Post-apocalyptic cannot get much bleaker than this novel in which two guys wander a seemingly endless landscape of rubble searching for sustenance. At face value, this set-up is akin to Cory Doctorow‘s “Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar)”.
The circumstances are more insidious, however, and really more like the Matrix movies when Neo is unplugged. Tom and Jake are seemingly the only freely mobile survivors of a corporate-caused apocalypse. Brutish bots scour the landscape shooting and destroying those not under the Rixon Corporation’s control. Most people are mentally hijacked by Rixon’s “New Reality” VR program that keeps them fed, fat and docile ever-occupied by their full-sensory diversion. Nobody unplugs from the Rixon headsets.
The men tried to unplug someone once, and Tom’s wife died in the attempt. Now Tom’s plugged son is their driving force as they try to survive long enough to help him to cruel reality . . .
But Rixon is watching from the lone standing tower on the horizon. And monsters burrow beneath the debris following the wounded men everywhere.
The endless repetition of the men’s routine is mirrored in their frustratingly “Waiting for Godot” style conversations. It adds an existential element to the novel contradictory to the immediacy of the horror element. Most chapters seem to play out the same, promising to reach a climax and then cycling back on themselves at the start of the next chapter.
There is a third character that espouses her opinions of the guys’ journey at the end of each chapter. She knows them intimately and watches their every move. This, too, adds an existential element, like the chorus of Greek tragedy. Likewise, she manages to add nothing to the plot for the bulk of the tale as she says the same things at the end of each chapter, promising to add conflict and then not following through.
By the end, things happen and everything become clear. The book stands alone, but there is a sequel that’ll likely take this tale into stronger more interestingly speculative realms.
I received my copy of this novel directly from the author after previously reviewing his thoroughly enjoyable zombie apocalypse novel series [The Alpha Plague, The Alpha Plague 2, and The Alpha Plague 3] which deservedly made my Best Reads of 2015 list.
[Check out my other reviews here.]