An English In Kentucky


















Monday September 16th 2019Tim Candler9


     Apocalypse novels tend to engage the mind with an account of how a hardy, and very decent, tough minded band of survivors manage to reproduce some semblance of hope for the future of our species. Nevil Shute's On the Beach, about the aftermath of a failure of negotiations between Nuclear Powers, didn't even try to offer the reader a sense of future possibilities. Shute just went straight for it and bang no one survived, not even a distant radio signal. The characters met their fate one by one. A man drove his high powered racing car off a cliff, if I recall, his last wish was to break some kind of personal speed record and destroy the vehicle in the process, which was apt. The young couple, with a perfect upper middle class type life style ahead of them, died in each other's arms, very soppy, took some sort of pill to avoid a slow death from the reality of radiation poisoning. The book was best seller, and if you like that sort of thing, a ripping yarn, as the reader waited for something positive to happen with respect to the future of the species. Nevil Shute was a tad right wing in his political leanings, no fan of socialist ideas, a big fan of Monarchy, and some of his other books went on a little about characters bridging the social divides in society, posh upper class chaps like him falling for barmaids, that sort of thing. He was a graduate from Oxford University, he had a stammer which prevented him from getting a commission, becoming an officer, in the Royal Flying Corps, so in the first World War he served as a private soldier on the Western Front, where early in the war his brother had been killed on the Belgium border, at Armentieres, a town in the title of the very disgusting, very popular song "Mademoiselle of Armentieres." 


    The reason to recall Nevil Shute's On the Beach has to do with the relationship between the dream world and reality, that sphere where imagination finds it's entertainment, and more often than not the entertainment part permits the dream world to dictate perceptions of reality. Occasionally you get classic examples of what this means on our choice of assumptions. There's the current far too obvious example of nitwit perceptions running amok. But more classic examples abound.  A 2016 Republican Party primary debate, the candidate from Florida wary of so tricky an area, suggested that someone, somewhere in a garage was working on alternative energy sources, so no real need to devise a federal policy that might assist that someone, somewhere in a garage. An extraordinarily comforting statement, suggesting as it did that system was working, solutions from saviors would organically emerge, no actual need to do anything other than maybe cut taxes, slash regulations and reduce welfare programs. Another classic example is the idea that as a result of amazing discoveries by great minds in the pharmaceutical industry we people do not have to feel pain for any longer than it takes to get to a pharmacy. And there's vaping, or vaporizing, where as I understand it, the promise was you could indulge your addiction to nicotine without dying horribly from harmful 'side effects.'  And we all know how that turned out. Nevil Shute died in Melbourne, Australia in the January of 1960, he was 60 years old. There's a library in Alice Springs, Australia, named after him, and a couple of roads in Hampshire, England, where he had worked as an engineer and had designed a hydraulic undercarriage for air planes.


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