30. Poul Anderson – Twilight World (1961)

A nuclear war has destroyed every city on planet Earth. The scraps of humanity, desperately hanging on to survival, preyed on by bandits and warbands, discover that almost all of their children are mutants.

A stark choice awaits humanity: destroy the mutants, perhaps wiping out all hope for humanity, or see homo sapien replaced by something new and strange.

Drummond, who begins this book as a ranger seeking out survivors and ends it as the US President, is firmly of the latter opinion. So, after this novel, was Burroughs.

In fact, it is closely in the aftermath of reading this book that Burroughs’s already ever-present interest in mutation develops away from merely one of his many plagues and deluges and becomes one of his core symbolic routes to immortality.

In The Job (1971), Burroughs makes the memorable comparison between amphibians leaping between pools, not knowing they are evolving into the first land animals, and humans who are travelling “to other planets”, not realising they are destined to evolve into space-dwelling creatures.

Anderson’s book, praised by Burroughs throughout the 1960s, can be seen to give us the range of new sexualised mutant boys that inhabit the world of The Wild Boys, and, in a later and more developed form, inform the underlying spirit journey of the Cities books with their message that man must be willing to sacrifice his current form if he wishes to transcend this plane, leave the time track and become immortal.

In terms of the book itself, it’s quite a standard schlocky sci-fi thriller. It uses Asimov-esque time jumps to show us humanity from the aftermath of nuclear war to the rise of new society to the creation of mutant moon bases. The second half is a showdown on the moon between our super scientist protagonists and their counterparts from the new Siberian Empire.

They make a plan. It goes wrong and they get captured. The enemy explains their plan and makes an offer, which they reject; using the information to foil the plan and save the world. The hero gets the girl.

Considering it’s core message – make way for the homo superior (in this case, space colonists whose bodies are fitted for zero-grav, low-oxygen environments) – it’s a surprisingly conventional, even conservative storyline. The plotting is by-numbers and the goodies always win, restoring America.

As always, Burroughs is adept at picking out important ideas from their sci-fi shells; discarding the shell but keeping the kernel.

In this case, Anderson gives Burroughs the idea that rapid mutations are necessary for our evolution into space creatures. He also fills in the gap left by the either/or question posed by Anderson: should humanity keep its democracy, in spite of evolutionary supermen, or should it adopt a rigid genetic hierarchy?

Burroughs answer is clear: neither! He had already used a wave of mutation in Naked Lunch to represent the breakdown of Control; from Anderson’s novel onwards that wave of mutants also comes to stand for a new libertarian form of existence. Neither democratic nor dictatorial but pure anarchy.

In this way, we can see Anderson’s mutants behind the wave of sex mutations that occur at the end of Ah Pook Is Here and in some of the weirder scenes in Tornado Alley too.

The book clearly has a dramatic effect, adding a crucial element to the overall Burroughs stew.