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On the beach: British nuclear fiction and the spaces of empire's end

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)

Publication date06/2012
Host publicationFuture wars: the anticipations and the fears
EditorsDavid Seed
Place of PublicationLiverpool
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781846317552
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This chapter will consider the particularly British responses to the threat of nuclear annihilation in the Cold War. Where British Cold War genre fiction is often investigated in terms of espionage and the double agent in a late recapitulation of the ‘Great game’ of Empire, the critical response to British science fiction and nuclear war is under-regarded. This chapter will take as its primary case-study Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), which lenses the British post-war disaster novel (Aldiss’s ‘cosy catastrophe’) through a scenario where a group of men and women temporarily survive nuclear war in Australia (the place of Britain’s own testing of atomic weapons and of its doomed participation in the Space Race). The chapter will analyse Shute’s text, and others from the 1950s and 1960s which combine the Pacific island spaces of the end of British Empire (Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ballard’s ‘The Terminal Beach’) with the threat or actuality of nuclear conflict, to investigate the ideological and imagined connection between Britain’s role in a global system of MAD and its negotiation of Empire’s end. The chapter will end with a consideration of David Graham’s Down to a Sunless Sea (1979) as a terminal reprise of the British disaster novel and its pessimistic envisioning of surviving catastrophe.