A senior couple living in the panhandle of Florida decide it's their time to go traveling, so they rev up the RV and head out. The U.S. has undergone a devastating nuclear war, and a lot of people are listless with radiation poisoning. In southern Alabama, they view the deep crater that obliterated the small city of Enterprise when the missile that was intended for Montgomery overshot. They gaze in awe at the 400 feet of exposed Coastal Plain strata in the crater walls. The floor of the crater has begun to fill up with water and a few abandoned cars.

The highlight of the trip is Atlanta, which had the indignity of being bombed twice. The first bomb would have sufficed. Now, interstate overpasses are twisted back over themselves by unimaginable forces.

It's clear that the couple will not last much longer themselves, as they too are succumbing to radiation. It's never stated outright, but one gets the feeling that none of the survivors of the nuclear exchange will still be there next year.

This short story was published, perhaps in the 1990s, in one of the news/literary magazines such as Harper's, The Atlantic, or The New Yorker. The title, if I remember it correctly, was Atomic Tourism or Nuclear Tourism, but no such title shows up readily on Google or the ISFDB. The author and magazine probably did not present it as science fiction, but it is a fine example all the same.

1 Answer 1


I may have found this. So far, I have been unable to find a summary of the story you were looking for, but it looks like it was written by Jim Shepard and published in the September, 1985 issue of Atlantic Monthly.

If I can find more detail, I will add it.

edit: it appears to be in his Batting Against Castro book, which is a collection of short stories. Again though, I have not found much of a summary of the Atomic Tourism story aside from one mention on GoodReads, which states:

"Atomic Tourism" is a story about a couple who nonchalantly does some disaster tourism after America is nuked by the Russians"

  • Oddly, the page for the issue doesn't mention it May 8, 2019 at 4:39
  • 2
    Thanks, Mughi, this is definitely the right story. I wouldn't call the couple "nonchalant" as the Goodreads reviewer did. This satire is understated and you have to judge the couple's feelings solely by what they say and how they act, just as in real life. Shepard never gives a window into hidden feelings, which run deep. The two seniors just try to get on with their lives with each other as they always have, for as long as they can. May 8, 2019 at 12:05
  • As to satire: Missile overshoots the capital of Alabama only to wipe out Enterprise? Enterprise was later (1993) used as the small-town stage for Childress' Crazy in Alabama, which accentuates the Russians' goof. Couple examines the strata exposed in a crater as if they were admiring the view at the Grand Canyon -- only to see trash, as if the crater were just the newest sinkhole? Although Shepard covered some of the same ground as Cormac McCarthy did in The Road (2006), the reader is able to laugh a bit until the tourists reach Atlanta, where things get serious indeed. May 8, 2019 at 12:08
  • Incidentally, Atomic Tourism -- touring the history of atomic energy, its uses and misuses -- has its own page on Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_tourism May 8, 2019 at 12:17

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