This Is the Way the World Ends
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A darkly comic tale of one survivor’s unintended collaboration with the architects of a nuclear holocaust—and his surprising adventures in the post-apocalyptic world
George Paxton is a simple man, happy enough with his job carving inscriptions on gravestones. All he needs is a high-tech survival garment—a scopas suit—to protect his beloved daughter in the event of nuclear Armageddon. But when George finally acquires the coveted suit, the deal comes with a catch: He must sign a sales contract admitting to his complicity in the nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviets.
Inevitably, the bombs fall, and our hero finds himself imprisoned on a submarine headed for Antarctica, where he and five other survivors will stand trial for “crimes against humanity.” George Paxton’s accusers are no ordinary plaintiffs: They are “the unadmitted,” potential people whose hypothetical lives were canceled in consequence of humankind’s self-extinction. In the months that follow, George’s dark journey will take him through the hellscape that was once the Earth, through a human past that has become as unthinkable as the human future, to his day in court before the South Pole tribunal, and finally into the intolerable heart of loss.
they had decided to give him a proper burial, complete with a little headstone inscribed CHESTER that George had prepared at the Crippen Monument Works from a stray scrap of granite. Holly hated the whole idea; she refused to attend the funeral and screamed at her parents for dreaming it up. But the very next day, just as George and Justine had predicted, she began telling everyone about the big event—the monument, the grave, the cardboard coffin from the veterinarian—and continued doing so for
Cemetery rushed by. Grace Loquatch’s stone—THE HAMMER GROWS SILENT—was now in place. White drifts engulfed black South African obelisks. Marble saints grinned stoically as the blizzard whipped their faces and stuck to their sides. Should I have offered Mrs. Covington my down jacket? he wondered. Old ladies get cold… especially those with her kind of blood. George switched on the car radio. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was deploying a hundred and fifty additional ground-launched Raven
calling the whole team together—after they run us through this survivor’s guilt crap—so we can chart out our options. God, I hope they’ve got a crisis relocation effort going. I can’t bear to think of this turning into a high civilian-casualty thing.” “Why Antarctica?” “A big chunk of real estate, right? Hence, a high warhead-exhaustion factor. Excellent place for a command-and-control center. Looks like the Joint Chiefs thought of everything—I’m a good man with an ICBM, Wengernook knows what
pretty good business around carnival time.” Spontaneously—no one knew who was leading and who following—the three men went to the window. The parade crawled across the plaza like some huge organism, flagella and antennae lashing in all directions. “Welcome to the City of the Invalidated Past,” said the Hatter, “or, if you prefer, the Necropolis of History, or, if you don’t prefer, the City of the Invalidated Past. It’s your kind of town, George. Yours too, General.” He jabbed his index finger
pleasing snores, subtle, intelligent. Quietly he studied his new wife, this great unadmitted psychotherapist, this brilliant vulture pilot, gleaning endless delight from her freckled, ice-scarred, beautiful, sleeping face… When he awoke, the world had become an erotic film, the rug soft, the corridor warm, sweat accumulating inside his underwear like sweet balm, and there she was, freshly showered and dressed in silk pajamas emblazoned with the anchor insignia of the United States Navy,