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14 August 2012
Charles Eric Maine (pseudonym of David McIlwain; born England 21 January 1921 – died 30th November 1981) was an SF writer whose best works were published in the 1950s and 1960s. His books dealt with new scientific technology and some of the alarmist theories of the time concerning its use and dangers. He began his career in SF very early being a member in the late 30s of a group that included future SF authors John Christopher and John Burke. With John Burke he was involved with the publication of three issues of an SF magazine called The Satellite where he was co-editor. From 1940 to 1941, he published his own magazine called Gargoyle. During World War II, he was in the RAF and served in Northern Africa in 1943. After the war, he worked in TV engineering, and became involved in editorial work with radio and TV. (Many of his fictional characters have backgrounds in technical journalism and publishing.)
In 1947 he married Joan Hardy. Divorcing in 1960, McIlwain married his second wife Clare Came in 1961. But during 1952, he sold his first radio play, Spaceways, to the BBC, instantly popular, the work was rewritten as a novel, and later became a film as well. Another of his most popular works, Timeliner, traveled the same road, being first a radio play named The Einstein Highway, which was rewritten as the novel Timeliner (a scientist is experimenting with a time machine but is thrust in the future by a fellow scientist who was having an affair with the first scientist’s wife.)
His work often crossed genres – with murder as a secondary theme as it is in both Timeliner and Countdown, – while novels The Isotope Man, Subterfuge, and Never Let Up, feature Mike Delaney and Jill Friday, whose work as science reporter and photographer for a magazine lead them into a mixture of espionage mystery and science fiction thrillers, with a little romance thrown in. He made use of a wide variety of science fiction themes throughout his novels. Complications and dangers from forms of time travel are the concern in Timeliner and Calculated Risk. World Without Men and its revised version Alph, consider the war between the sexes. Social themes are the concern of The Mind of Mr Soames. High Vacuum is a fight for survival on the Moon. Most of his novels involve then-topical aspects of technology. McIlwain’s grip of his technological subjects were not always perfect – a point regularly made by reviewers within the science fiction field. But McIlwain’s work is entertaining, often casting a new light on previously used idea.
He then followed friend John Christopher’s example and wrote a couple of disaster novels – The Tide Went Out, and The Darkest of Nights – in which an apparently minor event leads to worldwide destruction. The Tide Went Out is the better of these, with a possible premise. (It may not be technically correct, but it was – and remains – very plausible in explanation.) Scientists have exploded a bomb series, (yes, again) and so massive have the explosions been that they have cracked the outer shell of earth and the oceans are draining away . The main character is Philip Wade, a jaded, cynical, technical reporter for The Outlook newspaper. He arrives at work to be told that his article speculating on the outcome of the bomb series has been pulled from the current edition.
It becomes clear over the next few chapters that his speculation as to the dangers has come true, and that the government is frantic to keep it quiet while they make desperate preparations to move the seat of government, friends, family, and those who will be useful, to an area where they can survive. The remainder of the population will be left to die.
Wade’s actions as the situation descends into savagery are well-written. He is the sort of man who cares little for others, a bystander who only acts when it appears that he may be in danger, and then he is capable of utter ruthlessness. No second thoughts, no hesitation, and no conscience. Mcllwain makes all of that reasonable, this is who and what Wade is, and even his occasional selfless act is understandable, the more so as sometimes in hindsight they aren’t quite so selfless. Philip Wade is not a pleasant character, but the story is more effectively told because of this. Even the outcome for Wade is in character.
Both Alibris (used) and Amazon (new and used) have copies available of the later publication of this book under the alternative title, Thirst. Recommended if you enjoy a good disaster novel and don’t mind the main character being rather unpleasant.
Note: Maine also wrote as Robert Rayner (for mysteries) and Robert Wade (for general fiction) however in this article I have covered only those of his works that could be regarded as SF since that is the purpose of this series.
Spaceways (1953) (Variant Title: Spaceways Satellite)
Escapement (1956) (Variant Title: The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep)
High Vacuum (1956)
The Tide Went Out (1958) (Revised in 1997 with Variant Title: Thirst!)
World Without Men (1958) (Revised in 1972 with Variant Title: Alph)
Count-Down (1959) (Variant Title: Fire Past the Future)
Crisis 2000 (1959)
Calculated Risk (1960)
He Owned the World (1960) (Variant Title: The Man Who Owned the World)
The Mind of Mr. Soames (1961)
The Darkest of Nights (1962) (Variant Title: Survival Margin)
The Electronic Monster (1958)
Timeslip (1956; it was the basis for the later novel, The Isotope Man)
The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)