The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A plague of stoats convinces Greybeard and his wife, Martha, to leave the isolated English village of Sparcot. They take to the river Thames with their friend Charley Samuels and two other villagers, Becky and Towin Thomas. The group takes refuge downstream. Jeff Pitt, a poacher, finds them sheltering in the house of a man who committed suicide after the death of his wife.

In his late forties, Greybeard—born Algernon Timberlane—is one of the last people born before the nuclear experiments euphemistically called the Accident disrupted the Van Allen belts and made humanity sterile. Humans and domestic animals are becoming scarce as a childless, demoralized population allows civilization to collapse. Rumors abound concerning the long-term effects of the Accident, and there are reports that elves, gnomes, and little people with the faces of badgers lurk in the expanding English woodlands.

The first of three flashbacks shows a middle-aged Timberlane’s near-fatal encounter with a local dictator. Even though both husband and wife were willing to cooperate, the strongman sent soldiers to kill them and confiscate Timberlanes recording equipment. Timberlane persuaded Captain Jeff Pitt, who was under orders to kill Timberlane, to join the couple. By forcing their van through a perimeter barricade, the three managed to escape.

Continuing down the Thames, the people from Sparcot come to bustling Swifford Fair, where charlatan Bunny Jingadangelow claims to have the secrets of...

(The entire section is 616 words.)