Children of the Dust (novel)
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|Publisher||Harper & Row|
Children of the Dust is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel, written by Louise Lawrence, published in 1985. The book details three generations of a family during the aftermath of a nuclear war. The survivors of the blast suffer through radiation, nuclear winter, feuds between rival groups and radiation-induced mutations, eventually evolving into a new species, Homo superior. The new species has adapted to the loss of the ozone layer and the abundant radiation, and will become the dominant species on the planet.
The book contains three sections, one for each generation. The novel offers some hope that humanity could survive the horrors of war (as an allegory for the current age) in order to form a new world.
When the air raid sirens go off, Sarah, a schoolgirl in England, runs home to help her stepmother, Veronica, prepare the living room to protect the family from nuclear fallout. Sarah and Veronica assemble living provisions, rudimentary sanitary supplies, and clothes and toys for Veronica's son William (aged five) and daughter Catherine (aged seven). The family then shelter inside as the bombs fall.
Sarah realises that the water the rest of the family has been using has become contaminated with radioactive particles from the unblocked chimney, and all apart from Catherine are likely to contract radiation sickness. Veronica displays symptoms first and leaves the house several times to collect canned (safe) food for Catherine. She tells Sarah that community members have gathered in the church and a local farmer is giving away contaminated meat for free.
Later, when her symptoms become worse, Veronica leaves, presumably to die. William also begins to suffer from radiation sickness, and when he is near death and Sarah begins to weaken she leaves the house, bundling Catherine up against contamination. She gathers food for her from the house of the town farmer and takes her to the remote home of Johnson. Johnson has been prepared for the war, and appears unaffected by radiation sickness. During the time of the nuclear fall out Sarah has to take on the role as a mother due to Veronica saying that she is going to give up but Sarah refuses to let Veronica give up on herself.
This section begins with a flashback to the day of the war, which reveals that Sarah's father, Bill, a lecturer at Bristol University, was driving to a meeting when a woman named Erica flagged him down. As a leading authority on cellular cloning, she had a pass granting her (and anyone accompanying her) shelter in a government bunker. Bill takes Erica to the bunker at Avon, but had mixed feelings about surviving when his wife and children did not.
Within two months of the war, Britain is gripped by a nuclear winter. When the nuclear winter finally ends, the authorities send helicopters on reconnaissance missions, which reveal that against all odds, there are people still alive outside. They also learn that the ozone layer has been damaged, so anyone who goes outside must wear protective clothing.
Since there is no other community which can handle a herd the size of Johnson's, Bill and Dwight are unable to get the cattle away before Colonel Allison and his men come to collect them. Johnson attempts to compromise by offering Colonel Allison enough cattle to form the basis of a herd, but Colonel Allison says he is not in a position to negotiate. Realising the discussion is going nowhere, Dwight sabotages all but one of the Army trucks, making it impossible to take the cattle back to the bunker, and escapes into the wilderness.
Ophelia wants to return to the bunker, even though doing so means she will never see Dwight again. The section ends with Ophelia in tears, as Lilith (with her newborn sister in her arms) smiles at her pityingly.
Five decades after the war, the bunker is decaying and fuel supplies have run out, and the people in the bunker have been forced to seek sanctuary among outside communities.
On one such expedition, Ophelia's son, Simon, sees a pack of wild dogs stalking a person who is searching the ruins of an old house. He fires his gun, killing one of the dogs and scattering the rest, then goes to help the person they were stalking. That person proves to be a mutant girl named Laura, who tells him that "weapons are evil" and that he has no right to kill a living thing. When Simon sees that Laura's body is covered with hair (which protects her skin from being damaged by ultra-violet radiation), he is repulsed by her, thinking she is an "ape".
Shortly after meeting Laura, Simon injures his leg on a rusty nail. Since his people have no means to treat injuries, he is taken to Johnson's community, where Laura lives. Rather than having separate homes for each family, the community consists of a large "house" which reminds Simon of a Tibetan monastery. Seeing the well-ordered community where people have learned to make everything they need themselves, Simon begins to feel that his own people are "failures", having tried to restore pre-war standards at the expense of their children's futures.
Laura was angry at first for Simon lying to her and denying an old woman the pleasure of meeting another family member, but then comes to terms with the situation. She takes Simon on her horse back to the house where he will reveal all and use his knowledge to allow the new generation to expand their skills and make the new way of life a better place.
- "The real truth is that these "novels of ideas" never really went away. I'm not sure I'd be right to see any more of a trend than when Margaret Atwood was writing The Handmaid's Tale, Antony Burgess A Clockwork Orange, Louise Lawrence Children Of The Dust, Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451, Franz Kafka The Trial ... and so on." Literary apocalypse now, and then. Sam Jordison, The Guardian, 4 December 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2014.