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The Quiet Earth is a 1981 science fiction novel (ISBN 0-340-26507-8) by New Zealandmarker writer Craig Harrison.

The novel was adapted into a 1985 New Zealand science fiction film of the same name directed by Geoff Murphy.



John Hobson, a geneticist involved in a secret research project concerned with the manipulation of DNA, awakes in his hotel room in Thamesmarker after a terrifying nightmare of falling from a great height. His wristwatch has stopped at 6-12, and upon getting up he finds that the electricity is off. It is deathly quiet outside, with no-one in sight. Hobson goes to his car to check the correct time, and is startled to find the vehicle's clock is also frozen at 6.12.

Stricken by panic, he drives into the town's central business district. The shops are all locked and unattended, and there is no sign of any people. A car sits empty at an intersection; Hobson investigates, and finds the vehicle's ignition is switched on andthe gearshift in neutral. The car's clock has stopped at 6.12, and Hobson sees to his horror that the driver's seatbelt is lying limply across the seat still fastened.

Breaking into an electrical goods store, Hobson finds a telephone. It is dead. He then switches on a battery-powered radio and checks the wavebands. There is only static. Now completely terrified, Hobson begins to wonder what has happened - some kind of Civil Defence exercise, perhaps, or a hurried evacuation due to a sudden disaster.

Hobson spends the afternoon roaming the town aimlessly, stopping every so often to break into a house and examine the contents. All humans and animals have seemingly disappeared without trace in an instant. Some homes show evidence of interrupted breakfasts, but it is clear that the inhabitants have not got up and gone somewhere. They have simply gone in the blink of an eye. Not a single watch or clock shows anything other than 6.12.

This leads Hobson to his first conclusion - it is not possible that every timepiece should show the exact same time; therefore some force has altered the clocks to show said unified time and then stopped them. This suggests an intelligence behind the 6.12 event, which Hobson dubs 'the Effect'.

An examination of a garden yields the first sign of life Hobson has found all day - a worm dug up from the soil. The garden is otherwise completely devoid of insects. Hobson wonders if he has gone mad, but dismisses the idea.

After a fruitless trip to a hilltop lookout to check the surrounding countryside for movement or activity, Hobson returns to his motel unit for the night. There, he undergoes an ordeal - indistinct sounds from outside suggest that something is stealthily approaching his unit. The sounds draw nearer, sending Hobson into a paralysis of terror. Hobson instinctively sets his mind to repel the entity, and it retreats into the night. Uncertainty as to whether the presence had truly been there, or whether it may simply have been a stray animal spared from the Effect like himself, competes in his mind with outlandish speculations that the intruder could be some kind of corporeal manifestation of the 6.12 event. Hobson reassures himself once his nerves have steadied that if the entity returns, he can apparently keep it at bay by concentrated mental effort.

In the morning, Hobson goes back into town to procure weapons and supplies, and leaves for Aucklandmarker. He arrives in the city (after a near-collision with a driverless milk tanker jacknifed across a corner of the highway) to find it totally deserted.

Hobson seems to be the only human being left anywhere. He wonders what rendered him and him alone immune to the Effect. Sighting an apparent smoke signal coming from the North Shore, Hobson hurries to the location. What he finds is merely more insanity - a vast area of suburban homes (all devoid of life) has been destroyed by the impact of a jetliner. Enough of the plane's fuselage is intact for Hobson to determine that it was empty when it crashed.

Hobson then travels to the research unit where he worked. Here we discover what he and his colleagues were working on - an experiment to reactivate dormant genes in humans and animals by the combined use of high-frequency sound waves and radiation. The unit's head, Perrin, believes that awakening the dormant genes in the few humans who possess them will lead to a quantum leap in evolution. Entering the lab, Hobson is elated to find Perrin seated in a radiation chamber, at the controls of the sound wave machine. He enters the chamber and discovers that Perrin is dead. The machine appears to have short-circuited, but there is no evidence to suggest how Perrin died. Hobson decides he must have perished before the Effect - the continued presence of meat and milk in household freezers and supermarkets shows that dead animal tissue did not vanish.

A new problem has arisen; entering the chamber has activated the lab's emergency radiation containment systems, sealing Hobson in. He escapes by making nitroglycerine with chemicals in the lab and detonating it inside the plumbing system. Before leaving, he retrieves a locked box containing all of Perrin's secret papers. There then begins an odyssey southwards to Wellingtonmarker - Hobson hopes to find survivors, or at least some clue to what has happened, there or along the way.

Hamiltonmarker and Cambridgemarker, his first stops, are ghost towns. En route to Rotoruamarker, in the early evening, Hobson is blasted out of a reminiscence about his son and his own failed marriage by the sudden appearance of a hideous creature in his car headlights. The monster is some kind of mutated hybrid of dog and calf, hairless and pallid with distorted features. Hobson swerves to avoid it, apparently succeeding. He drives off at speed, terror-stricken, unsure as to whether the apparition was really there or a hallucination.

Once at Rotorua, Hobson comes close to committing suicide, afterward arriving at the cold realisation that everyone else is dead and will not be coming back.

The next stop is Taupo, as lifeless as everywhere else has been. Here, Hobson comes across small live fish in a stream, leading him to conclude that the Effect did not penetrate below the surface of water. Later, he is startled when a strange electronic howling noise booms out across Lake Taupomarker from an undetermined point on the far side. Shaken and bereft of hope, Hobson moves on, reaching an area of bushland near Turangimarker. There, his path is blocked by a cattle truck. Back-tracking, he finds the alternate route cut off by another truck. He gets out to try to work out a way around the stalled vehicle... and is confronted by a man holding a rifle.


The stranger, after an initial moment of caution, lowers the rifle and the duo introduce themselves to each other. The gunman is Apirana Maketu, a Maori and a lance-corporal in the New Zealand Army by profession. "Api" has little to add to Hobson's pitiful store of knowledge about the Effect - he woke up at his barracks in Waiourumarker to find the base deserted.

The absence of radio transmissions, the loss of mains electrical power and the 6.12 enigma left him confused and scared, but he remained at his post for two days before setting out to find survivors.

A search of Gisbornemarker and the East Coast yielded nothing, and a visit to the power station at Tokaanu led him to believe that the national electrical grid had been knocked out by a massive surge at the moment of the Effect. Api heard the same unearthly sound that Hobson heard the day before - albeit earlier in the day and coming from the side of the lake that Hobson was standing on when he heard 'his' sound. Believing it to be a car, Api had laid the cattle truck roadblock to catch anyone coming south. At this point, the two had met.

At a Turangi motel, Api reveals his belief that something strange and hostile is abroad in the land - an unknown force, evil in nature, trying to get at him. It is present only in certain places, and is stronger at night. The soldier is both relieved and worried to find that Hobson has experienced the same dread.

Another mystery lies in the fact that the two men seem to already know one other, sharing a vague flash of recognition upon first meeting. Neither can account for this, as they most definitely have never encountered one another prior to their meeting in the bush. The duo decide to continue to Wellington and set off.

They find no-one on the way, and arrive at the nation's capital to find it devoid of life. Api and Hobson set up dwellings in an inner-city hotel block and proceed to hunt for survivors. Hobson also plans to run tests to see if he can determine the nature of the Effect and the reason why he and Api had survived.

Api hooks up a generator to provide their new home with power, and is on hand to assist Hobson with procuring equipment and supplies for the scientist's studies. A radio transceiver is set up, and the duo transmit words and Morse out across the world - there is no response. Hobson's investigations reveal nothing that would suggest a reason for their exemption from the Effect. Despair and tension begin to surface, as the men face the prospect that they are completely alone in the world and that there can be no future or hope for them.

A strange incident takes place one day, when Api goes skin-diving for shellfish in the harbor - Api pretends to drown as a joke, and Hobson reacts unconsciously by holding the other man's head below the water. There is a moment of naked hostility when Api breaks free, resolved when Hobson explains his motives.

Hobson's son, who was profoundly autistic, drowned in a bathtub, and Hobson accuses Api of making fun of this with his prank. The death of the child also led directly to the end of Hobson's marriage. Api apologizes, but both men now realize that Hobson is not in complete control of his conscious actions. A subtle change in the balance of power between the two has taken place.

On a visit to the Beehive marker, Api speculates that he and Hobson could in fact be wandering round as glorified lab rats on some kind of duplicate Earth; that it is they who have disappeared. Hobson puts no stock in this theory.

About three weeks after the Effect, Hobson is left alone in the hotel when Api goes off to get a new car. On a whim, he goes into his companion's bedroom and searches his belongings. There he finds photographs taken of Api as a private during the Vietnam War. The photos show him posing proudly with the mutilated corpses of Viet Cong. Hobson is terror-stricken - the only other person left in the world is a homicidal psychopath.

The End Is The Beginning

Now becoming increasingly paranoid, Hobson is helpless to prevent the already soured relationship between Api and himself from deteriorating further. Hobson makes plans to kill Api with sleeping pills. This intention falls by the wayside when a new terror arises.

After searching the harbour for a boat to take them over Cook Straitmarker to the South Islandmarker, during which both men apparently experience a new but mild attack of dread from the 'force' hounding them, Api takes Hobson for a joyride in his Lotus Elite sports car.

During the high-speed drive, a woman suddenly runs out on to the road, into the path of the car, waving frantically. A panicked Api swerves to avoid her, but fails. Her body is clipped by the vehicle and thrown across the tarmac to land in a crumpled heap. The two men leap to the rescue; the woman, apparently Samoan, is alive but badly injured. She is taken to the hotel and made as comfortable as the men can make her. Neither Api nor Hobson are medically trained. Obviously, unless she is less badly hurt than she seems, she will die of her injuries.

The desperate men bicker pointlessly, with tempers rising to breaking point. The woman's condition worsens by the hour, and there is nothing her fellow survivors can do to save her. Hobson, in a moment of despair, senses the unseen force again, emanating from the empty city around them. He speculates that the force may have always been a part of the land, and that now it is shaking off a sleep of millennia to claim the Earth as its own. The howling heard at Taupo could have been its announcement of awakening and a declaration of impending triumph, he muses.

Meanwhile, Api slips into madness, burying himself in study of the Bible between bouts of hopeless vigil at the woman's bedside. One night, he wakes Hobson to tell him that he, Api, has solved the clock enigma. 6.12 relates to the Number of the Beast, 666 (6-12 = 6 and 6 plus 6) and to Revelations 6:12, with the Biblical chapter's talk of men hiding from the face of God. Hobson doesn't believe this for a moment, and holds a hidden gun on the deranged soldier throughout the exchange. The woman dies shortly thereafter, sending Api into hysterics of grief and anger.

The ultimate crisis is approaching. It comes suddenly, after yet another argument between the men. The conflict sparks a rush for weapons, and a full-scale battle with guns and grenades ensues in the hotel block. Api is finally killed by Hobson, with the soldier seeming to give up and force Hobson to shoot him. The scientist is now totally alone.

Breaking open Perrin's box, Hobson discovers more than he bargained for - Perrin and the rest of his colleagues considered him paranoid and mentally unbalanced, and kept him under covert surveillance. Perrin was also of the opinion that Hobson's DNA had been altered by exposure to radiation during his work, and that this had almost certainly caused his child's autism. The pieces fall into place for Hobson. The Effect was his doing. The project he had worked on had caused the unravelling of all animal DNA; only those few people with the dormant gene pair in their biology had been spared.

Flashbacks shortly before this point detail more events of Hobson's last days at the research unit. In the first, Perrin seizes upon a strange accident with the sound wave/radiation machine - in which Hobson had inadvertently set the sound modulator too high and promptly been blasted out of his chair by a massive, invisible energy wave - to send Hobson on two weeks' leave. Perrin in effect charges Hobson with negligence, as the taxonomic sample slides for insects and animals in the machine are blank, while the ones for plants are normal. This event crystallises for Hobson his long-growing misgivings about the morality of the experiments, and what he believes to be Perrin's motives for pursuing their end goal.

In a later flashback, Hobson relates how he sabotaged the sound wave machine (just before going on leave) to put out a much higher level of infrasound than the controls would register. The ostensible idea was to put the machine out of action for at least a fortnight and thus ruin Perrin's chance to use the absent Hobson's theories. At this time, we also learn that Hobson had taken what he believed to be a fatal dose of sleeping pills at his motel room on the night before the Effect.

Now, as he reads Perrin's notes, Hobson realises that this sabotage almost certainly caused the Effect. He also admits to himself that his act had always had a different purpose, namely to kill Perrin. Believing his boss to be insane and consumed with a desire to play God, he (Hobson) had subconsciously altered his own memory to hide this murderous fact from himself.

This ability to edit his own recollections, and to take refuge in a kind of mental 'super-reality' when his guilt and self-hatred overwhelm him, is purely automatic and not under his control. At the same time he also finally accepts the guilt for deliberately letting his son drown. Deceptions break down - allowing his child to die was his sublimated way of destroying himself, a kind of external suicide. The child's autism was a mirror of his father's own emptiness. Speculations pile upon one another - perhaps he really did cause the Effect, or he is dreaming all this in a barbiturate coma, or he is in Hell or Purgatory living out the same extended nightmare over and over. Perhaps somewhere out there the rest of Humanity resides in a new evolved form, or is unchanged and wondering where Hobson and a handful of vanished others have gone to. There are no firm answers, no final revelations. With the death of the entire human race on his hands, Hobson goes to the top of the hotel building and jumps off. He falls towards the pavement below, gathering speed, then...suddenly wakes up in his motel room in Thames. After recovering from the nightmare of falling, all he can remember of the dream he was ripped out of, he notices that his wrist watch has stopped at 6.12...

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