The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Mordecai Roshwald’s novel is the diary of a military officer who has been trained to launch mas-sive nuclear strikes against an enemy country. Soon after he is transferred to the self-sufficient underound city Level 7, a war breaks out. The narrator reports both the devastation of Earth’s surface and the gradual death of Level 7 itself when a faulty nuclear reactor releases radiation into the city. The end of the diary also marks the death of the last human being.

The protagonist, who is known only by his military code name of X-127, is a flawed character. Both during his training and during the actual firing of the missiles, he generally fails to display any awareness of the enormity of his actions. It is only after listening to the harrowing reports of a courageous couple who venture up to the devastated surface that X-127 fully realizes that he was one of the “executioners of the human race,” as one of his fellow officers puts it.

Most of the residents of Level 7 remain faceless entities, but several individuals influence the narrator’s moral development. His fellow push-button officer X-117 represents the conscience the narrator clearly lacks. Early on, X-117 shows signs of an inner struggle and has to be treated by P-867, a female psychologist, before he can return to his duty. A crisis comes at the moment when the officers are ordered to launch the intercontinental missiles. Although he pushes the first three buttons, X-117...

(The entire section is 504 words.)