The Hopkins Manuscript (1939), R C Sherriff, 269 pp.
Sounds like a happy read, right?
Well, there are funny moments. Edgar Hopkins, the narrator, is a persnickety upper-middle-class English countryman who breeds chickens for show (high ha-ha factor right there). Independently wealthy, he lives alone, blind to his snobbish crankiness. Even after the Cataclysm, as society is crumbling around him and he finds his lonely life changed (for the better) by joining forces with a brother and sister in their late teens/early twenties — even then he can’t let go of his sense of propriety. At a village dinner some months after the moon has killed more people than the Black Death did five centuries earlier, he admires the fact that class distinctions have disappeared, and then two lines later happily reports that he spoke to the washerwoman sitting next to him “as if she were my equal”.
Unless the moon decides to crash into the Atlantic Ocean.
In this alternate universe, the moon is hollow, so it collapses into the sea without completely demolishing the world. Most of the population of Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East survive with their societal structures intact. Uh-oh for the colonialists! War breaks out, and things look bad for everyone in the northern hemisphere.
My edition includes an afterword by George Gamow analyzing Sherriff’s science. It’s a relief to learn that, if the moon should crash into the earth, we wouldn’t have to worry about subsequent wars. As Gamow so encouragingly put it, “it is not likely that anyone at all could survive this descent upon the earth.”
Good to know. I’ll stop worrying.