Our next tale of dystopian science-fiction misery is The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, who is one of the QI Elves no less. So at the very least, I think we can expect the science behind the fiction. The premise is stark in simplicity: following a celestial event millions of miles away, Earth’s rotation begins to slow down, until eventually stops. The planet still orbits the sun, but without the its own rotation, days on side of the planet are perpetual, as is the night on the other. Most of the world is either too hot or too cold to support life, and the few countries where people can still survive face starvation as crops fail, and complete breakdown of global communication as the world’s satellite array fails.
The book does a decent job of explaining how the implausible might happen, but that’s not really what it’s about. Once you’re past the background of the global catastrophe (that they did have about thirty years to prepare for), we move on to how the human race adapts when the world stops turning.
This was first published in 1974, so I’m getting to it a tad late. I wasn’t sure what to read next, so for me, that’s a good time to dip into the SF Masterworks collection.
Now if you’ve read anything about Inverted World then you’ll be expecting something exceptionally mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as that, but it certainly qualifies as mind-bending.
The story is set on a planet that might be Earth … or might not and follows the life of Helward Mann, a denizen of a city that, for the past few hundred years, has been dragged around across the continent on rails in order to stay ahead of some unknown catastrophe. Helman works his way through a youth opportunity programme that will eventually see him graduate as a member of the Guild of Surveyors which is tasked with mapping the land ahead so that the Guild of Navigators, Bridge-builders, and the Traction Guild can work together to keep the city (inconveniently called Earth) moving.
This one felt familiar: after a pandemic and a series of terrorist attacks, America goes into lockdown … permanently. A strict curfew is imposed, and the population works from home, rarely leaves town and relies on shopping and media conglomerates for supplies and entertainment.
Yeah, that does sound familiar …
The story follows the lives of two women struggling in this world of isolation: Luce, the last musician to hold a concert before the lockdown came into force, and Rosemary, a young woman who’s never left home, but has taken a job as a talent scout for one for aforementioned media conglomerates.
This is very much a character-driven piece, doing a decent job of telling the story from two viewpoints. I preferred hearing from Rosemary to be honest, as she started off as a young girl living at home without much experience of life away from her parents farm. I enjoyed watching her stumble and grow as the story went on. I mean Luce’s story was great too, but since she’d been out and around before the lockdown, she already had experience of the “before time”, so I did find her side of things slightly less compelling.
The writing style is bordering on literary I would say, with a lot of the prose taking place in the characters heads. It’s easy to read with no rough edges to get in the way of a good story. It’s also not big on suspense really. The bad thing has already happened, so all there is to do is cope with it the best you can. That’s fair enough, but if you’re the kind of reader who needs to be drawn to read on, then you might struggle. But if you’re looking for a good character drama wrapped in great writing then you should give A Song For A New Day is definitely worth a punt.