Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541
In 1950, Wilson “Bob” Tucker submitted a short story, “The Very Old Badger Game,” to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Editor Anthony Boucher rejected it because the story seemed more like the culmination of a novel than a self-contained tale. Accordingly, Tucker expanded it into The Long...
(The entire section contains 541 words.)
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- Critical Essays
In 1950, Wilson “Bob” Tucker submitted a short story, “The Very Old Badger Game,” to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Editor Anthony Boucher rejected it because the story seemed more like the culmination of a novel than a self-contained tale. Accordingly, Tucker expanded it into The Long Loud Silence. It is his most unrelentingly grim work.
Because it was written in the years immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Long Loud Silence is one of the first science-fiction books to envision destruction of the planet brought about by human means. Earlier classics in the post-holocaust genre, from Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) to Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie’s When Worlds Collide (1933), had envisioned natural causes, such as plague, flood, and earthquake. Tucker’s story, moreover, is distinguished by its coldly objective view of nuclear holocaust. Through its dispassionate tone, tersely efficient prose, and careful buildup of details, readers share with Corporal Gary the dawning horror at the situation. Readers never learn more than a few details concerning the bombing attack itself and do not discover who launched it. Tucker’s chief concern is with the depiction of the struggle for survival among the victims of war.
Unusual in stories of this kind are the antiheroic attitudes and actions of the protagonist, the tough, ruthlessly opportunistic Corporal Gary. He has no time for sentiment or self-pity. He demonstrates by his actions that in this kill-or-be-killed world, friendships and relationships can never mean anything beyond their immediate practical advantages. Only once does he admit to himself the utter hopelessness of his situation and the associated loneliness and alienation. In a poignantly affecting scene late in the book, he spends the night anxiously listening to a radio for news from beyond the border, longing for a life of safety and normalcy now denied him.
By the time Gary reaches the other side, blind hate tempts him to turn his own plague-ridden body into a deadly weapon. In the novel’s bleakest moment, he reflects that through casual contact he can spread plague and death among the inhabitants of the safe zones. The struggle for survival is transformed into its dark mirror image, the urge to destroy. This is a pivotal moment, showing a test of Gary’s last remaining vestiges of humanity. He decides to return to the terrible world from which he had come, to its “long, loud silence” of waste and devastation.
So free is the novel of the usual mechanistic trappings and details of much post-holocaust science fiction that it assumes the quality of an allegory. The portrait of a post-holocaust America divided by the Mississippi River reflects in a more general sense the conflicting social and moral forces of a post-World War II America mired in the schisms of Cold War paranoia and social upheaval.
The nihilistic tone and theme were even more pessimistic in the novel’s original ending, which revealed that Gary was forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. At his editor’s insistence, Tucker changed and softened the ending. Although the book was slightly revised and updated in 1969, with references to Gary’s Vietnam combat background inserted, the altered ending was retained. Nickelodeon No. 1 (1975) contains a reprinting of the original ending.