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After Doomsday  
After Doomsday book cover.jpg
Lurid and misleading cover picture from original paperback printing.
Author Poul Anderson
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Ballantine Books
Publication date 1962
Media type Print ( Paperback )
Pages 128pp

After Doomsday is a science fiction novel by Poul Anderson. It was published as a complete novel in 1962, having been serialized as The Day after Doomsday in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine, Dec. 1961 and Feb. 1962.


Plot introduction

The novel explores events after the destruction of Earth, from the point of view of two returning starship crews, one entirely made up of men, the other consisting entirely of women.

The story is set in the early 21st century. Even as the Cold War dragged on Earth has been suddenly contacted by the Monwaingi space-faring culture. The technology of interstellar travel is spreading across the galaxy, disrupting one culture after another. Monwaing itself was contacted only a few centuries previously. Another culture, the Vorlak, underwent a transition from a stable planetary society to a warlord culture similar to the Japanese Shogunate. The nomadic Kandemirian culture became a hegemonistic one similar to the Mongol Empire. Earth found itself on the fringes of a conflict between Kandemir and a coalition lead by Vorlak, with Monwaing on the sidelines, actively supporting the anti-Kandemir forces.

There is a lingua franca called Uru, which bonds the diverse cultures together. The original speakers of the language may have also initiated the spread of interstellar technology, but the language seems to have outlived, or at least outstripped its originators.

Cover of Galaxy featuring part 1 of the story

In the 20 years since contact, several expeditions have set out, some in borrowed ships, some in ships built on Earth. The ship USS Benjamin Franklin , with an all-male crew, set out to visit the core of the Milky Way — actually an unusual quest by the stodgy standards of the typical galactic culture. Another ship has gone as far as the Magellanic Clouds. The pan-European expedition in the ship Europa, crewed entirely by women, has roamed far outside the local group of cultures. The star-drive technology allows journeys of tens of thousands of parsecs in mere months. In spite of this, most cultures are "stay-at-homes" compared to humans, interacting only with the local group of cultures, known as a "cluster".

Now the Franklin and the Europa return to find that Earth has suffered the ultimate disaster.

Plot summary



The USS Benjamin Franklin, a starship crewed entirely by men returns to Earth, to find the planet consumed by eruptions from within the crust. All life is gone, along with the few outposts of humanity on the Moon and artificial satellites. Missiles lurk throughout the Solar System, ready to destroy returning ships. Unable to leave a message drone because of the missiles, the Franklin flees to Tau Ceti. Discipline breaks down, the captain is killed, and a nucleus of a new crew forms behind a man named Carl Donnan . Donnan is an engineer and adventurer who gave up wandering the Earth for a chance to see the galaxy, courtesy of a Senator who owed him a favor. Now he is leading almost 300 men on a quest for other humans, and for Earth's murderers. Chief suspects are the Kandemirians, especially since the missiles swarming through the Solar System are Kandemirian.

Earth is new to interstellar trade, and a handful of ships have gone out into the wider galactic society. The men realize they have little hope of finding other humans, let alone women. They do have a guide with them, an alien called Ramri from the polycultural society originating on the planet Monwaing. Ramri is a biped descended from feathered, bird-like creatures.

Some time afterwards, the ship Europa with a crew of 100 women returns, to find Earth destroyed and missiles roaming the Solar System. They are able to disable one missile. A small team boards the missile, including Navigation Officer Sigrid Holmen and her friend Gunnery Officer Alexandra Vukovic. The missile appears to have been manufactured by Kandemirians, although there are symbols in an unknown script scrawled on a bulkhead within it. Other missiles approach, and the Europa must leave without addressing the central mystery. The officers confer about where to go next.

The Quests

Travelling to Vorlak, Donnan sells the crew's services to the warlord, or Draga, Hlott Luurs. His proposition is that the humans will develop new technology allowing a ship to detect the drives of other ships far beyond the usual range. Donnan 's friend Arnold Goldspring is a mathematician who has a host of new ideas for the technology. The detector is just the first one. To prove its worth, Donnan bargains for a Vorlak ship which they will use on a stealth raid on a Kandemirian outpost.

The raid is a disaster, and they are captured by Kandemirians. Interrogated by the head of the Kandemirian forces, Tarkamat, Donnan is told that if he refuses to re-create the technology for Kandemir, his crew will die horribly, one by one. He has no choice but to comply.

The crew of the Europa travel far beyond the boundaries of the local cluster to one with a vibrant capitalist economy. At Sigrid Holmen's suggestion, they set themselves up as "Terran Traders Inc." and proceed to amass wealth, hoping to be able to buy or charter ships to search for survivors of Earth. Sigrid is kidnapped by representatives of a rival trader culture, the Forsi, who resemble heavyset gnomes. The Forsi want to take her away to study, determined to discover why "Terran Traders Inc." is able to be so successful. She is in the process of attempting escape from them when Alexandra Vukovic, a former urban guerrilla, tracks her down and uses her skills to eliminate Sigrid's captors.

Earth's suicide?

Donnan's crew, laboring on one of the Kandemirians' subject planets, are being carefully monitored to make sure they only work on the drive detection device. However, the monitoring of the material making up the chassis of the device is less stringent, and they are able to create a dummy copy of a common soldier's rifle from seemingly unrelated parts. With this they bluff their way out of confinement, capture real weapons, and eventually steal a starship. The price of this escape is the loss of a suicide squad who hold off the local troops long enough for Donnan, Goldspring, Ramri and the rest to take off.

Ramri takes them to his homeworld, Katkinu. Like many Monwaing worlds, this has different and apparently incompatible cultures living side by side. The official Representative of the homeworld on Katkinu is from the Laothaung culture. Unlike Ramri's culture, this one uses biotechnology efficiently and ruthlessly. Specialized lifeforms, designed to have just enough intelligence to do work, and subservient to the rulers, carry out all labor. There are even altered types of Monwaingi being used as slaves. In the Representative's office they are shown a recording of an interrogation of an agent of the merchant culture of Xo. It indicates that Earth was destroyed by bombs sold to two of the minor national powers, and set up as a suicide weapon, to be detonated if either power was attacked with nuclear weapons.

The Battle of Brandobar

The men are shocked, but are still determined to fight on against the Kandemirians. Returning to Vorlak, Donnan bluffs his way past Hlott Luurs, who is still angry over the loss of a ship and his kinsman aboard it. Goldspring has designed more weapons using the stardrive technology. The basis of the drive is that space is a standing wave pattern. Where interference fringes occur, there is in effect no space and no distance. A ship may jump from fringe to fringe and travel from star to star in a short time. The new devices manufacture artificial fringes. With this they are able to distort space-time inside enemy ships, disabling missiles, inducing small thermonuclear explosions, and producing coherent sound waves. This last weapon lets them administer the coup de grâce to the Kandemirian fleet, broadcasting a message which demoralizes the crews, at the same time encouraging the subject races in the Empire to revolt.

After the victory, the news, in the form of a carefully crafted minstrel song, spreads around the galaxy. The song, in Uru, has the title "The Battle of Brandobar", and describes the final battle in a series of quatrains. A chapter of the novel is dedicated to a scholarly analysis of the song, teasing out both the story of the song and the calculated structure of the verses, designed to resist alteration as the song spreads from one singer to another along the trade routes.

It is through this song that the crew of the Europa, via their trade connections, learn where the USS Benjamin Franklin went.

Reunion — and the awful truth

Once the two crews are united, apart from the obvious considerations, they must decide who destroyed the Earth. The men still believe it was the Kandemirians, with the trader story being disinformation. When they decode the symbols the women found, they realize the truth. It is a base 12 to 6 conversion table to help technicians reprogram the weapons. The missiles are Kandemirian, but the script is Monwaingi. One of the many different Monwaingi societies, possibly the ruthless biotech Laothaung culture, wanted the Earth and saw fit to cleanse it before colonizing with their own biota. Ramri leaves for his home planet, determined to purge the culture that committed the crime, but aware that his own world might well be destroyed in the process. Carl Donnan and Sigrid Holmen can only look at each other and say "What have we done ?"

Characters in "After Doomsday"

Carl Donnan is a typical Poul Anderson hero, capable, independent and somewhat rootless. He might have stepped out of an Ernest Hemingway story, with his background as an adventurer, one not unfamiliar with riches or poverty, the favor of powerful men or the adverse attentions of various police forces.

Ramri is a five-foot tall bird-descended biped with brilliant blue feathers. He is a product of the high-technology Tantha culture who believe in trade with other cultures. As a Monwaingi representative on Earth, he is enraptured by human culture and its arts. He is particularly taken by human music, especially Beethoven. Despite his size and a somewhat delicate appearance, he is a willing fighter, and wields talons on his clawed feet.

Arnold Goldspring is the Detector Officer on the USS Benjamin Franklin. A mathematician, he is able to re-invent the "paragravitic standing wave" technology behind interstellar travel to create new and revolutionary weapons.

Sigrid Holmen is the Navigation Officer on the Europa. She is Poul Anderson's Scandinavian character, a standard feature of his work. Tall, blonde, and Swedish, she is a stoic figure who has to control her grief over the loss of her beloved country, its forests, waters and people, and keep going forward in the hope that humanity might continue.

Alexandra Vukovic is the Gunnery Officer on the Europa and Sigrid's best friend. She is a Serb and a graduate of "the Soviet incursion of 1995". This event turned her into a guerilla, a staunch friend, and a habitual rebel. Since the united human crews consist of twice as many men as women, some polyandry is inevitable, and she is the sort of person who would be content with that.

Hlott Luurs is a Draga or warlord of the Vorlak, a race of bipeds of about the same size as humans, but resembling otters in the head shape and in the possession of a coat of fur. Hlott Luurs is the head of the Draga Council by virtue of support from a coalition of other Draga. Like the other Draga he is pugnacious, proud, quick to take offense, but bound by a code of honor, which Donnan uses to his advantage. After his return from captivity Donnan visits Hlott Luurs in his own domain, where his word is law and any action unquestioned, even if it involves killing Donnan, and forces him into another deal with the threat to have some of his Draga coalition support his main rival for the top seat.

Tarkamat of Kandemir is the military leader for the entire campaign against the Vorlak-led forces. After Donnan and his raiders are captured, he personally interrogates Donnan in his luxurious quarters. Like all Kandemirians, Tarkamat is well over 2 meters tall, handsome by human standards, a broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted biped with a ruff of hair framing the face. His officers and other soldiers are also members of his clan, a typical Kandmirian arrangement. Donnan exploits this during his crew's escape, knowing that holding a high ranking member of a clan at gunpoint will result in his guards surrendering their weapons rather than risk a clan members life.

Major themes

The novel has some of the characteristics of a mystery. Significant clues are scattered throughout the text, without being noted as such. For instance, the conclusion turns on the number systems used by the various races, and these in turn follow from the anatomies of those races, specifically the number of fingers on the hand. Humans and Vorlak are five-fingered, or pentadactylates, while Kandemirians have six fingers and Monwaingi three, resulting in number systems of base 10, 12 and 6 respectively.

Another significant factor is comparative biochemistry, especially protein chemistry. Human, Vorlakka and Kandemirian chemistries are similar enough to allow each to consume some of the others' foodstuffs, while Monwaingi proteins are composed of mirror image amino acids. Humans require anti-allergy treatments to visit Monwaingi worlds, just as Ramri requires special medications to live among humans, not to mention having to supply his own food. However he assures Carl Donnan that Monwaingi biotechnologists will be able to create a replacement for his beloved pipe tobacco. Ramri himself smokes a Monwaingi cigar whose fumes make Donnan gag.

Red herrings also occur to mislead the protagonists, if not the reader. Beside the disinformation of the trader from Xo, there is a treaty between the Soviet Union and Vorlak. This is an item which the Vorlakka reveal to Donnan as evidence that they had no reason to destroy Earth, while the Tarkamat of Kandemir dismisses it as either unimportant, or easily dealt with by the equivalent of gunboat diplomacy. However, from a Monwaingi point of view the treaty could be a provocation to Kandemir, resulting in Earth being conquered and exposing part of their sphere of influence to Kandemirian threats.

At another level the story is one of Terran superiority, with Terra as a whole standing for confident post-war America, a common enough feature of the genre at the time. Arnold Goldspring has a better grasp of alien technology than most of the aliens, Carl Donnan is a shrewder politician than any Vorlak warlord, Sigrid, Alexandra and their cohort are more successful merchants than the rest. All this supposedly proceeds from the fact that Earth was contacted while experiencing a period of dynamic instability where only the quick witted prosper.

American-born of Danish ancestry, Poul Anderson peppered his works with characters and themes from Scandinavia, Viking culture, and related cultures such as the Netherlands.

  • Chapters in the novel begin with quotes. One is a fragment of doggerel in a Dutch-English pidgin, while another quotes an Icelandic Edda.
  • Swedish sentiments from Sigrid give the novel an emotional core the male characters cannot supply.
  • Some of the characteristics of the Vorlakka and their world are clearly related to Vikings.
  • The song-poem, "The Battle of Brandobar", is Anderson's own homage to the poetic traditions of Northern Europe.

Sources, references, external links, quotations


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