Chapter One – The Last Night on Earth
I guess Morris doesn’t mind us knowing what’s going to happen.
The book opens by introducing us to Josh Adams, who lives not too far from an unnamed city. At the age of thirteen he suddenly experiences a growth spurt and instantly becomes clumsy. So, his ‘schoolmates’ mock him by calling him ‘Ichabod Crane’ or ‘Icky’ for short. Now, I’m not exactly an expert in this, but I cannot imagine any Junior High kid using Ichabod Crane or Icky as an insult.
His father notices Josh is upset about this and walking with a slouch, and comforts him by comparing him to the collie puppy that lives next door. Not to worry, his dad tells him, right now you look like that idiotic puppy, before too long you’ll look like…an adult dog? Where did this guy learn parenting skills? Comparing your teenage son to a dog isn’t particularly encouraging. Josh, however, is merely sad, because he thinks that he shall never achieve Colliehood.
Josh spends a paragraph in angst but before he can really get into it Sarah Collingwood, the daughter of his parent’s old college friends, arrives on the scene. She’ll be staying with them for the rest of the school year. Morris describes her as being a bit younger than Josh, small, graceful, quite pretty, with black hair and brown eyes. Josh immediately turns red when he meets her, and who wants to bet that she’ll be his Designated Love Interest?
They take Sarah’s things up to her room, and Josh thinks about how Sarah will make fun of him like the other girls at school. The narrator interrupts here to explain to us that the girls at school were not, in fact, making fun of him, but actually noticing that he was starting to get good-looking — and that Sarah was actually hoping that Josh would like her. Wonderful. You see, good books would explain this with a scene where characters talk about how they feel, but instead, we have a narrator tell us what is happening. Goodbye, character development.
Sarah says that she hopes he doesn’t mind she’s there. Josh is glad she’s there, but he hides this by asking why her parents sent her. She tells him that they’re missionaries in Africa. Josh pretends to be disgusted, and Morris demonstrates his cluelessness:
Actually, Josh enjoyed going to church with his parents. However, he was afraid of being considered “soft,” so he affected the tough manner he had seen in others. “Well, don’t go trying to preach to me!” (page 13)
The problem with this is that Christian kids who are ashamed of being “soft”, as Morris puts it, only feel the need to act as if they aren’t religious when they’re around nonreligious people. Given that obviously both Josh and Sarah have been raised in ‘Christian’ homes, there’s absolutely no reason for Josh to feel like he has to defend himself against being Christian.
Sarah’s lip starts to tremble, and she mentions there’s a revolution in Africa (never mind that there’s many separate countries in Africa), and the real reason her parents sent her back to the U. S. was because it was dangerous. We segue back into omniscient narrator who tells us Josh almost did the right thing and encouraged her, and if he had, the next few days would have been far better. But Sarah is too pretty and Josh is too afraid of girls. So he blows her off. Sarah decides that he’s not worth her time and from then on refuses to talk to him, and Josh angsts.
There’s a break in the story, and we come in almost a year later. Josh is asleep when suddenly his father wakes him up in a panic, and tells him to get dressed, because they have to go to the silo. And Morris gives us the most unconvincing rational I’ve ever heard:
Josh’s father was a scientist who did some sort of secret work for the government. The silo had been part of an old underground missile base that had been made into a laboratory. (page 14)
Now, this might make sense if it was written entirely through Josh’s reasonably clueless 14-year-old view. However, since nearly every description and explanation in the book is written by the omniscient narrator, there’s no reason for this.
Mr. Adams tells Josh to make sure Sarah’s up and meet them in the car and then rushes off. Josh finishes dressing, finds Sarah, and they jump into the car where Josh’s parents are waiting. As a soon as Josh closes the door, Mr. Adams sends the car flying onto the highway – which makes me wonder how many driveways directly connect to the highway.
Josh suddenly realizes that it’s a war, which his father confirms. There was an attack on the East Coast, and apparently the rest of the country is about to get bombed. He then turns on the radio, and the president begins to talk. He says that it’s the most terrible crisis in the history of mankind, that he’s declared a national emergency, and American armies are already being deployed. The world stands on the brink of destruction, please pray for – and the radio goes dead.
There are several problems with this. First, this is all-out nuclear war. Which means the instant that American satellites spotted nuclear missiles on their way towards American soil (which would happen within seconds of their launch), American missiles would start being launched towards the opposing country (or countries). In fact, there would need to be very little American mobilization, considering that the entire war would likely be fought and ended with the pushing of a few buttons and everyone would be dead before they even knew it was happening. Regardless, the President would be inside a nuclear shelter deep beneath the surface of the ground and he would be very busy, far too busy to deliver an encouraging message to the public.
After this little display of stupidity, there’s actually a really good moment where Josh looks towards the east and sees the sky begin to turn red, and comments that it’s almost daylight. Mr. Adams just says “That’s not the sun.” It’s such a good line that it makes me wonder where Morris found it.
Mr. Adams leads them downstairs, through a steel door, and into a small room where there’s nothing but a white coffin covered by clear plastic. Mr. Adams tells Josh that it’s for him, and Josh, understandably, starts to freak out. His parents explain that the world is going to end for awhile – say, a day or two – but after that the world that they all knew would be gone forever. Mr. Adams explains that the coffin – which he calls a Sleep Capsule – is what they’ve been working on ever since they realized the war was coming. The people inside will go to sleep, and wake up when everything’s safe and warm and fuzzy. And there are more sleep capsules, in different places, so hopefully at least some of them will get through.
Which begs a lot of questions.
First of all, Josh’s parents work for the U.S. government. Which means that these Sleep Capsules are the government’s plan for the impending nuclear war (which, in turn, begs the question: if they knew that the war was coming, why not a preemptive strike?). And, in case the title didn’t tip you off, there are exactly seven of these Capsules. Yes. That is the United States’ plan for nuclear war: put seven people in sleep capsules and let them sleep through the nuclear war and be awakened eventually. If the United States is worried about the continued survival of the human race, then why not build, say, a hundred of these capsules? Or why not a thousand? If you want to make sure your civilization continues, why not actually make sure? Seven seems to be cutting things a little short.
And, if the ultimate goal is the continuation of the human race, why not include more females? I’ll just reveal here that out of the Seven Sleepers, only two of them are girls. Two girls and five boys, between the ages of twelve and fifteen. Again, let’s not forget that this is the United States’ entire plan for nuclear war. Seven young, dumb kids, who are getting put in suspended animation chambers for the nuclear war.
And how, exactly, did Josh get selected for this honor? You’d think there would be a careful selection process – a kid who is extremely intelligent, healthy, with good genes is probably necessary – either that or a kid whose parents are extremely powerful…like the President’s daughter. Instead, the only son of the leading designers just happens to be the Chosen One. And, Sleeper #2 happens to Sarah, who just happens to be the daughter of some friends of these lead designers. It’s painfully obvious that Morris either just didn’t think of these questions or chose to completely ignore them.
Mr. Adams explains that the capsules are a closely guarded secret and no one knows where the capsules are – except, of course, he does, and obviously Mrs. Adams does as well. If secrecy is so important you’d think that like sleeper cells, each team wouldn’t know where the other team’s capsule is. But Mrs. Adams explains that she’ll be taking Sarah to her location. While this is happening, the concrete floor keeps on rumbling ominously, which, I assume, means that bombs are falling fairly close. And since they’ve just explained how no two capsules are in the same location, they have next to no time to take Sarah to the her location, which begs the question of why didn’t Mrs. Adams take Sarah directly there?
Right. We would have missed their Touching Farewell Scene. She hugs Josh, and, oddly, says “Good night, son.” Then she goes to a desk, takes out a journal, and gives it to him. She explains that the journal contains all the things she believes in. Josh promises to keep it and read it. His mother hugs him again, promises she’ll meet him again, and then she and Sarah disappear through a steel door.
Josh asks what will happen to his parents, and his father says not to worry about it. There’s a touching moment when his father talks about going mountain-climbing in Colorado last year, and Josh was afraid to go down a steep cliff, and would only do it if his father held the rope. Mr. Adams tells Josh that if he’ll trust him, he’ll keep on holding the rope. It’s very emotional.
Suddenly Mr. Adams begins telling Josh that for the past few weeks, he’s been dreaming about a man coming and teaching him a song. Which he doesn’t understand, but assumes that it has something to do with Josh and Sarah, and has helpfully made a tape of all the songs. And who wants to bet that this tape will be Extremely Important?
Josh gets in the coffin. Before his father shuts the lid, he makes Josh promise two things: Believe the song, and obey his mother’s journal. Like the obedient sheep that he is, Josh promises, and begins repeating the command over and over again. The lid closes, and Josh falls into a drugged sleep.