The Atom Curtain
Reviewed date: 2023 Feb 10
Once again my rule of thumb bears out: novels that have to include the words "A Novel" on the cover usually are not good. The author of this particular book was a newspaperman at the Los Angeles Times (so it says in the included bio blurb) and so he may have been inordinately proud of having published a bona fide novel. But advertising that fact on the cover of the novel was not, I think, a wise idea.
This book is bad. It's not bad in a so-bad-it's-good sort of way. It's not bad in a mindless B-movie sort of way. It's just bad. The science is junk. The characters are less than cardboard. The plot is barely discernible. It's bizarrely sexist even for 1956. The motivations of the characters are inscrutable. The main villain, the Father, gives long tedious lectures that make no sense. A review on Goodreads describes The Atom Curtain as having "all the brevity of an Ayn Rand novel," which is accurate. At least Ayn Rand had a consistent moral philosophy underlying her work; there is none of that here.
America is cut off from the rest of the world by the atom curtain, a cordon of deadly radiation that lets nothing in or out. Emmet O'Hara penetrates the curtain and explores the current state of the American continents. He finds a primitive tribe of hairy mountain people barely better than apes. O'Hara beats one of the people nearly half to death, then discovers she's a woman and that beating her was foreplay and a marriage proposal. So he gets a wife, Nedra, who demands that he beat her soundly every day as foreplay before, um, consummating the marriage bed. *sigh*)
O'Hara descends from the mountains and meets the valley people, called the Degraded, who are a society of subterranean troglodytes feeding from enormous food-generating machinery and piping that spans the continent. Those of the Degraded who are still fertile are called Sons, and they worship and serve the Father.
The Father is in Washington, and he was once a man named Stephen Bryce. Now he is an immortal megalomaniac dictator who controls every aspect of this reclusive continent. The Father has watched the genetic degradation of the human race in the Americas, recognizes that unlimited atomic power and resources has meant that no one ever need struggle for anything, and that this loss of struggle has caused a racial de-evolution. Mankind in the Americas is a few generations away from being mere beasts. The Father wishes to have vigorous European stock to revitalize his people.
It's just a bad book. So, so bad.