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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

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.
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Top Contributor: Doctor WhoTOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 24 February 2018
This is a post apocalyptic novel originally published in 1971. The days when books were short and self contained and not part of series or trilogies.

As such, it runs for a mere 139 pages. It has a prologue. Fourteen chapters. And an epilogue.

It's fairly grim and violent at points, so its best suited for grown up readers.

This was an early novel from a writer who was, at the time, part of what was called the New Wave movement. British science fiction writers who were trying to push the boundary of the genre and be more literary with it. JG Ballard being the best known of these in name and in style. So there are times when you might think this book is a bit 'Ballardian'. As they call his style. That's not to say it's a copy though.

The world of this novel is Britain somewhen after the collapse of civilisation as we know it. People are eking out an existence. Among them is Doctor Wendover. A man who is just surviving.

But children are still being born. Some are mutants, though. With a protective layer of skin that seems to act as a radiation shield. Wendover's life changes when he decides to save a newborn mutant. He and some others embark on a perilous journey to take the baby to the only place where it will be safe. With those of it's own kind...

What was fairly ground breaking in style for it's time could seem a little ordinary and familiar now. And perhaps as such, this ends up being a book that whilst perfectly good, is never going to get a five star rating. The prose is evocative and never too elaborate, but it does require careful attention to get the most of out it rather than skimming through the pages.

The characters are not deep, but formed well enough and all do have their moments.

And there are interesting encounters throughout the journey.

It is also well structured because instead of just being a journey with things happening on the way, the last third of the book does involve what happens when they reach their intended destination, so the end to the whole thing does feel good and well rounded.

You can see how, if published these days, it might have been possible to pad it out more. But as an example of a certain sub set and style of British science fiction, it's still a pretty good read, and well worth four stars out of five.
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on 6 November 2016
An unspecified disaster has caused radiation levels in the UK to rise significantly. Cancers are widespread and mutations of various forms have begun to occur. Following a collapse of society as we know it, and a series of civil wars (but it appears not a nuclear war involving the UK) we join the story around 30 years after the catastrophe.

A hermit former doctor is asked to examine a new-born infant that turns out to have a severe mutation involving a think skin that would be a benefit in surviving exposure to radiation. The doctor saves the child from execution and, along with three companions, attempts to make his way along an abandoned motorway to try to deliver it to a tribe of similar mutants. Of course, the journey isn't straightforward and the group encounters a few odd characters along the way. The backstory isn't totally explained, but enough clues are given to give a flavour of the world that exists following the disaster.

I think I would have given this book three stars based on my enjoyment, but the original ideas deserved another star! I can't believe that it took me around a decade of reading apocalyptic fiction to come across this book as it deserves to be better known.
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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.
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on 31 March 2014
More of a novella than novel but its 139 pages pack in far more interesting imagery and well rounded characters than many modern SF works seven times that length. What more could you want than a nun on a hovercraft running a village based around a ritual hunt.
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