Tomorrow’s Children vs. the Thundering Hordes

Arthur Leo Zagat (February 15, 1896 – April 3, 1949) went to Fordham University and trained to be a lawyer but never actually practiced law. He started writing fiction soon after graduating and “by the 1930’s, Zagat was one of the most popular authors of pulp science fiction.”

He was “extremely prolific in a number of Pulp-magazine genres, publishing about 500 stories.” Zagat published in a variety of pulp magazines including Thrilling Wonder Stories, Dime Mystery Magazine, Operator No. 5, Horror Stories, and Astounding although after 1936 most of his stories appeared in Argosy.

Arthur Leo Zagat’s Tomorrow series was published in Argosy magazine from 1939 – 1941.

  1. Tomorrow – 1939
  2. Children of Tomorrow – 1939
  3. Bright Flag of Tomorrow – 1940
  4. Thunder Tomorrow – 1940
  5. Sunrise Tomorrow – 1940
  6. The Long Road to Tomorrow – 1941

The Tomorrow series is set in a near-future post-holocaust United States. Many critics consider the novellas and novels of this series to be among Zagat’s finest works. “In it, he draws on his experiences in the military during both World Wars for the realistic background and ingenuity with which his young Americans fight a superior foe.”

When I was researching Arthur Leo Zagat and his Tomorrow series I discovered that, over the years, the stories had been released both individually and repackaged in groups. The first two novellas were put together in a book titled Dark Yesterday. Books three and four were repackaged as Thunder Tomorrow. And books five and six were repackaged as Sunrise Tomorrow.

The first two stories, Tomorrow and Children of Tomorrow (repackaged as Dark Yesterday) are the only stories in the series that are in the Public Domain and readily available. Although I was able to find the second part of book five, Sunrise Tomorrow, but not the first part. Fans of Arthur Leo Zagat will be happy to learn that Altus Press plans to release the entire series in one volume but, unfortunately, this will not be a free read.

I have read a lot of Science Fiction but Arthur Leo Zagat was not a name I was familiar with and I had never heard of the Tomorrow series. Argosy magazine, in it’s “Looking Ahead,” described the first story:

“High on a lonely mountain they will live – these Lost Children of Tomorrow, survivors of Armageddon. They will speak in the language of the very young, since there will be no adults to teach them; and their code will be the code of boys playing Cops and Robbers. But from them must come all our hope for the Day after Tomorrow, for they are the Future.”

So after all that Internet sleuthing and melodrama, exactly what is this series about? Written during World War II, it features all of America’s fears about war and the future. In the series, America has been invaded and conquered by “invading hordes.” The first two stories don’t really specify the make-up of the “hordes” but it soon becomes apparent (and is right-out-there obvious by the later story I found) that this was a racial invasion. White America has been conquered by the “Asafrics.”

My first reaction was “oh yippee, it’s one of those stories.” Fortunately, the worst of the racism shows up in the later stories which are not readily available to modern readers. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of nastiness in Tomorrow and Children of Tomorrow. The two worst offending passages include this gem from Tomorrow:

“For Dikar knew that the white-faced man and women were his people and that this green land belonged to them and to him, and that the black men and yellow men were They whom the voice in his dream had said, ‘have come out of the East to make this world a Hell.’ ”

And this lovely bit from Children of Tomorrow:

“His black face was flat-nosed and shiny, animal like. His thick, purplish lips snarled like those of a wildcat, just before it pounces on its prey.”

But the racism actually gets worse in later stories (at least based on the segment I was able to find). The second part of Sunrise Tomorrow, when there is open conflict between our oh so noble heroes and the “hordes,” includes multiple references to “little red eyes cruel” and “yellow moon of a face” and “the room stank with the smell of Asafrics” and, the always fun uneducated English like “Yoh hab one big fella luck ob de debbil.” Apparently, Zagat’s “Asa” part of the “Asafrics” are the smart and mean types and the “Frics” part are the brainless muscle. While our “heroes” are “noble savages” fighting for white American patriotism.

Yum.

So why bother with a story so filled with dated and degrading stereotypes? Well there actually are some, at least slightly, redeeming points. First there is Arthur Leo Zagat’s craftsmanship. And, secondly, there is the historical context.

The first two stories are actually written in a much different voice from other Zagat books I looked at. He is trying, and largely succeeding, to write Dikar and his “Bunch” as uneducated slightly feral adult children. “The Bunch” were refugee children who were taken out of an invaded American city just minutes ahead of the attacking “horde” army. Their convoy was attacked and only the one truck, with about 40 children, managed to get away and find refuge on an isolated mountain. The only two adults were killed while triggering a landslide to ensure the children remained safely hidden. So you have a group of small children (Dikar was the oldest at age eight) who have no memories of their old culture except for the “must-not” rules the “Old Ones” (the two dead adults – revered almost as gods) drilled into them.

“The Bunch” have been hidden away for ten to fifteen years (it is not specified). They hunt with “bonarrers” (bow and arrows) and wear “apron of woven leaves” and “short skirts of plaited grasses.” Zagat really does succeed in making them sound like a weird combination of child and savage.    

And, historically, Zagat’s story is personifying many of the attitudes and fears of his age. I think this note from one set of editors says it best:

“Note: When this story of the future was written there were no jet planes, no television, no computers, nor many other items that the real future would bring into existence. Women were mostly confined to the domestic sphere and only a few men felt that women were their equals who could accomplish any thing a man could. Minorities, particularly those of non-European descent, rarely appeared or were mentioned in mainstream fiction, and were often caricatured when they did. The stories are based on the science of their era, and do not present a picture of the scientific understandings of today.”

Zagat was writing the attitudes, dreams, fears of his era. The Nazis were ravaging Europe. British children were being evacuated to the countryside from the the big industrial cities to keep them safe from the horrors of The Blitz. There were fears that American children might one day have to face evacuations, too. With Allied countries being pounded by the enemy armies of the Axis powers, there were all sorts of fears of society disintegrating and formerly marginalized peoples becoming the new world rulers (sort of like some modern day fears regarding LGBT, immigrants, Muslims, anybody who is the “them” to somebody else’s “us”). And anybody who is “them” is described in as derogatory a way as possible

Arthur Leo Zagat does a good job of depicting the fears of a Blitz and despondent refugees in Dikar’s few memories:

“The station was crowded with women and kids, and it was like an ogre’s cave. A couple of electric lights made light enough to see them by, but not enough to keep back the shadows that reached out of the enormous black holes at each end of the station, like black arms pawing out to drag the women and the kids into a night that would never end.”

And

“a sky that flared with blue light, and with red, and was streaked with bright yellow that shimmered and faded; and the sky was filled with rolling, endless thunder.”

Zagat does not just paint the “Asafric horde” in derogatory terms. The conquered Americans as described as pale and timid and weak. Dikar’s own rival among “the Bunch” is described as almost animal like:

“Tomball was heavy-built beside her, bulging arms hanging loose almost to his knees, great chest black-matted, his belly black with matted hair.”

While Dikar is described as everything blond and blue-eyed and heroic:

“lean-flanked and lithe-limbed, his hair and his silken beard yellow as the other’s was black, his eyes a deep, shining blue.”

And the “Girls” of “the Bunch” are described as some kind of fae nature sprites:

“Slim the Girls had grown, slim as the white birches in the woods, and graceful as the fawns that bedded in the forest. Their loose hair fell rippling and silken to their ankles but as they moved Dikar glimpsed lean flanks, firm thighs brushed by short skirts woven from reeds, ever-deepening breasts hidden by circlets woven of leaves for the unmated, of gay flowers for each who had taken a Boy as mate.”

So, overall, I liked that Zagat really changed his writing style to give “the Bunch” a voice that better fit their isolated, uneducated upbringing. I thought Zagat did a good job of portraying the fears and dreams of his time period. I could really picture his American Blitz and the hopeless determination of the surviving women and mothers.

But, the racism grows more and more vile and obnoxious as Dikar and “the Bunch” increase their contact and conflict with the “Asafrics.” Also, it really bugged me that Dikar is the only one of “the Bunch” to have a different name. Everyone else knows their first and last names as one name (Billthomas, Tomball, Jimlane, Bessalton, Marilee) but only Dick Carr has changed to become Dikar). Is it just the way Zagat pronounced the names or is it supposed to indicated Dikar’s status as “the Boss?” I’m not sure but it really bugged me. Also, Zagat’s repeated use of “ever-deepening breasts” to describe the “Girls” of “the Bunch.” Yes, I get that they are all a bunch of horny teenagers but that term really started to drive me up the wall.

So read with caution, SF fans. Tomorrow and Children of Tomorrow are solid adventure yarns but be warned that they also feature some of the worst aspects of the times in which they were written.

Please click this link to go to Feedbooks and download Tomorrow by Arthur Leo Zagat.
Please click this link to go to Feedbooks and download Children of Tomorrow.

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