Einstein’s Monsters

In an interview, Martin Amis observed that EINSTEIN’S MONSTERS “grew out of a crude coincidence of impending fatherhood and finally reading Jonathan Schell’s book THE FATE OF THE EARTH,” an articulate disquisition on the dangers of nuclear war and the steps necessary to prevent that catastrophe. Amis addresses these issues first in an introductory essay, “Thinkability,” which echoes Schell’s warning, and then in five short stories that move from the present, with its overwhelming anxiety caused by the ever-present fear of world annihilation, to a future, less than a century away, when that overwhelming dread becomes reality.

As the stories range from present to future, they also employ different genres. “Bujak and the Strong Force” and “Insight at Flame Lake,” which open the book, purport to be realistic reporting. “The Time Disease” resembles George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD in its depiction of a dystopia not too far away. The most successful of the stories, though, are the final two, set in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. “The Little Puppy That Could” brilliantly retells the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda and actually holds out a measure of hope for the survival not only of the human race but also of those qualities--love, devotion, sacrifice--that alone make survival worthwhile. Bleaker is the final tale, “The Immortals,” told by one of the last survivors as he broods over the imminent end of mankind.

Grim and frightening as these stories are, they are powerful pleas to avoid global suicide, to “be careful,” to “try and stay a little longer,” as the narrator of “The Immortals” urges too late.