Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1959: Level 7 (Roshwald, Mordecai)

Hermetic solitude 4400 feet deep is true freedom (5/5)
From May 28, 2009

Splashed across the cover of Level 7 reads, "A horrifying, prophetic document of the future - the diary of a man living 4000 feet underground in a society hell-bent on atomic self-destruction" which does the book no justice at all. Perhaps the rear cover puts the novel into a better light as it reads, "He is safe from nuclear war... safe from sunshine, blue skies, and love. His perpetual assignment is the Bomb - to stand guard ready to push the button that will turn the world into a charred ember of smoking death..." Now, while the back cover sums up the story better, it still doesn't do the book much justice.

It's not exactly poetically sculpted nor is it poorly written, rather, it's a day-to-day journal of a not-so-common man in his not-so-common job and his contemplations on earth's situation, his reflections on his subterranean society and his experiences being a push-button operator. Officer X-127, as he's know to his colleagues, friends and eventual wife paints a detailed picture of what Level 7 is, how it operates and what purpose it ultimately serves. Being 4400 feet underground in a hermetically sealed bunker and being twelve buttons away from the end of the world might make you a bit philosophical, psychotic or just plain numb. We witness the scope of these mental reflections in both X-127 himself and in the others around him.

It's a depressing read, that's true. It'll make you sympathize with all five-hundred of the Level 7 cave-dwellers, the other million or so making up the remaining six levels and even the poor populous stranded on the surface. Level 6 at 3,000 feet deep houses 2,000 military defense personnel and is just as self-sufficient at Level 7, but more prone to contamination, old age and insanity. Level 5 at 1,500 feet deep will house 20,000 elite members of society for about 200 years. Level 4 at 1,000 feet deep will hold 100,000 important people for 100 years. Level 3 is 500 feet deep and will hold 200,000 important individuals for only 25 years. The last two Levels are 100 feet and 60 feet deep and are both designed to hold one million people each but are much more susceptible to all things dangerous in a limited or total nuclear war.

There's so much detail, it's almost juicy if it weren't dryly written. For the sheer sake of exploring Roshwald's leveled world, this is a sci-fi gem.


  1. I read this book during the cold war and it contributed to my nightmares about nuclear war. If I ever manage to write a story that does not have a happy ending, I'll hope to create in readers an emotion similar to what I experienced upon reaching the end of Level 7.

    1. That's quite a long time for a piece of literature to leave an indelible impression on a reader! It's only been three years for me, an 80s child who had fascination on nuclear stockpiles and underground bunkers. I was thrilled to learn of this book and thrilled/shocked/shaken to the bone with the reality in Level 7. Scary and unforgettable!