on 12 June 2011
As a fan of British post-apocalyptic novels I've never seen M. John Harrison's 'The Committed Men' mentioned in lists of this genre. Perhaps it's because it's rarely been reissued since the early 1970's? This is a shame as in my view it's a worthy addition to any list of post-apocalyptic novels.
The novel is set in a Britain where some unexplained nuclear catastrophe has unleashed harmful levels of radioactivity around the globe resulting in the world-wide collapse of civilisation. In Britain itself a few decades after the disaster the population has been decimated by the effects of radiation, high rates of suicide, plagues and civil conflict. There is no longer any government or structured society. Only a few radiation ravaged feudal communities survive to eke out an ever diminishing existence.
The ageing, decrepit Wendover, formerly a doctor before the disaster, and his companions -the Committed Men of the title- take it upon themselves to rescue a mutant human baby (one of the emerging breed of mutant humans adjusted to cope with their radioactive enviroment) from a hostile community and take it to it's own kind hiding out in southern England.
On their journey through a post-apocalyptic England, travelling along wreckage strewn motorways and through depopulated cities they have to face the dangers presented by hostile groups of survivors. Among these groups are the tower block dwelling remnants of the old bureaucratic order, their heads encased in bizarre masks. They capture Wendover and his companions and subject them to deranged parodies of officialdom and bureaucratic procedures. The book ends on a final twist of fate concerning a sub-plot running through the novel.
The novel can be likened to a post nuclear version of the 1970's 'Survivors' TV series if it was written by Mervyn Peake. A gallery of grotesques abound in this bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic Britain.
Although the novel may be a bit too grey and bleak for some tastes, and the author does seem to have a thing about using obscure words (which can be annoying if you don't like having to resort to a dictionary whilst reading) I'd certainly recommend you track down a copy of 'The Committed Men' if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and in particular British novels of this genre. It certainly doesn't deserve to languish in the obscurity it's lain in for far too long.
on 23 January 2016
Classic early 70s dystopian sc-fi. Not unlike JG Ballard's 60s/70s work (e.g. The Drowned World, Concrete Island) which also portrays modern UK urban society engaging in a post-disaster reversion to atavistic tribal survivalist tactics. Some kind of nuclear incident (we are never given the full details) has left the populace slowly turning into mutants, with a particular tribe more able to evolve due to their genetic make-up. Our Ballardian anti-hero, Dr Wendover, travels along an abandoned motorway accompanied by a stolen mutant baby and fellow quasi-mutants Arm, Harper and Morag. The aim is to find the location of the genetically successful tribe and give them the baby, which appears to be ‘one of them’. During the journey we discover that abandoned cities are in the control of despotic and sinister mask wearing mutant bureaucrats, and that previous wars were waged between doomed republican governments and marauding groups of anarchists and situationists (surely the only sci-fi novel ever to mention situationism!). Apart from the general lunacy and prophetic musings, the best thing about the book is M John Harrison’s warped and idiosyncratic imagination; he’s not unlike JG Ballard or Mervyn Peake, in that he’s able to create a singularly deranged and sinister fictional universe.