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Entry updated 24 January 2022. Tagged: Theme.

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1. A blanket item of Terminology used in this encyclopedia for the fictionally popular variety of catastrophe which is directly caused by human or occasionally Alien action, intentional or otherwise. Natural calamities are dealt with under Disaster, as are cases where a technically human-instigated cataclysm has effects similar to a natural one. For example, human interference with the Ecology, generally through Pollution or the subtler operations of Climate Change, may have effects resembling natural upheavals; if humanity is considered part of nature (see Gaia) then such repercussions are in a sense natural.

Related entries include Entropy (holocaust is one of the more dramatic aspects of everything running down), History in SF (human-inspired disasters are often seen as part of a Toynbeean or Spenglerian process of historical cycles), the End of the World (holocaust on a major scale), Medicine (the agent of holocaust is often plague), Optimism and Pessimism, and above all, from 1945 to at least the late twentieth century, a nuclear World War Three – the most popular agent of holocaust in fiction since World War Two.

Extraterrestrial nuclear holocausts of the past are often cited as dire warnings in sf. Gerald Heard's Reply Paid (1942) and Robert A Heinlein's Space Cadet (1948) are among many works speculating that a former planet between Mars and Jupiter was broken up by such a catastrophe to become the Asteroids. Similarly, Robert A Heinlein's "Blowups Happen" (September 1940 Astounding) suggests that the Moon's inhabitants destroyed themselves through a failure of nuclear reactor safety, and the Martians of Pelham Groom's The Purple Twilight (1948) prove to be the survivors of a terrible civil War fought with nuclear Weapons. Lord Dunsany's Jorkens stories include similar awful-warning explanations of the asteroids, the moon's cratered barrenness, and the destruction of a previous cycle of the entire universe (see Cosmology).

2. For the specific Holocaust of World War Two – the attempted Nazi extermination, in the name of Eugenics, primarily of Europe's Jews, the Shoa in which 6,000,000 Jews were murdered; but also the Romani or Roma (gypsies), homosexuals and others – see Holocaust Fiction.

Several Fantasy and Science Fantasy scenarios posit that this gigantic human sacrifice had a hidden purpose related to Magic, thus linking with Nazi occult obsessions. Such works include David Brin's "Thor Meets Captain America" (July 1986 F&SF), Barbara Hambly's The Magicians of Night (1992; vt Magicians of the Night 1992), Harry Turtledove's Darkness Alternate-History series opening with Into the Darkness (1999), and the title piece of Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives (coll of linked stories 2004).

More comfortably, a modest number of Alternate History scenarios elide the Holocaust from the twentieth century, sometimes idyllically and sometimes suggesting that a high price has been paid and/or that the fearful momentum of the Hitler Wins timeline will somehow reassert itself. Examples include: "The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny" (in Apocalypses, coll 1977) by R A Lafferty; Elleander Morning (1984) by Jerry Yulsman; For Love of Evil (1988) in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality sequence, where the change is a side-issue in a Fantasy restructuring of the world; Stephen Fry's Making History (1996); The Separation (2002) by Christopher Priest, as one of two delicately balanced versions of World War Two, with Germany's Jews resettled in Madagascar; and The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007) by Michael Chabon, where the resettlement is in Alaska. [DRL/PN]

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