The City at Worlds End – Edmond Hamilton

Edmond Hamilton was an American novelist of the early to mid twentieth century.  Much of his work was science fiction.  Born in Youngstown, Ohio, he was considered to be a child prodigy and graduated from high school at the age of 14 after which he gained admittance to Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania…although he left at age 17 without a degree.

His first short story in a genre that hasn’t been yet named as Sci-Fi, “The Monster God of Mamurth” published in 1926 in the magazine Weird Tales (the term Sci-Fi wasn’t coined until 1954).  Throughout the ’20s and ’30s, Hamilton was a very popular writer of space operas, in fact it is said that he an E. E. “Doc” Smith were the creators of this sub-genre of Sci-Fi.  His story “The Island of Unreason”, published in Wonder Stories in 1953 was the first story to win the Jules Verne Prize as the best Sci-Fi story of the year, which was the precursor of the Hugo Awards.   In 1945, Hamilton also wrote for DC Comics for Superman and Batman and was instrumental in the Legion of Super Heroes including many of the founding concepts.

In The City at Worlds End, the idyllic small town of Middletown, there is a secret; unknown by the majority of the citizens, Middletown is the home of the U.S.’s atomic defense research.  Our hero, Hamilton, is one of those scientists and one day while walking in town, an unnamed enemy has dropped a “superatomic bomb” over Middeltown…everyone drops to the ground and covers their heads although Hamilton knows this is futile…..or is it?  Shortly afterwards, he gets up off of the street and is amazed that he’s still alive and so is everyone else….but, something is different, the Sun is an odd color and it’s chilly.

So begins The City at Worlds End…Hamilton has transported this small town far, far, far into Earths future as a result to an atomic attack.  The citizens have to come to the realization that they are alone on an “alien”, inhospitable Earth.   Other than themselves, there are no other Humans on Earth and on a dying planet with a dying sun where every night is far below 0F and the days aren’t much above freezing either they are going to have to find some way to survive…they eventually do find a still standing domed city which offers some protection from the cold and has tanks of fresh water, but despite being Human it is very alien to these early twentieth century folks and just isn’t home.

This story is partly about the trials and tribulations of people trying to cope with such massive change and the daily struggle to survive.  It’s also also about human relationships and how they struggle to deal with crisis and drastic change from the norms.  It’s also about culture shock when alien races are eventually contacted and the how different and alien Humans become after thousands and thousands of years and how it’s possible to have more in common with alien races and less so with your own over time.

Yes, this is somewhat dated in some ways, but, in others it’s still quite relevant and very easy to read and relate to.  I quite enjoyed the story, but, it did kind of end abruptly and I found it quite unlikely that people would find out that they’ve been lied to for years then simply accept being led by the deceivers; however, if he hadn’t the story wouldn’t have gone very far.  The aliens are endearing and quite funny, it was the humans (both twentieth century and future) are actually the most annoying here; the twentieth century because they are so set in their ways and unwilling to give up their homes even to survive and the future humans in their “we know best” attitude.  Don’t get me wrong, I can see both in reality…frankly, we see it every day, I just don’t quite relate to either.  Without turning this into a political blog, this progressive attitude is overly present today with those on the far left and far right convinced that they know best and that everyone who doesn’t believe what they believe are the “unwashed masses” and just don’t know better so it’s our responsibility to “take care of them” and make them do what the were unwilling to or refused to take responsibility for in the first place.  On the other hand, there are those who are so resistant to change that they either fade from relevance or they gain enough power to suppress those that want to move forward.

I’m afraid I’ve not read anything else by Edmond Hamilton other than what I’ve mentioned; however, I do intend to remedy that.  If you want to hear this book rather than read it, there is an excellent LibriVox recording for free read by Mark Nelson.

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