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Legend of the Holocaust

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Scripts, Sydney, 1968
price: 55c; 130 pages

The blurb on the back:

The raw, brutal story of the aftermath of atomic holocaust.
The fearful cry rang out and the people of the valley prepared for battle. The band of killers had come before, but this time they would have to be exterminated…
This is the story of primitive people who farm and hunt and kill without mercy … and of misshapen monsters who scream throughout a life of agony.
This is the story of good men, helpless victims of folly and hatred … and of evil men who known no other way since the New Beginning…

opening lines:
Swiftly and silently Branlan moved through the forest. At his feet the carpet of drying leaves shifted and rustled in the wind, but as he slipped across them he made no sound.

Given the title, and the fact that it’s published by Australian trash-meisters, Scripts, who also gave us Buchenwald Hell, you might be forgiven for approaching this with some degree of trepidation. But actually, it’s not at all bad, and certainly has none of the appalling taste you might be dreading.

Set more than fifty generations after a nuclear war has wiped out most of the city-dwelling population of the world, this is about one of the rural communities who have survived the devastation and have reverted to a life of farming and hunting. They are simple societies, entirely turning their back on the notion of progress and restrained from initiating violence by the story-tellers who keep alive the tale of how humanity almost destroyed itself. This is the Legend of the Holocaust, and it serves to keep the destructive power of mankind in check.

It’s not a particularly startling scenario (one is reminded of Louis Mountbatten’s famous quote: ‘If the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the fourth will be fought with bows and arrows’), but it is quite nicely sketched, and at times aspires to a poetry in its writing, as here when village elder, Burntar, takes his nominated successor, Branlan, to the ruins of a city (known simply as the Place):

There were a thousand other things, each as strange as the last and none as wonderful as the next and each thing was part of the Legend and the Legend was composed of them all and slowly, as Burntar pointed and picked things up and talked, Branlan began to visualise, as far as his inadequate imagination would allow him, what life had been like for the strange people who had once inhabited the Place. It seemed to him to be a life of luxury and convenience, a life hopelessly confusing complexity, and he wished he could speak to one of the people to see if they were really his human ancestors. (pp.34-35)

Inevitably the sustainable tranquillity is challenged when a more violent group turn up and try to wipe out the village. At which point we get into a more straightforward warrior adventure. But the whole thing’s so short that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve actually finished it, without having used up more than a 90-minute train journey.


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