To Outlive Eternity, part 2
This is a good novella, but basically a war story which pales somewhat after the powerful “To Outlive Eternity.” It won a Hugo Award as Best Short Fiction 40+ years ago, beating out Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose For Ecclesiastes,” which I consider one of the finest short stories every written. No war story, no matter how well-written, can possibly be better than that story.
I reviewed the novella “The Big Rain” previously here on 12/22/07, but briefly it is an adventure about the colonization of Venus. Neither the characters nor the milieu are as well-developed as in “To Outlive Eternity” or the book’s concluding novella “After Doomsday,” with the story’s emphasis on the plot rather than on the world and its people, but overall it was interesting reading.
The book’s concluding story “After Doomsday” is second only to “To Outlive Eternity” in quality, with the novella’s strength being its stunning variety of alien races and their environments. The story is set in a galaxy teeming with life forms, one of whom, the Monwaingi, has previously contacted Earth and begun providing scientific and commercial support to it. Several Earth groups have built spaceships which have begun exploring and doing commerce with other races. All of this is background to the return to Earth of one such ship which finds that massive explosions have destroyed all signs of human civilization on the planet and an array of assault weapons attempt to destroy any remaining Earth ships which return to the planet.
The main storyline is the attempts by two such Earth ships, one crewed by American males, the other by European females, to locate the perpetrators of Earth’s destruction, while also finding other survivors in an attempt to restart human civilization. There are three main alien races in the local galactic spiral, and the ships visit all of them, giving Anderson a chance to do his usual fine job of alien civilization-building. All of this is embedded in the mystery of which race destroyed Earth and which races can actually be considered allies of the few remaining humans.
One of the main characters Donnan becomes the de facto leader of the male humans after the ship’s captain first cracks under the emotional trauma of the destruction of all human life on Earth, then eventually dies. He serves much the same role as Reymond, the ship’s constable in charge of maintaining order in “To Outlive Eternity,” but there is much less emphasis on the trauma and emotional state of the survivors in “After Doomsday” than there was in the other novella. I feel the novella should have been expanded to novel-length to explore the characters more, making them as much the story’s emphasis as the mystery itself was. Still, Anderson’s galaxy and its alien inhabitants are very intriguing, worth reading the story for them alone. And the novella’s ending, the unraveling of the mystery of who destroyed Earth, while it is fairly apparent from early in the story, still manages to be both unexpected and startling when it actually takes place, leaving “After Doomsday” with one of the most chilling final lines of an sf story I have read in a long time.
“After Doomsday” is an underrated Anderson classic. I wish he had set more stories in this particular galaxy so he could have explored it further. Overall, To Outlive Eternity is an excellent collection of long fiction which is highly recommended, especially to anybody who has not read either “To Outlive Eternity” or “After Doomsday.”