Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum

March/April 2020
Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography


Public Faces, by Harold Nicolson (1932)

Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) was a diarist and politician, married to author Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962). Public Faces was his second—and also last—novel. This then near-future history takes place from June 2 to June 6, 1939. Winston Churchill has led a coalition government with Oswald Mosley (of the British fascist party) in 1936. Nicolson took the opportunity of promoting his friends to high Government office, but the more disagreeable characters were firmly fictional. Hitler and Stalin have both missed the dictatorship bus, while the Great Depression seems to have been avoided. International relations are strained but still reasonably cordial.

And then a dispute over mineral deposits on Abu Saad—a British-leased island in the Persian Gulf—plunges the world into crisis. This mineral, once refined, "might produce in large quantities an element so unstable that radium would be as dull as lead." The stuff of which atomic bombs are duly made. The British also use it as fuel for their ten new "rocket aeroplanes," whose global test flights are seen as "air raids" by jittery foreign governments. One misadventure after another leads to the inadvertent nuclear destruction of an American warship—and an equally lethal tidal wave in North Carolina. All's well enough that ends well enough. Apart, that is, from the radiation-induced global warming that is killing off the world's population of eels.

In the possibly apocalyptic APPENDIX I [How history is written], Leonid Nikolson writes about his grandfather: "Harold Nikolson, d. 1958: diplomatist, riter, renter, passifist: typpikal erly-Georgian: sentimental, optimistic, induldjent, superfishal, uneducated…." It is dated Joon 13, 1978.

Graham Andrews

To contact us, send an email to Fantasy & Science Fiction.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to

Copyright © 1998–2020 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted by:
SF Site spot art