"This is the Way the World Ends" is one of James Morrow's early works, and when comparing it (somewhat unfairly) with more recent novels, like the Towing Jehovah trilogy, it's easy to see his progression as a writer, both in terms of ideas and style. While remaining firmly in the 'snooty intellectual' camp Morrow himself satirizes in his later books, "TITWTWE" is still a good read, and is a unique addition to the field of post-apocalyptic fiction.
Sandwiched between bookends of Nostradamus, the plot revolves around main character George Paxton, an everyman who carves tombstones for a living and worries about his family. When his neighbor invents something called a "scopas suit" that promises to be the device to change the nuclear balance of power, by allowing its wearer to survive and thrive after a nuclear exchange, George finds he cannot afford one - but makes a deal with a strange shopkeeper to get one on the cheap. On his way home, World War III erupts and George is caught almost at Ground Zero as he watches his family die from intense radiation poisoning.
That is just the setup for the meat of the book. George is rescued by a submarine and taken to Antarctica with five other survivors, to be put on trial for ending the human race. The judge, jury, and executioners? A race called "unadmitted humans," who came to be in the time-altering effects of the War. They bleed black blood and only live for a short time, but they nurse George to health so he can stand trial. Those familiar with "Blameless in Abaddon" will recognize the trial as a means for Morrow to tell his story, and the reader is intended to sympathize with those who created the nuclear conflict through lies like "mutual assured destruction," "deterrence," and so forth.
It may be an artifact of the Reagan years, but Morrow's "TITWTWE" remains a solid piece of literature, even if it tapers off (as another review put it, the middle is a part you have to force yourself to get through). Morrow's prose flows easily, and the trial is a clear indictment of both the no-nukes crowd and those who rely on nuclear weapons instead of human intelligence to solve problems. As usual, Morrow neatly destroys the traditional dualism inherent in the nuclear debate, leaving the reader to formulate new conclusions after the two most popular choices have been proven wrong. It may not be his best work, but it's worth checking out, and it belongs on any post-apocalyptic aficionado's shelf.