. None is offered here, but interested readers previously unaware of science fiction’s contemporary stature may wish to consult such scholarly works as the following:

  • Thomas D. Clareson, ea., Many Futures, Many Worlds: Theme and Form in Science Fiction (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1977);
  • David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction and American Literature (Garden City, New York: Anchor, 1974);
  • and Robert E. Scholes and Erik Rabkin, Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Additional sources:

  • Bartter, Martha. “Nuclear Holocaust as Urban Renewal,” Science Fiction Studies 13, Part 2 (July 1986): 148-158.
  • Berger, Albert I. The Magic That Works: John W. Campbell And the American Response to Technology. San Bernardino, Calif., Borgo Press, 1993.

Lots of useful information about nuclear themes in Astounding and the definitive account of the U.S. government reaction to Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline.”

  • Canaday, John. The Nuclear Muse: Literature, Physics and the First Atomic Bombs. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.
  • Seed, David, ed. Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis, London: Macmillan, 2000.
  • Seed, David. “H. G. Wells and the Liberating Atom,” Science Fiction Studies, 30, Part 1 (March 2003): 33-48.The World Set Free placed in its historical context.

Seed argues that the overwhelming impact of atomic weapons undermined the possibility of coherent narratives about them, and includes as examples A Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker plus dealing briefly with a number of other works.