(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The End of the World News, consists of three largely independent narratives. Apart from some clever verbal and thematical parallels, the three interwoven texts do not come together before the very end of the novel.

The science-fiction story begins in Australia, where, during a Nativity play in the winter of 1999, an amateur astronomer becomes the first ordinary citizen to spot Lynx, “a bloody new star in the bloody east.” In this story, which self-consciously alludes to Rudolph Mate’s 1951 disaster film When Worlds Collide, Lynx is discovered to be a runaway planet from a different solar system about to pass by and then to pulverize Earth on its rebound in the fall (a conscious pun) of the year 2000.

Only a few leading scientists, such as the American Dr. Hubert Frame, are aware of the full extent of the coming global catastrophe. After a discussion with his colleagues and family, in March, 2000, he proposes to the president of a united North America a plan to equip a large spaceship to save fifty members of the nation’s physical and scientific elite by sending them off on a generations-long journey through outer space. Among the future astronauts are his daughter, Dr. Vanessa Brodie, and, at her insistence, her estranged husband, Dr. Valentine Brodie, the only nonelite member of the project. Valentine is arrested, however, with his new pal Robert Courtland van Caulaert Willett outside the bars of Manhattan on the night the other crew members leave for a secret rendezvous in Kansas.

There, while Lynx’s first close bypass wreaks tidal and seismic havoc on an unprotected Earth, the project gets under way. Everybody is placed under the authority of Dr. Paul Maxwell Bartlett (who wears “black surrogate leather”); his dictatorial methods lead to the death of a homesick scientist.

In New York, Valentine and Willett survive a tidal onslaught on the city and participate in the clean-up afterward. Both escape from...

(The entire section is 804 words.)