This was asked of me by a friend, and I've been unable to help her, and it was suggested I try this forum - if anyone can place it, I'm sure she would be very grateful. Thank you!

Her description was -

I'm trying to track down a compilation of sci-fi short stories I must have read in the late 1970s:

One of the stories ( I'm leaving out some of the fruitier details ) involved a young couple getting together and renting a nuclear shelter from a middle aged lady as their home.

After a couple of days the alarm went off indicating a nuclear strike and they hunkered down for a long wait, wondering what might be left of the world they knew.

Gradually the cockroaches moved in and things became unbearable and they eventually began arguing; the young woman wanting to leave the shelter and take her chance above, the young man refusing to, and while the woman tried to open the hatch, he struggled with her and she hit her head and died.

It took the woman who owned the shelter a while to rid the place of cockroaches "this time", but having done so, she put up the "To Let" sign once more....... (gulp!)

  • I'm not sure I understand the ending as you describe it...
    – user11521
    Feb 9, 2014 at 19:04
  • 2
    @Michael, I think the implication is that the woman who owns the shelter is repeatedly renting out the shelter, triggering the alarm, and releasing cockroaches... and somehow this reliably ends in the deaths of the renters each time? It seems like a stretch.
    – steveha
    Feb 12, 2014 at 19:38
  • probably the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/266551/… (which is newer but has an accepted answer)
    – Otis
    Aug 12, 2022 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


The New Tomorrows edited by Norman Spinrad - 1971 - Book Cover The New Tomorrows edited by Norman Spinrad - 1973 - Book Cover

A guess: "Surface If You Can" by Terry Champagne

Here's an all-too-brief summary:

‘Surface If You Can’ by Terry Champagne: satirical tale of a couple of grad students who rent a bomb shelter from an absent-minded heiress. There is a surprise ending that makes this the best story in the anthology.

The story was published in a volume called "The New Tomorrows", edited by Norman Spinrad (covers for the 1971 and 1973 editions posted above), and has also appeared in the science fiction magazine, "New Worlds #192".

Does anything look familiar? The link below will take you to short overviews of the other stories that appeared alongside this one. Hope that helps.

~ Edited from The PorPor Books Blog

Edit. The originator of the question, in a comment, has requested "a sample of the text to the story in question." Here is the beginning:

Mrs. Amis felt a need. In spite of her health and wealth and elaborately equipped Bel Air mansion, she wanted to do-give-get something. So she placed an ad in the newspaper of the closest overcrowded university.

For Rent. Conv. bmb. sheltr., furn., util. pd., priv. estate, Bel Air, cpl. pref, $95., ph. 273-5840.

Here is the middle:

Allan pushed up on the hatch. It didn't budge. He pushed again harder.

"Hey, I can't get the door open." Puzzlement and caution in his voice.

Pam watched his efforts to open the hatch. Unconsciously, she turned her eyes to the dials they had stopped noticing.

"Allan, this meter reads 6000."

Allan descended a few steps and looked at her.

"Mrs. Amis said this meter measures the outside radiation." She wanted to say more, but her voice vanished.

"Do you remember hearing an explosion last night?" he asked, as if it were the most important question ever asked.

"Yes, it felt like an earthquake."

"I sure wish we had bought that radio."

"I wish we had a window. I just can't believe it."

"I wish we had more food."

Before they could ponder their situation, and long before they could accept the reality of it, a shock wave jolted everything inside the shelter. They clung together.

"What was that?"

"Probably a second wave attack--or, maybe, their doomsday bombs," he replied.

The ending:

An unmeasured moment of time passed before Mr. Amis came to clean up. She had a devil of a time getting rid of the cockroaches and finally had to fumigate before she could run the ad again.

With her new tenants settling in, Mr. Amis could relax once again. Propped up on pillows, under thick blankets in a massive four-poster, she watched the maid depart. And pouring herself a cup of tea, she reached for the remote control and switched on the monitor, leaned back and relaxed.

  • Thank you! I'll pass that back to my friend and let you know :-)
    – Pixel
    Feb 19, 2014 at 10:45
  • @Pixel: Did you ever check with your friend as to whether this was the right one?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 21, 2014 at 12:08
  • 1
    I am the author of the original description quoted by the OP, which has gone through several friends by the look of it! I certainly do recognize some of the titles of the short stories, so The New Tomorrows was definitely a book I owned as a teenager. I'm still searching to find a sample of the text to the story in question....
    – Gareth
    Aug 31, 2014 at 17:22
  • Fantastic. I now have a copy of the later edition.
    – Gareth
    Sep 7, 2014 at 17:39

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