Posted by: Lizzie Ross | November 25, 2011

So, you’re saying the moon is NOT made of green cheese?

The Hopkins Manuscript (1939), R C Sherriff, 269 pp.

Another item for my ‘obscure book’ list. A friend loaned this to me, saying only, “It’s about how the moon crashes into the earth, but that doesn’t destroy us. People do.”

Sounds like a happy read, right?

Well, there are funny moments. Edgar Hopkins, the narrator, is a persnickety upper-middle-class countryman who breeds chickens for show (high ha-ha factor right there). Independently wealthy, he lives alone, blind to his snobbish crankiness. Even after the Cataclysm, as society is crumbling around him and he finds his lonely life changed (for the better) by joining forces with a brother and sister in their late teens/early twenties — even then he can’t let go of his sense of propriety. At a village dinner some months after the moon has killed more people than the Black Death did five centuries earlier, he admires the fact that class distinctions have disappeared, and then two lines later happily reports that he spoke to the washerwoman sitting next to him “as if she were my equal”.

Yes, there will always be an England.

Unless the moon decides to crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

In this alternate universe, the moon is hollow, so it collapses into the sea without completely demolishing the world. Most of the population of Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East survive with their societal structures intact. Uh-oh for the colonialists!

My edition includes an afterword by George Gamow analyzing Sherriff’s science. It’s a relief to learn that, if the moon should crash into the earth, we wouldn’t have to worry about subsequent wars. As Gamow so encouragingly put it, “it is not likely that anyone at all could survive this descent upon the earth.”

Whatever happened to “not with a bang, but a whimper”?


Postscript (2012): Of course the publication date should have been a tip-off, but now that I think about it, I have to wonder to what extent Sheriff used the moon’s impact with the earth as an allegory for what was happening in Europe in the mid to late 1930s.


  1. […] in 2011, on a previous blog, I reviewed an obscure sci-fi book by RC Sheriff about a cataclysmic disaster involving an asteroid, the moon, […]

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