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REVIEW: This is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow

This is the Way the World Ends

REVIEW SUMMARY: An emotionally charged book with a slow, too-fantastic middle.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Six lone survivors of a Nuclear War are put on trial for their crimes against humanity.


PROS: Interesting writing style; striking scenes;

CONS: A bit slow in the middle; hard to suspend disbelief;

BOTTOM LINE: An OK post-apocalyptic “modern fantasy” book

The post-apocalyptic novel This is the Way the World Ends is a depressing, and semi-enjoyable, book.

George Paxton is a tombstone carver who wants to buy a nuclear war protection suit for his daughter. To do so, he signs a contract stating that he complies with the nuclear arms race. The inevitable happens on his way home from the contract signing and he, along with 5 others, are rescued from post-nuclear radiation by a group known as the “Unadmitted”. The survivors are brought on board a submarine en route to the South Pole to meet their fate. They learn that the Unadmitted, who bleed black blood, are really a physical manifestation of the future, unborn generations that have willed themselves into existence in order to stop humanity from destroying itself so that they might one day live (Whoops, too late!). The survivors are put on mock-trial for their crimes against humanity.

Morrow has an excellent writing style (this is the first book of his that I’ve read). It’s a quick read and the beginning of the story is captivating and suspenseful since the title foreshadows what is about to happen. The scenes of devastation portrayed in the aftermath are horrifying and emotional. Very few fiction books have elicited such a response from me. It is here that Morrow’s writing style shines. He really makes you care about what is happening. The scenes related to Paxton’s daughter are particularly poignant. There were several humorous parts as well.

Towards the middle of the story, with the explanation of who the Unadmitted really are, the story drags down a bit. For a science fiction book, that part of the story was a little too fantastical for my tastes. It was really difficult to suspend disbelief enough to keep focus on the story’s message. And, to Morrow’s credit, the “nuclear war is bad” message was kept from sounding too preachy.

Interestingly, the author doesn’t just deliver and account about how the human race can survive any obstacle, a common characteristic of post-apocalyptic novels. Instead, Morrow uses the Unadmitted to shift perspective on what might have been. Morrow mixes this with dramatic images of what was lost to give a lasting impression.

In retrospect, I might have enjoyed the story more if it were labeled modern fantasy instead of science fiction.

Overall, though, an OK book.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on REVIEW: This is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow

  1. “Nuclear war is bad”. Not if you get it from Flying Bufalo! Then its a blast! (heh)

    Oh, and thanks for ruining the surprise for us as to who the Unadmitted are…

  2. I didn’t think the identity of the Unadmitted was a spoiler. They divulge that shortly after their introduction. A spoiler would be telling you how the trial turned out.

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