Readers should note that the British version of Greybeard restores material cut from the U.S. version. Greybeard is unusual among the many novels about the aftermath of a global holocaust because its tone is melancholy rather than horrific. People discover the scope and scale of the disaster very slowly. Most continue to strive to create comfortable day-to-day lives, more disturbed by the death of their own dreams than by the end of their species.
Civilization devolves stage by stage toward a pastoral existence as humanity begins to die out. The natural world flourishes. When people see half-and near-human beasts in the fields and forests, they are more than willing to believe. As rationality dies, the myths of a golden age are reborn; humanity hopes, however foolishly, for another chance.
Even Greybeard, always striving to be in command of himself and those around him, is joyful when he discovers that his rejection of hope as unreasonable is wrong and that humanity does have a future. The story ends on a note of optimism, although it is not clear whether a new age is beginning or an old one is being renewed.
In what is possibly his finest science-fiction novel, Brian Aldiss tells the story in a nonlinear way. The four sections in Greybeards present are linked by their setting on the river and move forward in time. The three flashbacks journey further and further into the novels past, establishing the...
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