Monday, July 8, 2024

Doomsday, 1999

According to The Herald, a newspaper in Scotland, Paul MacTyre (1924-1999) was a pseudonym for Professor Robin James Adam. He joined St Andrews University in 1948 and taught there for four decades. His passion for teaching earned him accolades from his students and peers. He authored a total of three books in his lifetime, Midge (1962), Fish on a Hook (1963), and Bar Sinister (1964). My experience with the author is his debut Midge, which was published by Ace in 1963 as Doomsday, 1999 (F-201). The cover was painted by popular science-fiction artist Ed Valigursky.

The first thing you need to know is that Doomsday, 1999 isn't some sort of science-fiction novel that features life on other planets, aliens, or robots. In actuality, it is a gritty military thriller with some technical nuances. If you told me the book was written yesterday and the title was really "Doomsday, 2099" I wouldn't even question it. The author basically constructed this post-apocalyptic styled novel as military-fiction, popularized by the WW2 books that were in abundance in the mid 20th century.

The book is set in a time-period that is decades after oblivion on Earth. Unlike a lot of the post-apocalypse titles made famous in the 1980s, this story doesn't have roving gangs of nomads, mutants, or bikers. There's no Mad Max stuff because all of that is in the past here. Earth has cycled through the nuclear war, the traveling gangs, and wars for leftover Beanee Weenee. Instead, what's left is a makeshift army called Guards. The  great armies are dead: British, Russian, American, Chinese. The Guards are in charge of large camps that house civilians. The civilians work as slaves getting water and tending to the Guards. They also help create a special drug. More on that in a bit.

The main character is a guy named Angus who serves as a hunter for the Guards. The hunters live in the wilderness in a team of four and are responsible for killing deer for the Guards. In turn, the hunters pretty much live on their own and are supplied just enough food and ammunition to keep on hunting. But, ammunition is almost gone and humanity is on the cusp of extinction because of the aforementioned drug. 

The Guards can keep supplies longer by making a special drug that makes the population (what little is left) sterile. They secretly feed the drug to the population and literally just count off the dead each day. Eventually, everyone will die out and Earth becomes the next Mars. However, Angus and the hunters find a Chinese jet that has crashed in the forest. They see the Guards immediately get to the jet and kill all of the passengers except a female named Major Liu. She explains that the makeshift Chinese army still has all of the same problems as the Guards, but they run things a little more gently. Angus discreetly frees Liu and the two begin to understand that they can escape all of this nonsense, kill the Guards, and free mankind. That's a loose summary of what the narrative unfolds. 

As I mentioned earlier, Doomsday, 1999 (silly title as well as the original of Midge) is a high-tech military thriller. It involves some coordinating and planning to infiltrate military outposts, a run 'n gun sequence of firefights in the forest (there's snow everywhere which is my favorite element), and a prison-break chain of events. Needless to say there is a lot of action and intrigue. 

However, there's a weird element that never really made much sense to me. There are midges (tiny little flying insects) that have mutated and have the ability to bite and burn their prey. Because of the midges, most of humanity is either attacked or killed by these burning swarms of bugs. But, the midges don't hurt Liu or Angus, which is explained because they are “nice”. There is also a telepathic connection between Liu and Angus which didn't really make much sense either. These two elements don't detract from the story, but probably do enhance it if the reader figures out what any of that really means. 

The end result is that Doomsday, 1999 is a pretty good military-fiction novel if you treat it that way. While it is doomsday for mankind, the author focuses on action to propel the narrative. Angus and Liu are very likable characters and their final mission to destroy a reactor was exhilarating. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE  

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