Arthur C. Clarke published “If I Forget Thee, O Earth” in Future magazine in 1951. Two years later it was republished as part of Clarke’s Expedition to Earth and thus expanded its readership significantly. The story proved particularly resonant with readers of the early 1950s for whom the actual use of atomic bombs was less than a decade removed from memory. In the ensuing years, the specter of all-out atomic war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would create not just the ongoing climate of the Cold War, but the heated fears of missiles dropping instant annihilation of the human race from the dark skies overhead.
With its initial appearance in a “pulp science fiction” magazine and its republication within a collection of similar outlandish tales, “If I Forget Thee, O Earth” belonged fully to the domain of Sci-Fi fans. It would tale almost another two full decades before the story would discovered in the wake of science fiction becoming a more critically respectable genre. That change came about in no small part thanks to Clarke himself and his part in bringing the same sense of esteem to science fiction film as a result of his collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick in making 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the wake of the wholesale recalibration of the literary merits of all those science fiction stories published in pulp magazines by writers like Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Heinlein, “If I Forget Thee, O Earth” has been singled out as one of the definitive examples how critics of the time blithely ignored quality literature simply due to generic bias. The story’s themes of post-exilic survival in a post-apocalyptic society still resonates as strongly in the era of 9/11 and zombie hordes as it did in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.