Shute, Nevil - On the beach
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On the beach - By Nevil Shute
This story takes place in Southern Australia. There was a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere. First it had been a war between Russia and China, but then other also smaller countries interfered. More than 4700 bombs were dropped; most of them contained Cobalt to get more radioactivity. The tragedy began because Russia hadn’t got a port, which didn’t freeze in winter. Moreover Russia had been afraid of an attack of China, because their government feared that millions of Chinese people would come across the boarder, because China was too full of people, Russia, however had millions of miles of empty land.
As a result Russia dropped a Cobalt bomb on Shanghai to destroy human life for about 20 years. China took revenge by attacking Russian factories in Siberian. This upcoming Nuclear War was the signal for Egyptian pilots in Russia airplanes to bomb Washington and London. The governments of these countries didn’t know that these attacks weren’t led by Russia so they bombed Russia by mistake.
The war broke out when the Albanians had bombed Naples. Then a bomb on Tel Aviv followed. Nobody knew who had dropped that one. Then the British and the Americans flew some aircrafts to Cairo. Next day the Egyptians sent out all their aircrafts they had. Six went to Washington and seven to London. One of them reached Washington and two London. After that most of the most American or British politicians were dead. So it was impossible to stop the war. Most of the radio stations were soon dead and silent, there were no responsible politicians to end the fights, because every small country could buy this cheap cobalt bombs and they used them until every human life was extinguished and the aircrafts and all weapons had became useless.
Therefore, only in Australia the humans were still alive, while the whole northern hemisphere was dead. Most people in the south knew that they had about 6 months to live until the wind would bring the dangerous radioactive clouds from the north. Officer Peter Holmes, who lived with his wife Mary and his baby Jennifer in Melbourne, got a job on the USS submarine Scorpion under the command of Captain Towers. Their charge was to look or sign of live in the north.
In these days, daily life had also changed in Australia. There was no fuel, not enough electricity, people were desperate about their inevitable fate. Each of them tried to overcame this situation, some began to drink, other people, however refused to see the situation and went on leading their lives as usual. Also Mary made plans about the future or their family although it became harder and harder every day to get food and other things you need for daily life. There were no cars, the transport of goods had to be done by bike or tram which took a lot of time.
They day before the submarine started its cruise, Holmes made a party. He also invited Towers who had lost his whole family in the north by radiation. He got to know Maria Davialson who was a good friend of the Holmes family. They fell in love. During their cruise to the north, the USS Scorpion came to the surface 9 days later. They visited the coast of Queensland, saw towns, beaches and villages without any damages but also without any life. They called through the load hailer, but nobody answered, the towns were silent. John Osborne, a scientist, was with them to investigate the radiation level. He explained to them the way of dying, if radiation reached them. First human beings would begin to vomit, became weaker and weaker every day, they would lose body control and this disease could be compared to Cholera. Animals would also die in a cruel way.
When they returned to Melbourne, Holmes gave his report to the admiral and went home to his family. There he discussed with Mary the fact that radiation also reach the south and that they would be killed too. To shorten pain the Officer had brought red pills to commit suicide with his wife and the baby too. He gave them to his wife and explained their future again and again. He wanted to convince her that they would die in about six months. To take the pills in case of danger could avoid the problem of being afflicted by leukaemia or radiation sickness. For Mary it was hard to accept reality, to give up her dream world. But at last she promised to take the pills if it was the right time. Weeks later Holmes was ordered to join the nuclear submarine Scorpion again in their next cruise. There had been radio signals coming from Seattle. The messages couldn’t be understood. On this trip the scientist Osborne had to prove or disprove the Jorgensen-effect, which said that the radioactive elements would falling to the round into the sea and that the radioactivity would not reach Australia and the Antarctica. But this hope failed as well.
After they had reached Seattle, one of the crew of the submarine, wearing a radiation suit investigated the city. He couldn’t find any sign of life. The signals had been produced by empty Cola bottles which had touched the transmitting desks and together with the wind had produced the radio signals. This nab who had lived in Seattle decided to stay there and to die where had lived in better former days. The captain accepted the man’s decision. At that time radiation had reached the region near Brisbane. The days of the end were coming nearer and nearer. In the meantime, the submarine had reached the waters near Kodiak in Alaska. The radiation there was no less then the radiation of Seattle. It was the last proof that there was no chance to exist where radiation had fallen down.
On their way home a signal, sent from Brisbane, made Holmes an Admiral and gave him free hand to decide what to do. This meant that Brisbane was dead. When they came back to Melbourne, the radiation had reached the city. Towers felt sick, Peter, Mary and their baby too. After a few days the Holmes took the red pills in their bedroom, because they didn’t suffer any more. John Osborne, the scientist, won a car race, driving his old Ferrari, he liked so much. People didn’t care for the future because end of live was coming. More and more people were suffering, John Osborne decided to die by taking the pills while sitting in is racing car. Towers spent his last days with Maria outside the town with fishing and decided to sink his ship with most of his men, who were suffering too.
Maria said goodbye to Towers who was sinking the Scorpion. She drove along the coast, and while watching the grey ship, she took the red box out of her bag and put the pills into her mouth. This book shows the inhumanity of war and its consequences for people, who are not responsible for it. It also shows the different positions of ordinary people who try to make the best of their last months of their lives. They find the right way to manage it: They behave as if nothing would happen. Some of them live in their own dream would which makes it easier a for them to flee from the cruel fate. They know that everything they do is senseless, but they don’t lose control of their daily life. They behave as if there was a future for them. For our characters in this book it’s the only possible way not to let it become conscious, to pass over it, otherwise they would not be able to bear it.
This story is a modern one which could become reality in our modern world. Everybody knows that countries like Pakistan, India, Israel and maybe the Iran and with certainly North-Korea possess nuclear weapons which could destroy and poison all human life. In contrast to countries like Russia, USA, China, GB and France a lot of nuclear weapons exist in countries like Pakistan could extinguish life on earth for many, many years.
The author Nevil Shute:
Nevil Shute was born near London on the 17. of Jan. in 1899 and died in Melbourne on the 12. Jan. 1960. He was a learned plane engineer, but later he became an author. War and planes are common themes in his work. Some of his well known books are:
- “Round the Bend”
- “Patoral” and besides
- “The far country”
- “On the beach”