Day of the Giants

by Lester del Rey
originally published in the December 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures magazine as 
When the World Tottered, and reprinted  in hardcover by Avalon Books / Thomas Bouregy and Company in February 1959. Reviewed from the Airmont Publishing Company Inc. paperback, circa March 1964. 

It’s always a little dangerous to go about buying books based strictly upon the merits of their covers, but what self-respecting pulp fiction fan could possibly pass up this, with its promises of amorphous gargantuan city-stompers, fleets of flying saucers, and silhouetted acts of chivalry? I certainly couldn’t, even with my backbrain veritably screaming that it couldn’t all be true. It wasn’t, of course, though thankfully that isn’t enough keep Lester del Rey’s Day of the Giants from delivering a fine afternoon-worth of escapism.

Albeit labelled “A Science-Fiction Classic” this is more a fantasy with sci-fi trappings than any kind of pure example of the genre, and the front blurb promising a “Final battle between the Norse gods and the Giants!” is infinitely more accurate than the cover art.

The tale begins with a world in turmoil, in which the sudden ushering in of a new ice age sees cities descending into anarchy and citizens battling one another for the remaining spoils. Superstitions run wild, and reports of angel sightings rule the news. In the midst of the inexplicable cataclysm and mystical weirdness Midwesterner Leif Svensen makes a bid for survival on his rural farm, even as his once-neighbors coalesce into a lynch mob hell-bent on killing his faithful pooch Rex, unjustly pinned for a spate of local wolf attacks, and possibly him as well. Complicating matters are Leif’s thrill-seeking war hero twin brother Lee, who claims to have once seen an angel himself, and the arrival of a grisled stranger of questionable origin.

Introduction are slight here, but no matter. As soon as readers are given a taste for the characters del Rey launches headlong into the action, pitting the four (dog included) in a losing battle against a malignant local horde that leaves countless nameless citizenry dead and both Leif and Lee gravely wounded. Fortunately for them divine providence is right around the corner. As the twins lay dying several Valkeries (the angels spotted earlier) descend from the sky on horesback to whisk them away from the mortal world of Midgard and across the rainbow Bifrost to Asgard – the world of the gods. There the brothers’ find their life renewed, though not without purpose. Loki (the grisled man, now revealed to be a god himself) leads the pair to a council with Odin, at which their destinies are secured. The catastrophe threatening Earth is no less than the foretold Fimbulwinter, precursor to Ragnarok, and Odin has called Leif and Lee to fight alongside him in Asgard’s final battle against the fearsome giants of Jotenheim!

Though low on artistic pretensions (del Rey was, after all, an author reported to once have said “Get out of my ghetto” in reaction to academic ingress into his beloved genre) Day of the Giants is sky-high on the escapism meter, and if nothing else offers one of the best wish-fulfillment scenarios I’ve heard to date. Though presenting with no especially heroic ambitions at the outset, humble Leif soon finds himself not only fighting for the future of the Universe (a fight he takes to zealously, concocting such modern arms as grenades, exploding arrows, bazookas and atomic bombs (!) for the gods’ fighting forces), but weeding out a plot of godly usurpation and courting the affections of the beautiful goddess Fulla as well. Even his skills as a farmer are put to grand use in Asgard, where he uses his know-how to revive the ailing tree that provides the gods their golden apples of power and immortality. Odin is so pleased with his progress that he makes the mortal a god (!!), changing his name from Svensen to Odinsson and allowing him to feast upon the golden apples, that he might cultivate his godly powers! Who could ask for more?

Being mercifully short, Day of the Giants maintains a high level of action while outright ignoring anything inessential to its single narrative thread. The downside to this is the underdevelopment of some aspects of the story, most notably that of the treacherous plot to overthrow Odin. That said, it’s difficult for me to fault del Rey for neglecting that sort of thing when he otherwise loads the tale with such terrific action setpieces as the recovery of the sword of Freyr from Jotunheim, Leif riding to battle on a bladed chariot lead by two massive armored goats, and Fulla using the flying horse Hoof-Tosser (Hófvarpnir, the closest we get to the flying saucers on the cover) to bomb the encroaching giant horde with atomic grenades. Those hoping for deep characterization and substantive discourse will be out of luck with Day of the Giants, but if it’s pure ridiculous mythology-fueled heroics you’re in the mind for then del Rey definitely has you covered.

And I think that’s as far as I’ll allow this review to go, lest I betray the good-fun intention of the thing and begin to take it too seriously – it just wouldn’t do to have del Rey rolling in his grave after he’s entertained me so greatly. Day of the Giants may be the literary equivalent of the cool, saccharine stuffs that see us through the haze of Summer (it’s 128 pages of shave ice, sundae, and root beer float with a heaping helping of Mjölnir on top), but as I see it that’s no insult. This makes for perfectly outlandish company on a toasty late-June afternoon, and comes well recommended.

Lester del Rey’s Day of the Giants is available in multiple editions, though the cheapest and most readily accessible may be the 1964 paperback from which I read.

King Kong

written by Delos W. Lovelace
conceived by Edgar Wallace and Marian C. Cooper
originally published in December 1932
reviewed copy published by Tempo Books,
a subsidiary of Grosset and Dunlap, in 1976
with illustrations by
Richard Powers
the novelization of King Kong is available in innumerable editions through Amazon and other booksellers.


King Kong is here reviewed as part of MOSS’ May-long Hairy Beasts celebration. Be sure to check out our contribution from earlier in the month – the El Santo saga Santo vs. Las Lobas courtesy of Denis’ weekly The Horror!? column.


Something of an anomaly from a time in which the movie tie-in wasn’t nearly so ubiquitous a phenomena (a difficult past to imagine now that even hollow Hollywood extravaganzas like Battleship are granted novelizations), Delos W. Lovelace’s brisk prose adaptation of the quintessential monster fantasy is, if nothing else, proof positive of the great lengths to which producers Cooper, Schoedsack and Selznick went to familiarize the public with their epic Depression-era production. Lovelace’s King Kong, originally published in late 1932 (well in advance of the film’s March ’33 premiere), wasn’t the great ape’s only contemporary foray into print media either, but while the abbreviated two-part adaptation serialized by Mystery Magazine in February-March of 1933 is now all but forgotten Lovelace’s Kong lives on, having been reprinted time and again, typically in timely association with the latest big screen Kong adventure. Case in point is the copy reviewed here, a mass-market paperback scale-down of the hardcover The Illustrated King Kong from Grosset and Dunlap, originally published to coincide with mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis’ unsatisfying 1976 iteration.

While I picked up my copy of the Lovelace Kong longer ago than I can remember, to the best of my knowledge this marks the first time I’ve actually read the thing. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted, but having never been without a copy of the film on video (be it VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, or Blu-ray) that temptation was always tempered by the fact that it was just darned easier to watch Kong than read him, even with the big-print of the paperback scarcely filling two hundred pages. And then there was the persistent question – just how much can a Kong book possibly have to offer when the film is so indelible, so familiar?

And indeed, the narrative of Lovelace’s Kong is as familiar as one might expect, deviating little from the screenplay that serves as its foundation. The tale begins with adventurer and filmmaker Carl Denham stalking about downtown Manhattan on a desperate hunt for a pretty (and unrepresented) face for his latest production, a mysterious bit of documentary-fiction whose South Seas subject Denham keeps a closely guarded secret. He finds that face in the beautiful Ann Darrow, a down-on-her-luck performer he rescues from hunger (and certain arrest) after he sees her snatching an apple from a street vendor’s stand. After feeding her, clothing her, and assuring her of his honest intentions (“No funny business!”), Denham whisks Ann off to the tramp freighter Wanderer and sets off, with dependable Captain Englehorn, handsome first mate Jack Driscoll, and three times the ship’s usual crew, for an uncharted speck of land far west of Sumatra…

With rare exception Lovelace’s Kong emulates its cinematic equivalent to a prosaic T in so far as its human drama is concerned. Sure, Ann and Jack’s “I guess I love you” romance is moved ahead in the schedule (and up from the deck to the crow’s nest for good measure) and ethnic stereotype Charlie (the Wanderer‘s Chinese cook in the film) is now a more politically correct old codger named Lumpy*, but substantive differences are few and far between. Ann Darrow makes screaming screen tests while Denham rattles on about Beauties and Beasts (“I’m going right into a theme song here!”) until the Wanderer encroaches upon a mysterious fog bank and Denham’s elusive shooting location is finally revealed – Skull Mountain Island**, a rocky outcrop covered in dense tropical foliage and whose only populated area is cut off from the rest by an immense and ancient wall. The fair-haired Ann inevitably catches the eye of the Island’s native populace, who were in the midst of an ancient sacrificial rite at the time of the Wanderer‘s arrival. They eventually kidnap the unsuspecting beauty with the intention of making her the latest offering to their prehistoric god – a new bride for the mighty Kong.

It is in the story’s comparatively dull buildup to its fantastic adventure across Skull Mountain Island that Lovelace’s Kong shows its weaknesses most. Part of the trouble obviously lies in the familiarity of the drama, but the greater problem rests with Lovelace’s prose itself – this is where the briskness of the novel becomes a bit of a distraction. Technically speaking there is nothing at all wrong with Lovelace’s writing, but all the grammatical proficiency in the world can’t make up for the fact that it’s such slight, barren stuff. The film relies (and beautifully so) on the artifices of its medium, the performances, the photography, the score, the fantastical set and effects design, to build atmosphere and evoke emotion in the viewer. Lovelace finds no literary substitutes for the same, and the novel Kong, bereft of all but the sparest of descriptions and characterizations, suffers greatly for it.

That said, Lovelace’s word-pinching ways aren’t enough keep the story’s most attractive element – its lengthy diversion into the prehistoric jungles of Skull Mountain Island – from being anything less than enjoyable. Indeed, this is where those already familiar with the film (are any of you not?) will find the most to love.

As with the earlier drama, the majority of the Wanderer crew’s death-defying trek through the hostile territory beyond the wall is by the book (or film, as it were), with the sailors menaced not just by the furious Kong, but by the uncharacteristically aggressive advances of two of the Island’s herbivores – a Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus respectively. The major difference arrives at the end of the Brontosaurus attack, after one unfortunate straggler is chased up a tree by the brute, at which point the crew reaches the edges of a tar pit and catches sight of a trio of Triceratops, themselves in pursuit of Kong. The great ape holds his own, bashing in one of the beasts’ heads with a massive slab of slate, but the Wanderer‘s intrepid adventurers don’t fare so well when the remaining pair turn their frustrations towards more defenseless prey. Only a single sailor falls victim to the expected violence – being crushed beneath one of the monsters and eventually gored. The rest are chased towards an enormous ravine-spanning log, and lost cinema history.

Produced, but cut from the film prior to release for whatever reason, the long lost Spider Pit Sequence has become the Holy Grail for fans of monster cinema – and it’s alive and well, if a bit dulled by the paucity of verbiage, in Lovelace’s Kong. With a charging Triceratops at one end of the log and the enraged Kong at the other, the crew of the Wanderer find themselves with no escape but into the dark recesses of a primordial hell below:

“Two of the men lost their holds. One grasped madly at the face of a prone comrade and left bloody finger marks as he went whirling down into the decaying silt at the bottom. He had no more than struck when the lizard flashed upon him. [...] The second man did not die in the fall. He was not even unconscious. He landed feet first, sinking immediately to his waistline in the mud, and screamed horribly as not one but half a dozen of the great spiders swarmed over him.”

The horror of the spiders over and done with, Lovelace’s Kong returns once more to the familiar. Driscoll and Denham survive the onslaught, though on opposite sides of the ravine. While Denham heads back to the wall for help from the Wanderer‘s surviving crew Driscoll silently stalks Kong, witnessing his battles against various Jurassic-age monstrosities on the way to his lair high on Skull Mountain. Aside from a particularly romantic retelling of Driscoll and Ann’s harrowing escape from Kong’s clutches (arguably the most successful part of Lovelace’s novelization, and in welcome possession of the sort of emotional hooks that are in such scant supply elsewhere) the rest of the novel Kong plays in the predicted fashion, albeit less the tragic undertones that make the film’s final moments so unforgettable.

If it sounds as though I’m being too harsh towards Lovelace, I really don’t intend to be. I have no qualms with his style of writing in and of itself, and there are plenty of bloated modern efforts that would do well to take his frugal sense to heart. It just never works well enough with the material in question to make it anything but ordinary, and as such Lovelace’s Kong never excels beyond the low expectations these film-to-book adaptations typically command. Ultimately this is far more interesting as an artifact of early tie-in marketing than as literature, and unless you’re one of those obsessed with all things Kong (I’ll admit I’m guilty, at least so far as the ’33 film is concerned) there’s very little to recommend here.

* Peter Jackson’s 2005 Kong wisely took this change to heart, before unwisely offing the character mid-way through.
** Just ‘Skull Island’ in the film, I know. Lovelace, and perhaps the script from which he worked, preferred this less concise delineation.

A Scent of New-Mown Hay

I had never heard of John Blackburn until a very few days ago. Given his status as a prolific English genre author who emerged just on the heels of the two better-known Johns – Wyndham and Christopher – I couldn’t begin to think of why I’d never encountered any of his work in the past, aside from the bothersome inconvenience that comes with so much of it being out of print. Originally published in 1958 and intermittently re-printed from there, Blackburn’s freshman work A Scent of New-Mown Hay is a science fiction thriller with overtones of apocalyptic horror and in principle just the sort of book I should love. And though I devoured it in scarcely an afternoon, I found the expected love rather difficult to come by.

The basics of the premise are promising enough. Word emerges from the Soviet Union that the Russians have cordoned off a vast swath of their northern territory, hastily evacuating the sparse population and moving huge numbers of troops into defensive positions around it. Suspicions swirl in official circles as to what the Soviets are up to, and fears steadily mount that they’re using the forbidden area as a testing ground for some new space-age super weapon. But when an English cargo vessel is accidentally sunk by Soviet warships the men behind the iron curtain come clean to avoid an international incident. Rather than preparing for a global conquest the Soviet Union is actually under attack, from a confounding contagion that threatens to decimate the total female population of Earth. Their restricted zone expanding with each passing moment the Soviets admit that they are powerless to stop the plague, and look to the outside world for assistance.

Enter talented biologist Tony Heath, whose former ties to one of the government’s scientific think-tanks give him an in at the British Foreign Office. Put to work investigating the contagion, Tony soon discovers that the cause is not a disease, but a bizarre fungal mutation that takes over the biological functions of its female hosts and transforms them into inhuman spore-spouting monsters. With nothing like it to be found in evolutionary history Tony begins to wonder whether the mutation may have a more human origin…

There’s the potential for a great deal of existential dread in Blackburn’s A Scent of New-Mown Hay, and the civilization-crushing ramifications of its woman-hating fungal menace are indeed terrifying to contemplate. It’s all the more unfortunate, then, that Blackburn squanders that potential so completely, ignoring the larger potentialities of his concoction in favor of a decidedly small-scale hunt-for-the-bastards-responsible that plays like a poor precursor to Alistair MacLean’s The Satan Bug, a tale of super-germ thievery published four years later. In a series of contrived yet all too predictable developments Tony and his friends in the Foreign Office discover that the fungal aberration is actually the end result of an insidious Nazi plot (when aren’t they insidious?) set in motion by a goose-stepping savant near the end of the War. With said savant still at large, presumably with a cure to the problem in hand, the narrative quickly becomes encumbered with the frequently dim-witted quest to find them.

With the shift in focus towards finding the folks responsible any and all of A Scent of New-Mown Hay‘s apocalyptic potential is effectively dashed, and the horror of the situation greatly diminished. Blackburn’s specifics with regard to the subject do nothing to help matters. So long as the danger of the mutated spores is left relatively ambiguous it can work quite well, appearing a blight upon the fairer sex with the power to wipe out mankind in a single generation, but once the details of its effects are revealed it becomes little more than a catalyst for stock ’50s monsters, and silly ones at that. Blackburn avoids being too descriptive in terms of his creatures, but what we do get is pretty bland, indicating puffy amorphous things that smell of – well, you’ve no doubt already guessed. For being advertised as “a novel of action, horror and emotion” there’s precious little of the former and latter and a sad lack of the middle. Once Blackburn reveals what’s going on in the frozen Soviet north he mostly lets his fungus be, allowing only one infection and exactly one victim outside the iron curtain.

All of these things I could likely forgive in so short a read as this were the writing not so bad on its own terms. The following brief excerpt is indicative of the clunky, awkward qualities that mar Blackburn’s work here:

She didn’t just die. There was no time for dying. Her end had nothing to do with the conventional idea of death. She was just there one moment and then not there. There was simply nothing of her there. Nothing left of her. Nothing that could even be called a part of her there. There was just stuff on the floor and the walls, and that was all there was.

I was a bit shocked, to be quite honest. This is the sort of asinine stuff I expect from low-rung potboilers like The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles or The Second Atlantis, but from a novel of some genuine reputation (Hammer Films evidently once considered a film adaptation) I was expecting more. All that said I didn’t hate Blackburn’s first novel, but it was definitely a disappointment. Perhaps the best things about it are the enigmatic first-edition cover design from Frank Pagnato and the title, splayed as boldly as possible across the front. All the more’s the pity, then, that what’s beneath couldn’t have been more satisfying.

A Scent of New-Mown Hay is at present out of print, but used copies remain readily available.

Shingeki no Kyojin – Attack on Titan


publisher:
Kodansha,
Shonen Magazine Comics
year: 2009 – 2011 (continuing)
author: Hajime Isayama
Order this book from Amazon.co.jp

From the city stomping of Godzilla and friends to the flatly apocalyptic scenarios of The Last War, Vampire Gokemidoro and Virus, and beyond, the Japanese appetite for fictitious destruction on a near cosmic scale is insatiable.  It’s a fact that’s unsurprising given that disasters of untold magnitude (from the aftermath of WWII to the omnipresent threat of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis) are as much a part of the country’s national identity as cherry blossoms and kimonos.  I suppose that it’s likewise unsurprising to find, in the shadow of nuclear crisis and one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history, that Hajime Isayama’s bleak manga debut Shingeki no Kyojin (literally Advance of the Giants, and subtitled Attack on Titan) has become a smash success.

I have to admit that, while I’ve certainly been aware of the medium, I’d never actually read a manga, nor had I wanted to, until word of Isayama’s bestseller came my way, and the reasons for my interest are as transparent as can be.  Shingeki no Kyojin, which concerns the last remnants of humanity and their fight for survival against an army of man-eating giants, just sounded neat, and the series’ status as a bestseller (its four volumes have sold more than 4.5 million copies to date) certainly helped its case.  I never imagined that the story, or the format in which it was presented, could ever be so engrossing, but so it was that I blazed through the first two volumes in a single pulse-pounding evening.  Color me hooked.

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The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles

company: Ace Books, Inc.
number: D-530
year: 1961
length: 128 p.
writer: Robert Moore Williams
cover art: Uncredited
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After last week’s venture with Roger Moore Williams’ science fiction disasterpiece The Second Atlantis, as fine an example of lazy pay-the-bills fiction as can be had, I’m not ashamed to say that I was craving more and, being the type who picks up well-worn genre offerings by virtue of their titles alone, I found myself lucky enough to already have another of the author’s works sitting as yet unread on my overstuffed bookshelf.  Contrary to recent experience and much to my surprise Williams’ 1961 novella The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles proved to be a competent piece of work, offering up more than enough thrills and chills to keep the reader invested for the swift 128 page haul.

BROOOOMMMMM!  BOOOOONG!  BROOOOOMMMM!  (p. 7)

Starting off with a literal bang, The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles begins with salesman and ex-marine Tom Watkins rushing to a Civil Defense shelter just in time to avoid the unseemly effects of the event foretold in the title – a multiple hydrogen-bombing of the Los Angeles basin.  In the shelter he joins forces with a movie star, a doctor’s secretary and an F.B.I. agent, among others.  Questions quickly arise as to just who bombed the city . . . the Russians? . . . the Chinese?  The revelations of agent Kissel, previously engaged in a mass operation to locate an undisclosed menace to the nation’s security, soon shift the blame to none other than the American government, an accusation that is only bolstered when Tom and the other survivors are stopped in their attempted flight by soldiers ordered to shoot to kill.

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The Second Atlantis


company:
Ace Books, Inc.
number: F-335
year: 1965
length: 123 p.
writer: Robert Moore Williams
cover art: Gray Morrow
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It shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with my taste in film to learn that I have something of a soft spot for the garbage literature peddled by publishers like Monarch and Ace Books in the early half of the ’60s, particularly the science fiction potboilers that earned them so much of their keep.  With its stilted prose, paper-thin plot and utter lack of literary aspiration, Robert Moore Williams’ (The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles) The Second Atlantis comfortably dwells in bona fide guilty pleasure territory, fighting the good fight for cultural degradation and brain damage right with the best (worst?) of them.

Offering up very, very little in the way of plot (basically it’s ‘a bad thing happens and people walk away from it’ for 120 pages), The Second Atlantis presents readers with a singular horrific event and then bombards them with unnecessary characters until the feeble, New Age-y conclusion is within sight.  At least the event in this case is a good one, a massive chart-topping earthquake that just keeps rolling, turning the greater Los Angeles area into a crumbling, fiery ruin before unceremoniously burying it under the Pacific.  The improbable catastrophe is of Emmerich-ian magnitude, baring no small resemblance to that director’s destruction of L.A. in the recent mega-budget mega-disaster flick 2012.  It’s not particularly well conveyed, with Williams’ awkward nested metaphors proving more distracting than illustrative (see the example below), but it offers up enough in the way of trashy thrills to keep the page turning.

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End of the World

company: Ace Books, Inc.
year: 1962
pages: 128
author: Dean Owen
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From the back cover:

When the H-bombs struck America, they wiped out not only the cities but law and order and inhibitions.  The few who survived were faced with a fierce fight for SURVIVAL.

For Harry Baldwin, survival meant responsibility he had never known.

For his wife Ann, it meant a new kind of fear.

For his son Rick, it meant strange prey for his new rifle.

For his daughter Karen, it meant shock, terror – and rape.

And for too many others, survival meant the beginning of an open season on plunder, murder, and assault – as civilization had ceased to exist!

Despite the disparity in title, END OF THE WORLD is a novelization of the American International Pictures production of Ray Milland’s PANIC IN YEAR ZERO from the same year, barely adapted by Dean Owen from the screenplay by John Morton and Jay Simms.  The irony of the situation is that the story for PANIC IN YEAR ZERO was culled lock, stock, and barrel from the pages of John Christopher’s ecological disaster novel NO BLADE OF GRASS and Ward Moore’s tales of atomic apocalypse, LOT and LOT’S DAUGHTER, making END OF THE WORLD doubly redundant as literature.

The novelization follows the Morton and Simms screenplay to a T, relating PANIC’s tale of the Baldwin family roughing it in the aftermath of the bombing of Los Angeles with a minimum of embellishment.  The only thing I found to be missing was a radio announcment about the calendar being turned back to year zero, a minor point that may not have made it into the screenplay until after Owen had finished his adaptation.  The substantive content of the book only runs 121 pages and can be read in about as much time as it takes to watch the film.

Owen does his best to make sense of the rapidly shifting morals of lead Harry Baldwin [played by director Milland in the film - Milland's name appears larger than both the title and the author on the cover of the book], and allows for numerous moments of introspection.  That’s not to say that his frequent digressions into outright lawlessness gel any better with his condemnation of the same here.  Harry wastes no time in announcing that civilization has been lost and the rule of law ursurped after a nuclear attack on Los Angeles, and when a radio announcer reports that the penalty for looting is death he glibly responds, “That’ll give ‘em something to think about,” apparently having forgotten that he had himself robbed both a gas station and hardware store earlier.

001_S

Still, the story benefits from the addition of some background for its lead, making Harry a World War II veteran [having served on both the Italian and African fronts] and a champion of racial equality [it is noted that the only time he'd previously fought a man hand-to-hand was to defend the honor a fellow soldier, a black man, from a racist in his unit].  Owen goes out his way to ensure that we know that Harry is at least troubled by the things he finds himself doing, particularly after he executes a couple of “punks” for assaulting his daughter.  It’s unfortunate that none of the other characters are granted similar treatment.

END OF THE WORLD obviously panders to a male audience, depicting its female characters’ frequent mood swings as un-understandable nonsense that grates at Harry’s nerves more than the prospect of world-wide thermonuclear destruction.  Worse are Owen’s descriptions of the same.  The wife of the owner of the robbed hardware store is described thusly – “She was a redhead, with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.  In plaid shirt and jeans she looked more like a high school senior than Ed’s thirty-five-year-old wife.” Others receive the same treatment.  More disturbing is the seeming lack of empathy for the two rape victims of the story.  Harry’s son Rick is unable to comprehend why orphaned farm girl Marilyn, freshly rescued from a gang who had spent the past several nights molesting her, doesn’t approve of his sexual advances.  When he talks to his dad about his troubles Harry responds, “It’ll take a long time for her to forget what happened.  She’ll come around.”

One of the sillier aspects of the story is the nature of its threats.  The bombs go off early and are said to be of low radioactive content, making them far less troublesome than the other two bogeymen of the book – bad drivers and drug addicts.  It’s on this first point that Owen elaborates most extensively, and Harry Baldwin is involved in dozens of near-catastrophic traffic incidents before his tale is told.  But its the rampaging narcos [all three of them] that cause the most distraction for the family, terrorizing them on the highway early on and raping daughter Karen later on.

Owen’s writing style is as obvious and uninspired as is to be expected given the nature of the book – I can’t imagine him taking it any more seriously than was necessary to receive his paycheck.  Typical for this style of writing, the women are attractive [an adjective Owen uses repetitively], the men strong and handsome, and the baddies irredeemable no-good thugs.  When introducing Carl, leader of the gang of punks that rapes Karen and Marilyn, Owen notes that “Harry could see the pinpoint pupils of his yellow-brown eyes.  This Carl was under the influence of narcotics.” Carl’s henchmen are almost comically drawn – what self-respecting early 60′s nuclear family wouldn’t feel threatened by a pair of teens with bleached hair, a penchant for rock-and-roll and faces that suggested I.Q.s “at the lower levels”?

It seems important to note that I did enjoy END OF THE WORLD, for all of its shortcomings, and it’s certainly no worse than the problematic film it was written to promote.  That said, it is what it is, and doesn’t offer up anything of much interest beyond what you’ll find in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO.  If you can find a copy cheaply enough [mine was around $4, more than I'd like to have paid but not enough that I regret it] then it may be worth picking up, and keeping expectations low won’t hurt.