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TERMUSH by Sven Holm


by Sven Holm ; translated by Sylvia Clayton

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9780374613587
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Well-to-do survivors of a post-apocalyptic disaster hole up in an exclusive hotel.

When unbelievable events regularly happen before our eyes, it's instructive to have artifacts to give them context—for instance, this buried treasure, originally published by Danish novelist Holm in 1967, translated contemporaneously by British novelist Clayton, and resurrected from the archives with a new introduction by SF lighthouse keeper Jeff VanderMeer. It’s a slim novel, but its universal setting and farsighted themes combine with the author’s eerie minimalism to make it feel as modern as it is avant-garde. “Everything went according to plan...” says the anonymous narrator, making observations from the titular hotel where a wealthy group of survivors are sheltering from deadly radiation outside. We learn that the narrator enrolled in the program some years ago, promised "a guarantee of help” when the time came, complete with protective shelters, security personnel, and uncontaminated food and water. Before long, things begin to go wrong, from the near-constant radiation alarms that drive Termush’s inhabitants underground to dead birds falling from the air to the arrival of other survivors quickly labeled enemies. Inevitably, the denizens of the resort are transformed. Like the privileged tourists playing dress-up in dystopian fictions like Westworld or White Lotus, our narrator and the other residents of Termush devolve to their basest instincts sooner than you’d think: “We paid money to go on living in the same way that one once paid health insurance; we bought the commodity called survival, and according to all existing contracts no one has the right to take it from us or make demands upon it.” When brandy and sedatives fail and violence and death follow, the survivors of Termush soon learn that money doesn’t provide as much insulation as it did in the Before Times.

A prescient parable that finds the rich dismayed with what happens after the world ends.