Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Sixth Glacier by Marius

The Sixth Glacier is a 1929 end-of-the-world science fiction novel written by an author who called himself Marius. Marius was a pseudonym used by Steve Benedict, about whom I know nothing. The novel was originally published, in two instalments, in Amazing Stories.

A young reporter from Science News is sent to interview a transportation tycoon named Dunraven. It seems that Dunraven has zero interest in transportation. He’s a rich old man and he can devote himself to his hobby. His hobby is palaeontology. He believes he has discovered the ruins of an ancient city in Mexico. A city 100,000 years old, dating from before the last Ice Age. And in this city he has found evidence to believe that another Ice Age is imminent.

The old man is right. The new Ice Age is on its way. Dunraven dismisses the various theories that were current at the time regarding the causes of the succession of ice ages. He has a theory of his own, and within a short time there is evidence which appears to confirm his theory. The solar system is about to drift through a vast frigid nebula, something that happens every hundred thousand years or so. Soon much of the world will be covered by vast ice sheets.

Most of the book is taken up by descriptions of the devastation that ensues. Marius is not one of those starry-eyed types who thinks that disasters bring out the best in people. In this novel the collapse of civilisation leads to wars, to lawlessness, mass murder and cannibalism.

Civilisation doesn’t quite end. The tropics are still habitable. The tropical zones are now filled with refugees from more northern latitudes.

It all seems hopeless until Dunraven hits on an idea. In the finest tradition of pulp fiction his idea sounds crazy but it just might work.

The reporter has some personal dramas to worry about as well. He’s in love with Dunraven’s daughter Clara. He knows he has a rival for her affections. He will discover that in fact he has two rivals.

Mostly the book is a kind of fairly dry documentary-style account of the disaster but Marius does throw in a few dramatic scenes as the reporter finds himself first at the mercy of the savage new tribes of igloo-dwellers and then a huge pack of wolves.

More interesting are Dunraven’s theories about the history of life on Earth. They are of course scientific nonsense but in 1929 they might have seemed more convincing. And they are entertaining. Dunraven believes that intelligent life has arisen on Earth many times, often in peculiar forms. Such as the spider-people.

The science might all be very dubious, basically silly pseudoscience, but it’s fun silly pseudoscience.

Apocalyptic novels had started to become a thing in the 1920s, presumably partly because of scientific and technological advances which made people more aware of the possibility of a civilisation-ending disaster. Mostly however it was undoubtedly due to the trauma of the First World War which made optimism seem like an increasingly unrealistic outlook. The most notable of 1920s post-apocalyptic science fiction novels was Nordenholt’s Million by Alfred Walter Stewart (who wrote under the name J.J. Connington and became a very successful detective fiction writer). Nordenholt’s Million was published in 1923 and deals in a remarkably detached and scientific way with the consequences of ecological catastrophe.

This was of course before nuclear weapons were even thought of but as both Connington and Marius demonstrated there were still plenty of plausible end-of-the-world scenarios. And the scenario described in The Sixth Glacier is certainly plausible even if the detailed scientific explanations he gives are mere pseudoscience.

Armchair Fiction have released this novel paired with Harl Vincent’s Before the Asteroids in a double-header paperback edition.

The Sixth Glacier is no masterpiece. Structurally it’s a bit clunky, the prose is less than exciting and there are no memorable characters with whom to empathise. Having said that, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction it does have historical interest.

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