Ride on shooting star
「Ride on Shooting Star」（The Pillows）
Ride on shooting star
With the voice of my heart / like a shotgun
I kept on singing
"Ride on Shooting Star" (The Pillows)
Okay, my version didn't actually feature this cover, but I like to pretend it did, because I love this cover for all its cheesiness.
It's been a while since I read a mystery science-fiction novel. Asimov's Robot books have mostly been great puzzle plot mysteries, while James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars was as hard as science fiction could get, but still an excellent alibi-cracking mystery about a corpse that died ten thousands of years earlier than he could've. Poul Anderson's After Doomsday does not paint a future world as comprehensive as the ones featured in the books mentioned above, but it obviously does feature an incredibly interesting premise for a mystery plot that only a science fiction story could present, as it's a whodunnit about the murder of Earth itself!
While the mystery of what destroyed Earth is the driving force of the plot, I do have to say that most of the book is about how Donnan and the rest of the crew of the Franklin first try to recover from the enormous shock they got, and then have some swashbuckling adventures in space. Okay, it's not that adventurey, but Donnan's plan to find as other remaining human ships wandering space is to raise as much hell in space as possible about the destruction of Earth so rumors of their exploits will spread across the universe. After Doomsday is definitely not as close to the 'classic' mystery genre like the Robot novels, nor as methodological as Inherit the Stars.
The scale of the problem of the destroyed Earth is what both makes this book so alluring, as well as frustrating at times. First of all: the premise of the "murder" of planet Earth is brilliant. Seriously. We've seen Aldaraan being blown up to bits, but we saw who the 'murderer' was. Here we have a victim of a scale you could never see in a 'realistic' mystery novel. But the scale is also alienating. Sure, some of the characters mention they had loved ones on Earth, but on the whole, talking about the death of a complete planet is just so surreal, it doesn't really hit you. Talking about Earth this, Earth that makes it feel like Earth is of equal value as one 'normal' victim, especially seen from the perspective of interstellar politics. The narrative does sometimes mention specific Earth nations and regions, but that on the other hand makes it feel very weird, as it'd seem unlikely the actions of one part of the Earth could have such influence on space politics. It's the same with the suspects. Suspects in After Doomsday aren't people, or even groups. It's entire space cultures, which makes the whole problem seem so intangible. On the other hand: we have one mere human as the protagonist-detective. There is definitely a scaling problem.
While I did correctly guess the culprit based on the one vital clue, I have to admit that I didn't actually manage to make a logical reasoning based on that clue, as my err... mastery of a certain rather basic academic field isn't that good. I mean, I knew what the clue must have meant, and I could direct you to the pages that'd support my theory, but I couldn't academically prove it. I had to look it up on the all-knowing Internet later, but it appears that Anderson made two rather crucial mistakes in the one vital clue (See this Japanese source). Which make it unsolvable. I mean, you can solve if if you follow the logic as explained in the novel (or as the reader themselves deduced), but the clue itself, as written down in the book by Anderson, does not lead to the solution as explained by Donnan in the narrative. I'm not sure whether they are unfortunate typos, or 'real' mistakes, but at any rate, the two misses are very painful mistakes, especially they happen in what is basically the only tangible clue in the whole story. Mind you: I still wouldn't have been able to really solve it even without the mistakes, but obviously, the mistakes aren't going to help!
After Doomsday is not a masterpiece of science-fiction mystery by any means, but despite it flaws (and the vital mistakes), I do have to admit I had a few fun hours with it. I have the feeling that this book, with some minor changes, could've been much more than what it is now, so that is certainly a missed chance, but the mystery of the murdered Earth is really a memorable premise.