"Deluge" by Sydney Fowler Wright is another book in the Early Classics of Science Fiction series, the excellent series from Wesleyan University Press. Deluge was first published in 1927, and falls into the category of Scientific Romances which experienced a revival between the two World Wars, largely due to Sydney Fowler Wright's novels (The Amphibians, which later became part of the larger work The World Below, and Deluge) as well as his short fiction.
Deluge is an early example, if not the earliest, of a disaster story in which most of the civilized world is wiped out by the land slipping beneath the waves after a series of tremors and is about the fate of civilization for those who remain through the eyes of a few key characters. To the modern reader, the science of the disaster is poor, and his description of the chaos and lawlessness of those who survive probably errs on the side of civility, but as those points are not the point of the story they are easily set aside for those who are interested in this work as part of the history of the genre.
The story is centered on three main characters: Martin, Helen, and Claire. Martin and Helen are married at the time of the disaster, but become separated in such a way as to make them think that the other has died. Claire is on her own, but is victimized by men until she uses her own athletic ability to escape by swimming until she is fortunate enough to find land. Her escape results in her being found by Martin, who has created a safe living place for himself within some caves. However, a group of people who live by taking from the weak are in the area, and ultimately they are found and Helen captured. Martin then performs a rescue and the two find themselves trapped in Martin's caves.
During this time Helen has found safety in a community of people, though their law would give her as the wife to the man who has rescued her, she has become convinced that Martin is still alive and his debt to her husband keeps him from taking her as his wife until he can prove to her that Martin is not still alive. This results in his searching the known land for Martin and ultimately rescuing Martin and Claire, though not until Martin has agreed to take Claire as his wife. Martin, because of his status prior to the disaster as a respected lawyer, is given leadership over the community that has rescued him, and they return in time to rescue the rest of the community from yet another group of men, this time a militant group lead by a self-appointed military man. This results in an end dilemma for Martin and Helen and Claire, which is only partially resolved, in a somewhat surprising fashion, as the intent was for the story to continue in sequels, of which one was published (Dawn) in 1929.
The story touches on a number of themes, including commenting on how fragile civilized society is and the differences between classes in the society of the time. Sydney Fowler Wright wrote without deciding how his stories would end, and this was a method which really works for his style of writing. The story flows easily, and one is not left with a clear cut well-defined ending and that is all to the better. The decisions he makes regarding how man carries on and forms a new society would probably not have come about if he had come up with an ending before writing the story.
Overall, the story has dated a bit, and one could certainly criticize the ending as being sexist, though I personally would not go so far. Instead, I would say it is a product of its time. The period between the World Wars was one of uncertainty, and this is reflected in the disaster theme as individuals are forced to try to survive circumstances which are completely outside their control. The open-ended nature of the ending, though meant to be filled with sequels (one was published), also suits this aspect of the time.
As with most of the Early Classics of Science Fiction series, this edition benefits greatly from the supporting material. Brian Stableford provides an outstanding introduction which covers Sydney Fowler Wright's life and writings and puts it all in context with regards to the period in which he lived. There are also very good notes for those who want more information. This is another very strong entry in the series.