Wild Harbour - Ian MacPherson
NOTE to readers: Skip the introduction to this edition until you've read the novel. Also, my reflections below may contain spoilers.

Although I've never seen Wild Harbour mentioned in any list of science fiction, it really belongs to the genre of post-apocalyptic stories. Ian MacPherson imagined the next war (that was obviously looming in 1936) bringing the total collapse of society (as the introducer points out, the conditions he depicts would be accurate in parts of continental Europe, though not Scotland, the novel's setting). But how that happens is barely suggested; he is interested in the result, hunger, chaos, fear, every man's hand against another.

The main story is the two characters, both carefully developed, Hugh and Terry, as they try to flee entirely from the madness of the rest of humankind when the war begins, hiding in the wild Scottish hills. (They initially seem to think they're the only ones who feel that way.) To simplify, Terry's boundless kindheartedness makes her unwilling to participate even indirectly in killing, and Hugh needs freedom and independence and not to leave Terry. So part of it is a wilderness survival story and a tribute to the nature of the region. But they aren't hawks or deer, so they realize that not only did they not plan to stay away very long, and couldn't manage it, they wouldn't even want to. Terry never can forget other people nor stop caring how they're faring. And the terrible violence keeps encroaching on them. One main theme seems to be Hugh realizing just how much he has in common with the others, both that they're frightened and fleeing just like him, and that he's violent just like them. But the thread of optimism in this grim story is that there's also better ways to be, and Hugh realizes that he also has that potential.

Many post-disaster tales involve a group of survivors getting together to build a new society, and although this one gestures in that direction, it can't get that far. Just suggesting the possibility is as much optimism as MacPherson can allow. The mixture of tragedy and hope, beauty, love, and terror in this novel makes for an uncommonly moving reading experience.