In Extremis: Two Novels by W.H. Collier
A giant comet is hurtling toward Earth, and the world learns that all life on the planet will be obliterated in just seven days. Stanley’s Comet is a gallows humor view of the precipitous decline of civil society upon the news. Events unfold from the perspective of Stanley Caldwell, a thirty-five year old assistant copy shop manager who resides with his mother in Baton Rouge , Louisiana, and Dr. Herschel Stanley, an embittered junior grade NASA astronomer whose accidental discovery of the comet catapults him from obscurity to momentary notoriety.
In The Third Love, the followers of Smith, an executed convict who taught that good and evil are physical qualities controlled by the laws of “the physik,” acquire a nuclear weapon with the intent of putting Smith’s teachings into practice. The novel is set in the near future at a time when computers and efficient economics have relieved the majority of the need or even the opportunity to work. Instead, most pass their days in meaningless isolation watching multivision, a form of three-dimensional television and internet with a picture “more real than reality.” The novel centers on the life of an ordinary guy in such a society, while following the President’s political calculations that in the end coincide with the aims of the followers of Smith.
Although the two novels of In Extremis are separate in conception, both are darkly humorous studies of individuals and societies under extreme stress and each explores the role of choice, chance and fate in determining the final outcome.