First edition (UK)
|Cover artist||Craig Dodd|
|Publisher||Hamish Hamilton (UK)
E. P. Dutton (US)
|29 September 1977 (UK)
20 March 1978 (US)
Empty World (1977) is a science fiction novel written by John Christopher aimed at an adolescent audience. It was Christopher's eleventh such novel. The German station ZDF produced a TV adaptation of Empty World in 1987. An updated film adaptation of Empty World is currently in development with German production company Lago Film and Los Angeles production company Cherry Road Films.
15-year-old Neil Miller is orphaned following a car accident and goes to live with his grandparents in Winchelsea, England. Neil suffers post traumatic stress from the car accident and stays detached from his peers despite their occasional attempts to involve him. News travels of a new disease, called the Calcutta Plague due to its origin, which accelerates the aging process in human beings. The plague is uniformly fatal, and although initially only affects those of already advanced years (claiming an old teacher at his school and both his grandparents,) it quickly progresses until it takes the life of a 2 year old girl that Neil finds and attempts to look after. During this time Neil notes that he has contracted the plague, but after a brief fever it leaves him unaffected. The death of the girl (and earlier her 4 year old brother) leaves Neil the sole survivor of Winchelsea, and after deciding that Winchelsea is becoming dangerous - due in part to packs of wild dogs - he leaves for London, taking first a manual Mini which he has difficulty driving, followed by an automatic Jaguar.
Arriving in London he meets his first fellow survivor - the mentally unbalanced Clive, who although friendly towards Neil, during the night vandalizes his car to the point of destroying it, steals his mother's ring that Neil had kept, and then abandons him in central London.
After finding the body of another survivor who has committed suicide barely hours before Neil found him, he is again despondent, but finds evidence of other survivors which brings him into contact with Billie and Lucy.
Billie is openly hostile towards Neil, and it is implied that she has suffered in some way either during the plague or directly after it, but Neil becomes friends with Lucy and starts a romantic relationship with her - much to Billie's disgust.
During this time Neil notes that the dogs have been supplanted by even more dangerous rats, and at least one big cat has escaped from a local zoo and although unseen is heard outside their flat. To this end Neil arms himself with a pistol and ammunition taken from a sporting goods shop.
Billie and Neil continue to argue over an unspecified period of time, with Lucy gradually taking Neils side in arguments, until eventually during a foraging expedition Billie attempts to kill Neil by stabbing him in the back with a kitchen knife. The attack is shown to be premeditated as when Neil tries to defend himself with the gun he finds that it has been unloaded.
Neil is injured, but overpowers Billie and returns to Lucy, where they lock Billie out and decide to move on to a previously discussed farmhouse. Billie arrives back at the house and pleads with both Lucy and Neil to let her back in, but they decide that they could never trust her again, and leave her outside. In the last paragraph of the book Neil abruptly changes his mind, feeling that he would never get over the guilt of leaving Billie to die, and with Lucy goes downstairs to open the door and let her back inside.