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This Is the Way the World Ends Mass Market Paperback – 1 July 1991
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- Publisher : Ace Books; Reissue edition (1 July 1991)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 0441807119
- ISBN-13 : 978-0441807116
- Dimensions : 17.78 x 2.54 x 12.7 cm
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This is a very dark satire with a lot of witty prose with surprising but appropriate references to Alice in Wonderland. It follows on from ‘Dr Strangelove’ with discussing the mentality that leads to war, but this time throws in an every man figure as well. A great comment on the 1980’s cold war that makes you remember that the weapons are still there. Recommended.
What stops it from reading like a philosophical tract, however, is that it's essentially a twisted, satirical retelling of "Alice in Wonderland" (through the looking glass of Vonnegut, more than Swift), which I assume jumped off from the acronym for Mutually Assured Destruction, that ongoing insanity, giving rise to a "MAD Hatter".
The plot shifts between three main modes: periods of mawkish schmaltz; horrifyingly graphic depictions of a world burning down to its last embers; and a rip-roaring legal thriller against the backdrop of the trial of the millennium. Two things stop these shifts from being too jarring. Firstly, Morrow's lucid writing style, with its acerbic gallows humour and deft descriptive flourishes, is consistently entertaining. Particularly in the rose-tinted sections, which often get just a little too saccharine for my tastes, there is a soft but omnipresent satire, which simultaneously nods to the reader (well, I thought so anyway) and promises a return to the grisly horror promised by the title in due course, sort of: "Yes, it is over the top, isn't it? Oh well, there *must* be a happy ending to a book about the end of the world, *mustn't* there?" The writing is particularly taut in the extended trial sequence, which keeps the action from getting too bogged down. I read the latter 200-some pages of the book in one sitting, so it can't have been all that bad!
The second thing that stopped the tonal shifts from disorienting this reader was the excellent portrayal of George Paxton, a slightly dim but utterly benevolent and likeable character who acts as our POV into a world gone mad, and serves as one of the key messages of the text: we are all of us, no matter how far removed from the Powers That Be, responsible for the horrors done in our name. Paxton's relatability goes a bit beyond the 'everyman' he is often trumpeted as: he is utterly devoted to his wife and daughter, utterly driven by the belief that he can forestall the extinction of the human race. But whatever George's character archetype is, he is so well drawn, in his joy and his horror, his bemusement and his all-too-common sorrow, that you can't help but be sucked along through the kaleidoscopic fever-dream of the plot, drawn in even as you are amused by the conceit and horrified by the subject matter.
The book may be outdated (2015 is mentioned in the book as a distant, utopian future that could have been) but its message is not. People who dismiss the book's message forget that the civilised nations of the Earth can still blast it to a cinder on the say-so of a half-dozen suitably mad or bad people. I think that this is a fine book, completely unlike anything else for all that it wears its inspirations (Eliot, Carroll, Vonnegut, Swift) on its sleeve. I urge you to give it a go!
The arguments around why you would have nuclear weapons are well done , and quite familiar (MAD is a great acronym) and the grim inevitability is very well done - but for me it was just a little too 'out there'