THE TIDE WENT OUT by Charles Eric Maine. Book review

THE TIDE WENT OUT by Charles Eric Maine, The British Library, p/b, bl-shop@bl.uk

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

While other publishers concentrate on releasing new novels or short story collections, The British Library investigates and releases older novels that might not have been seen by the public, if seen at all. The Tide Went Out (originally printed in the 1970s as Thirst) was the sort of tale that emerged from the Cold War period when many of us feared the threat of nuclear war, something we still felt during the Reagan era in the 1980s.

Originally published in 1958 by Hodder & Stoughton, Charles Eric Maine was the pen-name of David Mc Ilwain (1921-1981), a writer of science fiction novels during the 1950s and 1960s. His themes were mainly of the rapid progression of science and the consequences of it. Admittedly, while I got this book to review, I had not previously heard of Charles Eric Maine or any of his previous works, but that did not stop me from delving into his history and what I would consider is bygone even as the subject matter is as relevant now as it was then. 

The story itself is a simple one, Philip Wade a journalist for a Fleet Street newspaper comes to his office to find out his latest article has been edited by the British Government. No one tends to like their work being censored, so Wade decides to investigate why this has been done. What I thought was a way of preventing him from doing this is to offer him another job at the International Bureau of Information where they have him write articles that paint the government in a more positive light regardless of what is really going on in the world. 

Wade knows they can only lie to the people for so long as behind the scenes nuclear tests have damaged the Earth’s crust in the South Pacific, and the result is that the water is fast running out. Charles Eric Maine is known for writing about possible moments in future history where mankind will have to account for what they have done, and David A. Hardy’s painting of a nuclear disaster and subsequent drought is enough to make us wonder whether this will happen to us at some point. Hopefully not, but what is more sinister is Wade’s article being censored by the government as censorship is becoming a big thing at the moment in the media; an example of this is shown before the introduction by Mike Ashley that is the article and how much they censored it.

 In Mike Ashley’s Introduction: The End of Humanity? He mentions two of who he calls the best doom merchants of the 1950s; John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids), and John Christopher (The Death of Grass), had the Earth at the very brink of destruction, unlikely to be saved, leaving readers unsure as to a solution to the destruction.  What we find out later is that Wade’s article is only an educated guess at what could possibly happen if nuclear testing went wrong, but Wade works out with the help of a friend that he must have hit the nail on the head and the government had a knee-jerk reaction to it. 

I expected the book to be quite dry reading as it was from the 1950s but found myself feeling I was in some old movie, impressed by Wade and the small collection of characters he was surrounded by. As a journalist, he is inquisitive, intelligent, but stifled by the newspaper’s imminent takeover and his being sent elsewhere to work; all in secrecy as his boss has to be careful what he says to Wade. There is a sense of tension as the story builds, but it is slowly, though Maine doesn’t bore, on the contrary, the pacing acts as a tension-builder for the coming end of the earthquakes and start of the disaster about to happen.

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