Nuclear war is simultaneously real and surreal, grimly factual and wildly fantastic. This collection of stories reveals some startling truths: Those supposed practitioners of gadget fantasies and techno-myths, the science fiction writers, pretty much had the subject accurately targeted from the very first.
Stephen Vincent Benet's 1937 story "By the Waters of Babylon" envisioned a catastrophic end to World War II. His "fire from the sky" and "poison in the ground" sound a lot like nuclear strikes and fallout, though he knew nothing of atomic physics. Considering that both Germans and Japanese had atomic weapons programs (the latter covered up until a few years ago), a widespread atomic final act to that war wasn't a mad notion. Robert Heinlein even envisioned the stalemate we now have in a notable 1943 short story, aptly titled "Solution Unsatisfactory."
This uniformly pessimistic collection is skillfully done, in large measure thanks to Walter Miller, whose novel "A Canticle for Leibowitz" (1960) is widely considered the best work about the postwar world. Miller provides acerbic introductions to all 21 stories, making scathing observations on our attitudes which have made preparations for nuclear war an increasingly more dangerous institution in society.
"Owning the Bomb is the world's biggest and most expensive form of advertising, the message being 'Don't tread on us.' . . . (But) . . . A paranoid mating call always gets a paranoid answer."