“Two Dooms,” Cyril M. Kornbluth, 1958

“Two Dooms,” Cyril M. Kornbluth, 1958 – Los Alamos, May 1945: Edward Royland is a theoretical physicist pondering the ethics of creating the atom bomb.  He’s transported by a Native American fable/ritual (and peyote) to a world where the Nazis and Japanese have won the war.  Noting that the ruins of the Hopi reservation are now littered with skeletons, he wonders, “Who would kill the Native Americans?”—and the satire begins.  His harrowing time in the alternate universe allows him to explore “the ramifications of both Asian and European versions of fascism upon the lot of the common person, as well as the wreckage it makes of education and scientific advancement.” (Good Short Fiction to Read)

Comments: A sophisticated, provocative, sometimes objectionable satire and alternate universe story.  Several suggestions that science is being undermined, e.g. the scientist is transported to the alternate universe with the assistance of a Native American fable/ritual and not solely through a mechanism of science (or a familiar sf trope), although the drug and perhaps a quantum portal are the critical element.  Also, perhaps the scientific method fails as a means of “knowing” and other possible forms of knowledge and communication (letters, witnesses, rumors) are ignored by relatives in America who are capable of learning the truth.  Finally, although the narrator seems to conclude that the atom bomb was necessary, the title and content of the story create ambiguity.  Issues of gender raised in a propaganda scene in which a scantily clad blonde majorette leads the new Nazi recruits; also raised in a passage where a submissive woman offers to lick a man’s toes. 

For a more detailed review, see Good Short Fiction to Read, which notes that “Kornbluth here also tears down the popular myth that Nazism attracted an unalloyed nexus of brilliant scientific intellects, for his story of an alternative future exposes the grossly unscientific notions and medieval presumptions of historical Nazi dogma and the absurd directions it would have taken humanity if it had developed unchallenged and become chronically institutional.”  Also see “‘Two Dooms’ and the Memory of World War II in Alternate History” by Nader Elhefnawy at the Internet Review of Science Fiction, which explores common themes of WWII alternate histories.  Nader views this story as a precursor to Dick’s Man in the High Castle.

Author: Wikipedia: “Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923 – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a notable member of the Futurians.”  Interested readers: “Re-reading Kornbluth” by Robert Silverberg.  See also James Sallis’s review of C. M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary (2010) in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1946-1959, alternate history, american culture, atomic bomb/Hiroshima, communication, drugs/pharma, eugenics/heredity, fantasy/fable/fairy tale, favorites, gender, genocide/Holocaust, intelligence, knowledge/truth/epistemology, nationalism, Native Americans, satire, scientific ethics, the body, the Other, the scientist, time/history/causality, totalitarianism/fascism, violence, war/soldiers. Bookmark the permalink.

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