On The Beach
In the big city of Melbourne, Australia, material goods have become scarce. There are no cars, and very little of the luxuries that there once were. It takes hours to get simple necessities such as milk. All this is because of the nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere. This nuclear war has wiped out every living thing, including all humans, throughout countries like China, Europe, and even the United States. It all began with a fight between Russia and China, who wanted to destroy each others land. They managed this with nuclear bombs, and without realizing the consequences, killed off their own people along with everybody else due to the radiation that was left behind. The radiation has killed all forms of life in the Northern Hemisphere so far, and is now steadily approaching the Southern Hemisphere; the only place left on the planet with life.
Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes lives in Melbourne with his wife, Mary and their infant, Jennifer. They, along with everyone else in Australia, have heard and known that the radiation is slowly coming and scientist have predicted that they only have until September before it spreads throughout Australia, killing them all with a slow sickness. This sickness includes symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, and trembling. It could take anywhere from three days to three weeks to die, depending on one’s resistance in their body. Peter is aware of the short time he has left to live out his life, yet his wife Mary fails to realize that there will be no “next year,” or “next spring.” She continues to plan ahead as if she will still be alive years or even months from then. Peter helps to comfort her by allowing her to think this way and buying her things such as flowers for the garden that will not bloom until the next year.
Peter is called on assignment in the beginning of the book to go on a cruise aboard the U.S.S. Scorpion, the only submarine left. The goal of this cruise is to see if there is any form of life in the northern cities of Cairns, Port Moresby and Darwin. Any form of life would include birds, plants, animals or vegetation. On this cruise, the crew in unsuccessful in finding any forms of life except one dog roaming around. They go back to the port in Melbourne and are docked for some time. While docked, Peter invites the Commander Dwight Towers to stay with him and his wife for the weekend to go sailing and swimming. Mary decides she wants this to be an adventure for Dwight, and therefore invites her friend Moira Davidson. Moira seems to be different then most girls; very forward and drinks too much, and strong in her beliefs. Yet her and Dwight manage to establish a friendship, which they maintain throughout the book.
A few weeks later, another cruise is assigned, both involving Commander Dwight Towers and Peter Holmes. This cruise will be much more difficult and more strenuous. They plan to go up to the United States and around the west coast of Canada to see if they can find the radio signals they have been receiving from where they think is Seattle. The navel officers believe that there must be someone up there running the radio stations to be getting signals. The cruise is planned to take two months, while being submerged underwater for twenty-seven days of those two months.
Before Peter leaves for his cruise he wants to make sure that his wife and daughter are taken care of if the radiation were to come quicker then expected and he was not there to help her or be with her. He goes to a nearby chemist for information on what happens to a person when hit with radiation sickness and what to do when it happens. The chemist tells him of all the symptoms and gives him some pills that no one else has been able to get yet. These pills are designed to kill a person peacefully in their sleep, and are meant to be taken when a person knows that they don’t want to go on with living through the radiation sickness that will eventually kill them. When Peter tells gives his wife the pills, she gets angry and accuses him of trying to kill her and the baby. She is having a hard time realizing that there is no way out of this; everyone will eventually die soon enough. He soon convinces her that this is the best thing to do for her and the baby.
Finally it is time for the second exploratory cruise of the U.S.S. Scorpion to take place. Twenty-five days into the voyage, they come across San Francisco and find the Golden Gate bridge to be completely torn down and all the houses along the shore to be unhabitable. The submarine moved from place to place, taking pictures and recording radiation levels in each city they came to. At the small town of Edmonds, one of the crew members, Yeoman First Class Ralph Swain, realizes that they have come to his hometown and suddenly becomes nervous and homesick. A couple minutes later he climbs out of the surfaced submarine through the escape deck and swims to shore. The commander tries to get him back but gives up after shortly because he had already been contaminated with the radiation which would spread to the other members of the crew if he was let back on. They decided to move on, knowing that he would die in a few short days.
The crew come upon the spot at which the radio signals have been coming from. They send a member out in a protective suite to check out the surroundings and he turns off the radio with one final message stating there is no life at that present time. Without finding any other reasons to stay in the Northern Hemisphere, the submarine turns back for home. They report their findings to the navel officers in Australia.
With the radiation drawing closer and closer to Melbourne, everyone continues on as if nothing is going to happen, with the exception of spending more time with their families on their last weekend of full health. They all know that by the next week, the sickness will have gotten to everyone. Peter’s wife Mary still has hope that she will still be alive and somehow overcome this because they live far away in the country where she believes it cannot reach them. Eventually everyone, one by one, becomes sick, including Mary and Peter and their baby. They decide one night to take the pill together and give their baby the fatal injection so that they will not continue on suffering and can die together in peace. The story ends with Moira watching her friend Dwight take off in the submarine for its last cruise. He intends to sink the ship, out of respect for the Navy.
On The Beach shows how one country can undoubtedly affect another country, even when they are neutral. If focuses on the last months of a community’s lives and how they deal with the fact that they know they are going to die in a matter of months. They continue on, performing their duties and not fully recognizing their fate. In the end, they manage to stick together and accept their fate of being the last of human life upon the Earth.