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This Is the Way the World Ends Paperback – April 24, 1995

3.8 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Near the end of Morrow's painful novel of nuclear holocaust six survivors representing mankind are tried for their complicity in the war. Denouncing them, an alien prosecutor says, "It did not have to be this way. Three virtues only were needed . . . . the greatest of these is moral outrage." That seems to be the key to a curiously contrived saga of nuclear nightmare. As scenes of family life are followed by explicit scenes of nuclear attack, as obscene theories of nuclear tactics are explained, the only possible reaction is moral outrage. Unfortunately, an overabundance of fantastic elementsthe prophecies of Nostradamus, giant prehistoric birds, a flying tailor shop, a mysterious alien race called the unadmittedis never quite joined into a coherent whole. In the ensuing confusion, the novel loses much of its power. Not recommended. Beth Ann Mills, New Rochelle P.L., N.Y.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Begins where Dr Strangelove ends... a gorgeously crafted and insanely funny tale about mortal and ghostly matters... deals seriously and intelligently with large issues in strangely captivating modes. --Philadelphia Inquirer
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (April 24, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156002086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156002080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,337,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on August 20, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sandwiched between vignettes of Nostradamus, "This is the Way the World Ends" is the tale of George Paxton, and the five other remaining humans on Earth. Unfortunately for George, he and the others are being tried for war crimes stemming from the nuclear destruction of the planet by the "unadmitted"; basically unborn generations that have willed themselves into existence for a brief time in order to inquire why their potential will never be realized. Compounding George's dilemma is the fact that unlike his fellow defendants, who are all wizards of nuclear strategy, George is just a simple everyman (with the ironic profession of tomb stone carver) whose only "guilt" was in not carefully reading a sales contract for a free nuclear survival suit for his daughter.
As one can tell from this brief synopsis of the plot, this is not your ordinary work of post-apocalyptic fiction. Or rather, it covers the same ground, but from a completely different angle. The Nostradamus bookends offer an air of inevitability to the narrative, and introduce a major plot device, and Morrow's description of a nuclear war's aftermath is highly engaging. Where this novel really shines, however, is in the trial.
One might expect Morrow to be a staunch proponent of disarmament given the theme of his book, but that assumption is not entirely true. Through the mechanism of the trial, he rails against both the naiveté of the doves, and the hawks' disconnect from reality. As another reviewer so eloquently stated, he demolishes the generally accepted duality of nuclear politics, and demands the reader consider a third path of their own making. That's where George comes in; his real guilt is not in his action, but in his inaction.
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Format: Paperback
"This is the Way the World Ends" is one of James Morrow's early works, and when comparing it (somewhat unfairly) with more recent novels, like the Towing Jehovah trilogy, it's easy to see his progression as a writer, both in terms of ideas and style. While remaining firmly in the `snooty intellectual' camp Morrow himself satirizes in his later books, "TITWTWE" is still a good read, and is a unique addition to the field of post-apocalyptic fiction.
Sandwiched between bookends of Nostradamus, the plot revolves around main character George Paxton, an everyman who carves tombstones for a living and worries about his family. When his neighbor invents something called a "scopas suit" that promises to be the device to change the nuclear balance of power, by allowing its wearer to survive and thrive after a nuclear exchange, George finds he cannot afford one - but makes a deal with a strange shopkeeper to get one on the cheap. On his way home, World War III erupts and George is caught almost at Ground Zero as he watches his family die from intense radiation poisoning.
That is just the setup for the meat of the book. George is rescued by a submarine and taken to Antarctica with five other survivors, to be put on trial for ending the human race. The judge, jury, and executioners? A race called "unadmitted humans," who came to be in the time-altering effects of the War. They bleed black blood and only live for a short time, but they nurse George to health so he can stand trial. Those familiar with "Blameless in Abaddon" will recognize the trial as a means for Morrow to tell his story, and the reader is intended to sympathize with those who created the nuclear conflict through lies like "mutual assured destruction," "deterrence," and so forth.
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Format: Paperback
As he does in his other books, Morrow here uses fantastical elements for maximum satirical effect. The question is whether these elements detract from the story's satirical force, which is what Beth Ann Mills' Library Journal review above suggests. This isn't just a question of the reader's ability to suspend disbelief, since the author obviously has some responsibility to make the story plausible. Mills, though, doesn't appreciate that far from conflicting with the book's satirical power, Morrow's satire depends on the novel's fantastic parts.

Morrow typically begins with a fantastic premise that provides the perfect setting in which to skewer his targets. Take his book, Towing Jehovah. God's gigantic body drops dead from the sky. God is clearly now dead, but this means he was once alive. This is a rich starting point for showing that both atheists and theists (but especially theists) are ridiculously wrong. In the case of his satire on nuclear war, TITWTWE, Morrow mixes realism with fantasy. The nuclear war itself is described in horrifying detail. The arguments for and against nuclear deterrence are examined in a concrete way. Contrary to Mills, the giant prehistoric bird is explained in ordinary biological terms and is therefore, strictly speaking, science fictional not fantastic. The flying tailor shop is also science fictional.

This isn't to say that a prehistoric bird and a flying tailor shop aren't fantastic in a less technical sense. Even if we put to one side its genuine fantastic themes, TITWTWE still wouldn't be a straightforward novel. This is to that even speculative science fictional ideas are fantastic in the sense that they're highly unusual. Perhaps the overall strangeness of Morrow's novel detracts from the serious points he may want to make.
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