The Moon People’s paranoid storyline in The Last Shade Tree springs from the last century’s jittery fears of a nuclear attack. Although those fears have been blunted in the popular imagination by the decline of the Cold War and the passage of time, the world’s strongest nations remain armed to the teeth with little progress made in cutting stockpiles. Meanwhile, many smaller nations strive to catch up. The myth still persists that surviving a nuclear war is a breeze if you have a fallout shelter; a glance at the Internet shows companies anxious to build costly custom-made underground havens just for you.  

“The Doomsday Clock” by Martyl Langsdorf for the  Bulletin ’s first issue. Since 1947 the five-minute setting has shrunk. It is now set at two-and-a-half minutes.

“The Doomsday Clock” by Martyl Langsdorf for the Bulletin’s first issue. Since 1947 the five-minute setting has shrunk. It is now set at two-and-a-half minutes.

The Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock is not mentioned in The Last Shade Tree. But it illustrates perfectly why the present isn’t a time for complacency. The members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists came up with the clock in 1947 as a metaphor to show how close the human race is to destroying the planet in a global nuclear war. They update the clock every year, and, in 2007, they added climate change as a compounding threat. 

In January, 2019 the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board decided not to move the Doomsday Clock’s hands closer to midnight, the highly visual and visceral countdown to nuclear and/or ecological catastrophe. This year the clock stays at a dangerously close two minutes to midnight. The scientists of the Bulletin refer to this unhealthy state as the “new abnormal,” in their words, “a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet…. The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.”

Undergraoud bomb shelter dvertisement, 1960s

Fallout Shelters

In addition to public shelters in cities, the notion of private shelters to protect against radiation had its heyday in the 1960s. Commercial firms offered a variety of choices that ranged from the “$13.50 foxhole” to the “$5,000 deluxe model.”