Brian W. Aldiss
Greybeard Cover



** spoiler alert ** Very satisfying sf adventure story. Atomic testing sterilizes humans and most other mammals in the 1980's. Algernon Timberlane, Graybeard, was a child at the time and now, a man in his fifties, is among the earth's last generation. England is quasi-medieval, with remnants if 20th century culture still in use. Flashbacks recount the history of the last fifty years, the breakdown of governments, one last world war For a time Timberlane works for Childsweep, a worldwide effort to kidnap children in the least affected areas for repopulation experiments. He then becomes part of the Documentation of Contemporary History, an organization with the unfortunate acronym DOUCH, made even worse when Timerberlane, as a English operative, drives around in a truck labeled DOUCH(E). (Is this one of those Anglo/American linguistic disconnects like "fanny" or "spunk"?) But England devolves to a time of warlords, massive epidemics, petty dictators, and snake oil salesmen offering eternal life. Graybeard, his wife, and two friends make they way down the Thames, wanting one last chance to see the coast. The novel ends with a slight hint of hope, but most remarkable is Graybeard's realization that he has lead a fuller life than he could have ever expected from whatever might have been the "normal" progression of humankind into the 21st century.

Aldiss is an excellent storyteller. His descriptive passages can be either lovely or grotesque as the scene requires. And created that rarest of al things in sf novels, real characters capable of both cowardly and heroic behavior.