I’ve talked before about how Joy Division were making the music of entropy; here’s a song from their later incarnation as New Order that sounds even more like the weary acceptance of a clock that knows it’s winding down.

“Leave Me Alone” is, appropriately, the last song on the debut Power, Corruption and Lies.

The lyrics are a bit abstract, but easy enough to understand that I won’t reprint them here (except to say that the rueful delivery of “You get these words wrong / every time / You get these words wrong / I just smile” is sheer perfection: such a simple and succinct way to communicate the inadequacy of language to express truth).

When I hear the song, I get an image in my head. It’s completely unrelated to the video up top, which is lovely in its own right – you should watch it.

The image I get is this:

Above a beach somewhere, in the cloudless sky, the late-afternoon sun hangs low: massively swollen, dim and red. It’s so big the whole horizon appears aflame. Soon it will touch the sea and seem to set it afire too.

The few remaining “people” (for they are no longer exactly human, as we use that term; maybe they look closer to the scuttling, translucent crab-like creatures that have provided the bulk of their sustenance since most landmass ceased to support vegetation) spend their days quietly; idly dreaming, along the coastlines, on the sand.

It’s been years – or maybe decades, or perhaps centuries – since the last words were spoken aloud here.

The people are not sad; not happy; not lonely.

They just are.

If they remembered what an hourglass was, they would be waiting for it to run out.

They hum, and they check the nets out of long habit and routine, and they wait for the end.

It’s such a specific image that I am sure it must be something I read in a story long ago (the translucent crab-thingies in particular), but some cursory Google searches have been fruitless.

I am hoping that the resident sci-fi historians here may be able to tell me where it’s from.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. I am not the one who’d recognize the image, but it is a striking one. Perhaps you are its source, in which case the sci fi novel it comes from should be yours.

    I find New Order almost irresistible, for reasons that I’m largely unaware of.

    • New Order are irresistible because New Order were* a great band.

      Great bassist, great drummer, great (not in any technical sense, but in a “distinctive/plays with feeling & texture” sense) guitarist, and striking lyricist/singer (here I won’t even say he’s “great”, since he’s notoriously uneven at both – but he’s very memorable, and writes breezy melancholy melodies, and his hesitancy adds the crucial warm human element without which the whole thing would be less than it is).

      New Order, at their best, were the geniuses to see that the trance-inducing repetitions of Kraftwerk and the Velvets were not so different after all, and merge them into one.

      *(I use past tense because the current version of the band that has no Peter Hook in it is not “New Order”).

  2. It’s not exactly the same, but your image instantly put me in mind of a passage from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. This is a very long excerpt, maybe longer than is needed, but I so love H.G. Wells that I couldn’t bring myself to cut it shorter.

    The alternations of night and day grew slower and slower, and so did the passage of the sun across the sky, until they seemed to stretch through centuries. At last a steady twilight brooded over the earth, a twilight only broken now and then when a comet glared across the darkling sky. The band of light that had indicated the sun had long since disappeared; for the sun had ceased to set—it simply rose and fell in the west, and grew ever broader and more red. All trace of the moon had vanished. The circling of the stars, growing slower and slower, had given place to creeping points of light. At last, some time before I stopped, the sun, red and very large, halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with a dull heat, and now and then suffering a momentary extinction. At one time it had for a little while glowed more brilliantly again, but it speedily reverted to its sullen red heat. I perceived by this slowing down of its rising and setting that the work of the tidal drag was done. The earth had come to rest with one face to the sun, even as in our own time the moon faces the earth. Very cautiously, for I remembered my former headlong fall, I began to reverse my motion. Slower and slower went the circling hands until the thousands one seemed motionless and the daily one was no longer a mere mist upon its scale. Still slower, until the dim outlines of a desolate beach grew visible. 2
    ‘I stopped very gently and sat upon the Time Machine, looking round. The sky was no longer blue. North-eastward it was inky black, and out of the blackness shone brightly and steadily the pale white stars. Overhead it was a deep Indian red and starless, and south-eastward it grew brighter to a glowing scarlet where, cut by the horizon, lay the huge hull of the sun, red and motionless. The rocks about me were of a harsh reddish colour, and all the trace of life that I could see at first was the intensely green vegetation that covered every projecting point on their south-eastern face. It was the same rich green that one sees on forest moss or on the lichen in caves: plants which like these grow in a perpetual twilight. 3
    ‘The machine was standing on a sloping beach. The sea stretched away to the south-west, to rise into a sharp bright horizon against the wan sky. There were no breakers and no waves, for not a breath of wind was stirring. Only a slight oily swell rose and fell like a gentle breathing, and showed that the eternal sea was still moving and living. And along the margin where the water sometimes broke was a thick incrustation of salt—pink under the lurid sky. There was a sense of oppression in my head, and I noticed that I was breathing very fast. The sensation reminded me of my only experience of mountaineering, and from that I judged the air to be more rarefied than it is now. 4
    ‘Far away up the desolate slope I heard a harsh scream, and saw a thing like a huge white butterfly go slanting and flittering up into the sky and, circling, disappear over some low hillocks beyond. The sound of its voice was so dismal that I shivered and seated myself more firmly upon the machine. Looking round me again, I saw that, quite near, what I had taken to be a reddish mass of rock was moving slowly towards me. Then I saw the thing was really a monstrous crab-like creature. Can you imagine a crab as large as yonder table, with its many legs moving slowly and uncertainly, its big claws swaying, its long antennæ, like carters’ whips, waving and feeling, and its stalked eyes gleaming at you on either side of its metallic front? Its back was corrugated and ornamented with ungainly bosses, and a greenish incrustation blotched it here and there. I could see the many palps of its complicated mouth flickering and feeling as it moved. 5
    ‘As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me, I felt a tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there. I tried to brush it away with my hand, but in a moment it returned, and almost immediately came another by my ear. I struck at this, and caught something threadlike. It was drawn swiftly out of my hand. With a frightful qualm, I turned, and I saw that I had grasped the antenna of another monster crab that stood just behind me. Its evil eyes were wriggling on their stalks, its mouth was all alive with appetite, and its vast ungainly claws, smeared with an algal slime, were descending upon me. In a moment my hand was on the lever, and I had placed a month between myself and these monsters. But I was still on the same beach, and I saw them distinctly now as soon as I stopped. Dozens of them seemed to be crawling here and there, in the sombre light, among the foliated sheets of intense green. 6
    ‘I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurts one’s lungs: all contributed to an appalling effect. I moved on a hundred years, and there was the same red sun—a little larger, a little duller—the same dying sea, the same chill air, and the same crowd of earthy crustacea creeping in and out among the green weed and the red rocks. And in the westward sky, I saw a curved pale line like a vast new moon. 7
    ‘So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away.

    (The Time Machine is from 1908 – firmly in the public domain – so if anyone’s appetite is whetted, the internet is your ebook candy store :D.)

    • Thanks Maribou! I definitely read The Time Machine as a kid, and this seems a very, very likely culprit. This one should have occurred to me.

    • In particular gutenberg.org, which has tens of thousands of free public-domain ebooks. In fact, many of Amazon’s 99-cent ebooks are them reselling the free gutenberg editions.

      • Indeed. Between them, google books, and manybooks.net (which includes creative-commons-licensed things – lots of good modern SF) – one could stay well occupied for several centuries :). (also awesome, while we are talking public domain, is the Public Domain Review … I love them SO MUCH.)

      • Has anyone tried librevox (audiobook versions of public domain books) yet?

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