Nuclear missiles are flying toward their targets. One family is separated: the father finds his way to an underground shelter while his wife and three children seal themselves in their living room. But only Catherine, the eight year old, stays completely inside, away from radiation, hiding under a blanket-covered table. And only she will survive. Her older sister, before she dies, takes Catherine to Johnson, an eccentric survivalist. Meanwhile, in a government bunker, Bill Harnden, the father, mates and has another daughter, Ophelia. As the years pass, a few survivors try to establish an agricultural foundation for a new society above ground, while in the shelter machines preserve a society unable to function in a new world. When the leaders of the shelter decide to commandeer the livestock of the outsiders, Bill and Ophelia go to warn them. In Johnson's camp, now a small village, Bill finds that his daughter Catherine is the mother of the first of a new breed of genetic mutants who are covered with fine white fur and have strange white eyes and psychic abilities. By the next generation, it is clear that the society underground cannot last, and Ophelia's son Simon must establish a bond with " homo superior , the children of the dust" so that technological knowledge is not lost forever. Lawrence is a powerful writer who skillfuly conveys the horrors of war and the small things that can break the spirit.