Book Review: The Long Loud Silence, Wilson Tucker (1952, revised 1969)

LNGLDS1952

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1953 edition)

4.25/5 (Very Good)

Preliminary Note: I read the 1969 Lancer edition which was “specially revised and updated by the author.”  Other than many overt references to the Vietnam War which chronologically could not have been in the original 1952 edition, I am uncertain how much was subtracted, added, or re-conceived.  John Clute at SF Encyclopedia indicates that “early editions” deleted references to cannibalism.  Perhaps he means the pre-1969 editions as it is horrifyingly present in this edition.  I wish I read the first edition as comparisons to his contemporaries would be easier to make.  Anyone who has read both versions or knows of a resource which lays out the modifications, please let me know.  The idea of updating a radical 50s novel for a late 60s audience intrigues me!

The Long Loud Silence (1952, revised 1969) is a quiet novel that depends on the emotional impact of loneliness and trauma,  and the desire for intrahuman connection in a dying world.  The United States undergoes forced bifurcation along the Mississippi after an all-out attack (bombs, biological weapons, and sabotage by foreign agents) by an unknown force.

“If you were among the lucky millions living in the western two-thirds of the nation, you gave thanks to your god. If you were among the unlucky thousands still struggling for an existence east of the river, you remained there until you died. There was no other choice, no other future.” (6).

Corporal Russell Gary, back in the United States after service in Vietnam, wakes up from a drunken stupor on the wrong side of the Mississippi.  The rest of the army is stationed on the Western-side preventing the contaminated Eastern populace from crossing.  In many ways Gary fits the anti-hero mold and is strangely at odds with most 50s protagonists.  He wishes he was with the remnants of the army shooting those who try to cross the river.  In addition to his shrapnel wound received in battle, Gary undergoes emotional trauma after his return from Vietnam, “He talked aloud to himself, and didn’t care. He had done that in Viet Nam a few years before and the mark of loneliness clung to him ever afterward” (134).

The violence he experienced in war resonates with more force when it is his homeland in ruins: “Chicago was ours… and our cities were not meant to be touched. Chicago was not at all like those foreign towns that belonged to strangers. Chicago hurt him” (38).  This back and forth internal dialogue between his previous war experience in the “Hue campaign” and “five days on the River of Perfumes” (8) and the newly wrought devastation generate some of the novel’s strongest moments.

Gary’s episodic journey up and down the the Eastern states–he occasionally looks for a way to cross Mississippi, at other times searches for a place to hold up for the winter–exudes uncomfortable realism and brutality.  With “morbid curiosity of an onlooker who knows the game will end in disaster” (6), he follows and observes an old women shot while attempting to cross the river.  He rescues a young woman named Sandy and brings back the body of her dead brother (partially devoured by hungry raiders) for the sole purpose of convincing her parents to let him stay the winter.  He spends another winter in a polyamorous relationship (“You want me to be nice to both of you?” 70) in Florida—a relationship that falls apart when Sally decides that her child is Oliver’s and not his.  As the population dies off, only the desperate and increasingly feral remain.

Final Thoughts

The Long Loud Silence transposes the devastated landscape of a bombed Vietnam to the American heartland.  In this world only a scarred man who cares predominately for his own survival will stay alive.  The apocalyptical world that remains in the East slowly dies, and in the West propagandistic narratives cover-up the guilt of abandoning a people.

If a 50s novel with polyamory, cannibalism (overt references were left out of earlier editions), a flawed and traumatized protagonist, and simple but effective prose intrigues, be sure to find a copy.  This is a dark little gem that writhes with quiet and ruminative pain.

Wilson Tucker’s The Long Loud Silence joins Level 7 (1959) and A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959 (although the latter two are superior) as my favorite post-apocalyptical novel of the 50s.  I look forward to reading the other Tucker novels in my collection: The Lincoln Hunters (1958) and Tomorrow Plus X (1955).

Highly recommended.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

The Long Loud Silence (revised) (1969)

(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition)

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(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1952 edition)

Coronet-25087x Tucker Long Loud Silence

(Uncredited cover for the 1980 edition)

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(Franco Brambilla’s cover for the 2014 Italian edition)

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27 thoughts on “Book Review: The Long Loud Silence, Wilson Tucker (1952, revised 1969)”

  1. Oi! What’s with the Richard Power’s cover? I think that’s the first of that kind of cover that I’ve seen by him. Though, you can still see his human shapes that he uses in the more surrealist Ballentine covers.

    1. I think it has many of his touches. Look closely at his figures in other Ballantine book covers. That said, the answer relates to the date — it’s early 50s Powers vs. late 50s/60s/70s Powers.

  2. Might have to give this one a try. I’ve been reading through all the hip new books the kids are talking about, and I could go for something different.

      1. I read A Little Life and Heroes of the Frontier. And now I’m reading The Girls. I got my finger on the pulse this summer!

      2. Basically I’m the coolest and on the cutting edge is what I think we’re both saying right now.

  3. Hi Joachim

    Although I have found Tucker to be a good writer, I have not yet read this novel, so I only looked at your preliminary notes. I have the 1953 edition but based on your comments I think I will try to find one of the newer editions as well to compare. The Powers cover for the 1953 is great, even if it is, as you have already discussed more realistic than the style he developed later in his career. And I love the Sturgeon, one of his best covers in my mind.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

    1. I found the integration of the Vietnam War one of the most effective elements of the book! That said, if he happened to simply substitute Vietnam War references for the existing WWII references it would still work in many ways… But, until someone informs me otherwise, the references to cannibalism seems to be the big difference as they did not restore the original ending that Tucker himself wanted.

  4. I’m a big Tucker fan and this book is partly why. I have the 1980 cover so mine must include the Vietnam elements.

    The Lincoln Hunters is I think his best regarded, and is very good. I also really like his Wild Talents (cold war psychic spies) and his The Year of the Quiet Sun. Another I’ve read, Ice and Iron, had the tremendous idea that in the present we start seeing evidence of a war in the future waged with weapons that send their targets back in time, a fact made more worrying by the primitive nature of some of those sent back.

    The Year of the Quiet Sun has the same bleak quality this one does; Wild Talents and The Lincoln Hunters are a bit more upbeat.

    He was a hugely imaginative and highly skilled writer and I don’t think he remotely gets the recognition he deserves. Tomorrow + X is apparently also called Time Bomb and I suspect may be one of his more minor works, but I’d be delighted to see your thoughts since I don’t know it.

    Great review. Really pleased to see him getting some attention.

    1. I wonder if the Vietnam elements were simple substitutions for the original WWII elements.

      I tried to read The Year of the Quiet Sun but for some reason or another couldn’t get into and set it back on the shelf. Of the bunch, I’ll probably read The Lincoln Hunters next.

      Thanks for the kind comments!

      There were two other reviews which sort of convinced me to read it.

      Over at The Finch and the Pea: https://thefinchandpea.com/2010/06/21/ending-the-world-for-60-years-1952/

      And Chris at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased: https://yellowedandcreased.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-long-loud-silence-wilson-tucker/

  5. Thanks Joachim, Tucker sounds like a real find. According to Clute the early UK editions did not censor the canabalism.

    1. The book itself has a very minor publication history. So, two UK editions (same press) — and one I don’t recognize…. The Bodley Head. The most recent non-dinky press publication US/UK was Coronet, in 1980 — ridiculous.

  6. Bodley Head published Agatha Christie books in the UK, but I didn’t know they put out any Sci-Fi as well.

    That black and white cover by Powers is one of the best by him that I’ve seen. I quite like the cover on the 2014 Italian edition as well.

    1. The Italian cover effectively conveys the thematic core of the novel (but not sold on the style) — definitely better than the 1980 Coronet version which must be for some other post-apocalyptical novel, hah.

      1. My only issue is that it’s all computer generated… and some of his earlier work looks a little “blargh.” As computer graphics were rather primitive…

      2. I probably have much lower standards when it comes to recent Sci-Fi illustration. I’m happy when it is a step or two away from ‘Good Show Sir’ or the hyper-realistic surrealism of BAEN.

        Brambilla reminds me of Michael Koelsh, in that his works can be good, if a bit derivative, like the cover for ‘Gun, with Occasional Music’
        http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?16199

        or very derivative, but this one is probably on purpose….

        http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1441100

        and then there’s the Good Show Sir ready:

        http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1122453

      3. Peter, I have to admit, I don’t really care for Michael Koelsh’s art. They definitely feel derivative and are not that evocative, and I bet Jonathan Lethem’s novel is more than its cover in terms of toying/subverting with genre…

  7. I read this for the first time in college, and did not really appreciate it. Finished it, but not out of enjoyment but stubbornness. I came back to it as a father, and for whatever reason absolutely loved it. Found the book to be very moving (have been afraid to read it a third time for fear of having yet another perspective that might temper my joy).
    I have since explored more of Tucker’s work, and enjoyed the Quiet Sun as well.
    Sadly however, I have not been able to find a copy with the Richard Powers cover art. Powers is by far one of my favorite cover artists, his work is powerful and requires an intellectual investment to really enjoy that I appreciate. Powers had an amazing sense of color, composition and texture that is lacking in a great many of the book covers I see today – not to mention his brilliant ability to create surreal and abstract imagery that grabs the viewer rather than pushes them away.

    1. Do you know which version you read? As you can see from my review, I am very curious about the changes between the 50s original version and the late 60s rewrite — the rewrite obviously has a lot of Vietnam references that would be missing in the earlier one…

      But yes, agree with your comment on Powers. He is my single favorite SF artist. I suspect ebay would be your best bet to find the edition you want, but, it’ll be a tad pricey most likely.

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