The Year When Stardust Fellwas written at the peak of the cold war. Backyard fallout shelters were all the rage. The great powers were in a race to build ever more destructive bombs. Science was seen as a two edged sword. On one hand it brought marvels like television. On the other it brought the threat of total destruction. To many people, the collapse of civilization seemed just around the corner. This is the environment in which Raymond F. Jones wrote the novel.
The Year When Stardust Fell wasn’t the first book to examine the collapse of civilization, and it certainly wasn’t the last. “The last man alive” was a theme common in much of the science fiction of the time and had even crossed over into the more mainstream media. Indeed, visions of post-apocalyptic worlds have continue to appear in books and movies even now, sixty some years since the first atomic bomb exploded.
What sets The Year When Stardust Fell apart from these is that Jones gives us a detailed look at the process of the collapse, and how ordinary people try to cope with the failure of all the features of the life that they have come to count on. This is middle America at its best and its worst. Greed and cowardice is set against leadership and heroism.
It doesn’t matter much that the scenario described by Jones is not very likely. He says as much in his preface. What he wanted to examine, and have the reader ponder, was how people would deal with a collapse. This is still a relevant question. It is true that nuclear war seems less likely today that it did in the 50’s, at least between the major powers. But one can hardly pick up a paper without reading about environmental catastrophe from one cause or another, whether it is global warming, genetic engineering or whatever. And let’s not forget old-fashioned natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis. We’ve seen what happens to one large city when things break down in the aftermath of Katrina.
In the end, The Year When Stardust Fell is just a novel, but the themes it explores continue to have relevance to our modern world.