Nuclear Family, Exploded: Ward Moore’s ‘Lot’ and ‘Lot’s Daughter’

Mr. Jimmon even appeared elated, like a man about to set out on vacation.

“Well folks, no use waiting any longer. We’re all set. So let’s go.”

So begins the saga of David Jimmon, the focal point of Ward Moore’s post-nuclear novelettes Lot and Lot’s Daughter (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1953 and October 1954) and thematic successor to Albert Weener, the antiheroic protagonist of Moore’s free-market doomsday satire Greener Than You Think (William Sloane Associates, 1947). Jimmon is introduced in medias res, as he finishes packing his family (wife, daughter, two sons) and a bulky assortment of hunting gear and non-perishables into his station wagon. It could well be the beginning of a typical American vacation, as the opening lines allude, were it not for the strange overtones that surround it. The utilities have been cut, and the Jimmon’s second car sits idly in the garage, “the air thoughtfully let out of the tires and the battery hidden.” The wagon’s FM set belches Mexican radio, Civil Defense broadcasts, and channel after channel of static.

The implications are clear. The atom has struck the greater Los Angeles area, though Moore leaves the attack itself tantalizingly off page. The reader is left to deduce it’s full scope from fragmentary quotation of Civil Defense reports and Jimmon’s questionable deductions. He balances the official assurances of a limited attack (“. . . panic will merely slow rescue efforts. Casualties are much smaller than originally reported . . . “) and a capable emergency response with grimmer observations; civilization is cooked by his estimation, and only those (like himself, conveniently) with the foresight to prepare and the ingenuity to put such preparation to action are deserving of survival.

Therein lies the crux of Lot and its sequel Lot’s Daughter. Speculative fiction is ripe with tales of man’s efforts to survive in the face of some great cataclysm or other, and Moore’s stories themselves served as uncredited source material for scenarist Jay Simms’ Panic in Year Zero! (American International Pictures, 1962), a film that positively revels in its chauvinist post-apocalyptic excesses. The similarities are only skin deep, however, and one would be remiss in lumping Lot or Lot’s Daugher together with the bulk of libertarian survivalist fantasies. David Jimmon is certainly no self-made doomsday hero, as is Ray Milland’s Harry Baldwin in the filmed version, protecting his family against an inevitable post-nuke social decline and taking up arms to fight for life, liberty, and the American way against black market profiteers and doped-up hot-rod hoodlums. Jimmon is a fundamentally broken character in the best of Moore’s writing tradition, a meek and cowardly perennial malcontent and a festering amalgamate of middle-aged resentments; he is a Harry Baldwin only in his own delusions, and deluded enough to believe himself superior to all.

Jimmon hates many things. He hates his neighbors, the Warbinns (“. . . incompetent borrower, bad neighbor, thoughtless, shiftless, criminal . . .“), who provide an early stumbling block to his station wagon exodus from A-bombed Los Angeles. He hates the family pet, a spaniel Jimmon leaves to fend for itself in the hills of Malibu (“. . . Should have sent the dog to the humane society; more merciful to have it put to sleep. Too late now. . .“). But most of all David Jimmon hates his own family, and the civic-minded responsibility that binds him to them.

Dependent. Helpless. Everything on him. Parasites.

But as the station wagon barrels wrong-way down a divided highway the ties that bind him to his pre-disaster responsibilities begin to fray. The prospect of abandoning the long-engrained habits of good-natured civility invigorates David Jimmon.

What, after all, does he now owe to those for whom he was responsible? His wife Molly, whom he wishes were fat and supine, and whom he suspects of cheating while simultaneously refusing to believe she has the independent agency to have done so. His two sons, David Jr. and Wendell, in whose youthful recalcitrance he sees the germ of violent hooliganism. Before merely a burden, now an existential danger to his individualism, and the final barrier to the shedding of his civility. His predilections and prejudices, presentiments and perversions simmer, barely sublimated, tenuously restrained by the eroding bonds of family.

Parasites.

A gas station break. Jimmon pays the attendant’s extortionate rates, bemused. Wendell rushes to the restroom. David Jr. ponders catching a movie. Molly wonders about the local hotel accommodations. Jimmon slips a wad of cash into her purse, $20,000 in hundred dollar bills- the sum of his life savings, and suggests she take David Jr. and find a telephone.

Parasites.

Jimmon orders his teenage daughter, Erika, into the station wagon. She complies. He slides behind the wheel, starts the motor, and shifts the wagon into low gear . . .

. . . he thought Erika turned to him with a startled look. As the station wagon moved forward, he was sure of it.

“It’s all right, Erika,” said Mr. Jimmon, “I’ll explain later.”

He’d have lots of time to do it.

PANIC_3
Cover detail from Urania #375, published in March of 1965, which collects Italian translations of both ‘Lot’ and ‘Lot’s Daughter’.

Set some six years on from the events of Lot, Lot’s Daughter finds Jimmon struggling to exist in his brave new world, the initial post-attack excitement having long-since subsided and the invigoration of his grand social trespass supplanted by the tangible consequences of the same. Jimmon and Erika are alienated from whatever may remain of the America they left behind, isolated in a patch of otherwise unpopulated woodland near Monteray. The station wagon is hidden, its battery dead, its radio silent. Whatever has become of his abandoned wife and sons is unknown.

Jimmon’s fantasy of survival has collapsed under the weight of the realization of his own crippling weaknesses. The sum total of his achievements in six years are a single ramshackle shelter, an incongruous collection of cut logs and moss in constant need of repair. His carefully collected supplies have been lost to careless exposure to the elements, his best-laid plans now but a string of dismal personal failures. A roof not boarded. A dam not built. Local foodstuffs are either depleted or beyond his minimal skills to hunt them down, and he falls upon a dwindling population of shellfish, gleaned from the coastal waters nearby, for his subsistence. He has a four year old son, fathered through an incestuous union with his own daughter (a relationship “. . . of almost mystic propriety . . .“), and both have become wholly dependent on Erika for their ongoing survival.

Parasites.

As her father before her, Erika holds her resentments at bay through the dull persistence of her familial responsibilities. She patches the walls of their shelter, keeps the fire burning through the night, collects ever-smaller abalone from along the coast, and reminds David Jimmons to shave. The sum of her existence is consumed and defined by the needs of others, those of the father who abandoned her mother and brothers, and of the child born of their indiscretion.

Then, one day, change. A set of jeep tracks headed southbound along a stretch of sand-swept highway. People. A chance. Hope.

Parasites.

Lot and Lot’s Daughter make for compelling, even shocking, reads more than sixty years after they were originally published; Moore’s prose remains pointed, stark, deliciously sardonic and surprisingly provocative. Comparison with Panic in Year Zero! is too tasty to resist. Where Simms’ screenplay and the resulting film delight in their derivative exercise in anarchic post-disaster fantasy1, Moore’s novelettes serve as pre-emptive rebuke of the same. The speculative aspect of Lot is not, after all, to ask what would happen should atom bombs fall on America – film and fiction alike are replete with such narratives. Lot inquires instead of those who would wish for such catstrophes, and of what might become of them should they get precisely what they asked for.

In the end, in keeping with the Biblical allusion of the title, Jimmon reaps what he has sown. He sits with his son (grandson?) in his deteriorating shelter, now empty save for the two of them, having abandoned the people he had grown to despise and been abandoned by them in kind.


Print copies of Lot and Lot’s Daughter can be a bit tricky to pin down. The stories were last published together in a handsome edition of 400 (300 soft-cover and 100 leather-bound, the latter signed by author Michael Swanwick, who provides the introduction to the edition) from Tachyon Press in 1996, but copies can be quite expensive to obtain (I found instances of the desirable 72-page tome selling for anywhere from $98 to $1500). It’s much easier to procure each separately. Lot is regularly reprinted, and most recently appeared in A Science Fiction Omnibus (Penguin Modern Classics, 2007). Lot’s Daughter is less often revisited, but was collected as part of A Decade of Science Fiction (Doubleday, 1960). That collection saw numerous reprints through the middle-1960s, and used copies of it are both readily available and quite affordable.

1 Panic in Year Zero! is so similar in its events that it points to a second, and obvious, uncredited source in addition to Moore’s set of stories – John Christopher’s The Death of Grass, which had been released to significant commercial success in 1956. That novel remains strangely out-of-print in the USA, and the Penguin Modern Classics reprint from 2009 offers one of the few reasonable options for reading it here.

Pastors of the Apocalypse! Shepherd [aka Cybercity] (1999)

It’s after the end of the world (again and again and again). This time the sweet one-two punch of World War III and an ecological catastrophe has turned our blue planet brown, so humanity has fled underground. There our descendants dwell in what looks surprisingly like (often pretty foggy) warehouse sets, suffer from a lack of decent lighting that can only cause depression and off-screen monologues, and are dominated by various competing religious cults and sects.

Our hero of the evening, one properly action-movie-monikered guy known as Boris Dakota (C. Thomas Howell) works as a Shepherd – an enforcer/killer – for Miles (Roddy Piper), whose religion seems to be what happens when an Evangelical TV preacher goes worse. Miles’s guys (and it’s only guys) seem to be – as far as I parse the intensely vague world building of the film – one of the big two crazy cults in the underground world. Right now, Miles’s guys are living in a truce with the other big cult, the skimpy leather-clad girls of Lilith (Heidi von Palleske), keeping the apocalypse after the apocalypse at bay by not killing each other in public. Or something.

For his part Dakota isn’t much of a believer in anything anymore, since he suffers from the classical action hero traumatic past of a murdered wife and son, and now spends the time in which he isn’t killing people for Miles or his old friend Lyndon (Mackenzie Gray) growling off-screen monologues about how much humanity sucks, and watching virtual low-res memories and screen savers of his family on what looks suspiciously like sun glasses, an awesome invention the film never even bothers to name but that will have excellent uses when it comes to hurting the audience’s eyes, exposition, and random stuff.

However, when Dakota is assigned a new – and as he hopes and Miles will make sure, last – target, something you might at first confuse with a plot surfaces, for said target, one Sophia (Marina Anderson) just happens to have a son right of the age Dakota’s kid was when he was murdered. So obviously, Dakota saves Sophia and the child from other assassins instead of killing her and attempts to take on the role of their protector. At first, Sophia isn’t all too keen on Dakota, but after enough lackluster attacks on them, she’ll surely come around.

As you might suspect after this meandering synopsis of not much of a plot, if you go looking into this Roger Corman production directed by Peter Hayman expecting much of an actual movie as people generally understand the term, you might be a mite disappointed. The plot – such as it is – is really just a series of lamely reproduced clichĂ©s presented with all the enthusiasm and coherence of a late period Santo movie (which, if you don’t know your lucha cinema, means none whatsoever), with character actions and motivations that often don’t even make sense in the very broad interpretation of the word we use when talking about post-apocalyptic action cinema, underground (aka “we can’t afford to shoot outside, and Bronson Canyon’s too far away”) division. I, at least, can make neither heads nor tails out of the whole conspiracy angle between Miles and Lilith’s cults. If indeed there even is such an angle. I think it says everything about the quality of the writing here I’m not sure either way. Or, to take another example, why exactly does Lyndon act as he does in the final scenes? How the hell should the script know.

Obviously, things like suspense or excitement are right out in Shepherd, particularly since the action scenes are of the just barely competent type that neither wants to be creative nor exciting and just hovers around words like “there”. And nope, we don’t even get to see a titanic throw-down between Howell and Piper, which is probably for the better seeing how slow Howell moves.

However, while Shepherd is barely watchable as a serious piece of post-apocalyptic action film, it is a pretty brilliant lump of utter, inexplicable nonsense, and what creativity was involved behind the camera was clearly concentrated on a) providing various actors with as many opportunities for scenery chewing as possible, and b) adding absolutely pointless yet awesome nonsense/stuff/random insanity to as many scenes as possible. So Shepherd gifts us with great moments in cinema like Roddy Piper living in his own memory glasses world where he does the whole sub-Jesus thing, bare-chested and carrying around a humongous crucifix on his back. Roddy also dreams of hitting people with one of those crosses-on-a-stick (that’s the technical term, right, religious readers?) bishops and the like carry around, actually likes to kick his henchmen when they are down, and spends most of his screen time angrily ranting and raving in sentences that can’t be meant to make sense. Truly, that part of the film is a thing to behold. And while Howell didn’t get the message about the scenery chewing beyond “do a manly growly voice, dude”, von Palleske and Lyndon in particular really join in the fun with gusto.

Other joys here are the random appearance of a cannibalistic punk (this is not a film who could afford a gang of them, sorry) who leads our hero back to the boy with his awesome power of smelling little boys (seriously), a just as random Roddy Piper crucifixion, and last but not least a cameo by good old David Carradine.

Carradine is not a man to be trifled with in the finding nothing undignified sweepstakes, so his character is only listed as “Ventriloquist”. And indeed, David is one, and because this film is very special, David Carradine isn’t just a ventriloquist but has his star turn here drugging C. Thomas Howell, then straddling him while good old C. Thomas dreams of having sex with a woman quite clearly not David Carradine, and proceeding to strangle Howell with his ventriloquist’s doll. A doll, that, for reasons I don’t even want to think about, also seems to be trans.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, should really answer anyone’s questions about whether Shepherd is worth watching. Yes, it is.


Denis Klotz contributes a regular film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?

Phoenix the Warrior: She Wolves of the Wasteland (1988)

The world has been quite destroyed by germ warfare that killed all men and only left a small number of women alive, which is the sort of thing that really does make a further propagation of the human race rather improbable.

Somehow, though, thanks to the machinations of an ancient evil youth-sucking woman only known as the Revered Mother (Sheila Howard) or the Reverend Mother, depending on your ears, the post-apocalyptic world is populated with quite a few shapely young women. Alas, the germ warfare seems also to have destroyed most of the world’s clothing reserves as well as the knowledge of the ancient art of sewing and mending, so the poor women have to make do with the shoulder pads, strategically placed strips of cloth, rags that never seem to be quite big enough and bikinis left. On a more positive note, there are large amounts of make-up, hairspray, dune buggies, automatic weapons and ammunition available, so there’s nothing standing in the way of a good post-apocalyptic lifestyle, even under the iron claw of the Revered Mother.

Mother and her main henchwoman Cobalt (a Persis Khambatta so fully clothed, we an assume she’s the one hogging all the clothing reserves in this brave new world) for their parts have to cope with a small bump in the plans of breeding male babies (not to be able to repopulate the world easier, mind you, but so Mother can suck out their life force). Keela (Peggy McIntaggart), a woman carrying the first male embryo in ages, has fled from Mother’s arms on account of the woman’s evilness, and catching her is more difficult than expected since she quickly meets and befriends wasteland warrior woman Phoenix (Kathleen Kinmont). And Phoenix is basically a more personable female version of Conan, just with less
no, wait, actually more clothing on than Conan prefers.

Ah, Action International Pictures, the gift that keeps on giving. Robert Hayes’s post-apocalyptic romp wasn’t made in Alabama, nor by the company’s core team, though, so I assume it was produced independently of the company and locally, and bought up after the fact or something in that manner.

Be that as it may, Phoenix the Warrior is quite good fun – if you like your silly post-apocalyptic cheese fests as much as I do, at least. Despite including many an inappropriately dressed woman, and featuring a bit of nude, ecstatic waterfall frolicking (which is what waterfalls are for anyway, surely), the film’s not at all as exploitative as you’d expect, at least if you can cope with its dress code. The rest of it plays out just like any cheap, trashy post-apocalyptic piece of wonderful nonsense, with lots of awkward hand-to-hand fighting, dune buggy buggying, and some minor explosions, treating its heroines just as a male-cast adventure movie of its type would, so the awkward hand-to-hand-fights never become cat fights, the female baddies are just as evil as male ones, and Phoenix is just the usual competent badass without the film suggesting that men would be better suited to her role.

In quite an uncommon turn of events for post-apocalyptic films with this kind of gender imbalance, Phoenix doesn’t even fall for the full-grown man (James Emery) – brilliantly named Guy – the script basically pulls out of its arse, and Guy certainly isn’t her superior in anything except perhaps early onset hair loss and porn moustache growth. That’s rather refreshing and pleasant from a film whose claim to existence and main selling point at the time was probably “bikini women with guns!”.

Consequently, the film is rather good fun for most of its running time, with nary a moment where nothing enjoyable or of interest is going on: there are the awkward fights I already mentioned, acting that’s just as awkward more often than not, a pointless five year jump forward in time (that doesn’t see anyone aging in any way or form, of course), the traditional arena fighting bit, a handful of very bad yet still funny jokes, and many a shot of deserts and junk yards. It’s all very impoverished from a budgetary stand point, of course, but I find something joyful in a film that just pretends a handful of shacks in the desert is the central base of an evil science witch planning on world domination by boy-soul sucking. Particularly when it’s a film as clearly not ashamed of what it is and what it does as Phoenix the Warrior.

From time to time, the film even stumbles into the realm of most refined cult movie delight, like in the basically throw-away moment that shows Mother keeping her boy child prisoner in what looks decidedly like a parrot cage to me, or the utterly lame yet inspired way our heroines beat her in the end. I’d also be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the scene concerning a group of robed mutant cultists who are convinced that just the right amount of human sacrifices made while chanting the names of old TV shows will get those heavenly television broadcasts starting again. Their sacrificial poles have TV antennas dangling on top.

Even better, if you can imagine that, is the performance of Persis Khambatta (looking a bit like Rekha in her 90s action movie phase here), full of deranged eye-goggling, melodramatic shouting, and absolutely peculiar line readings, as if she wanted to show the rest of the cast how to really act IN ALL CAPS.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done.


Denis Klotz contributes a regular bi-weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?