In a barbarous future following economic apocalypse, what’s left of the city of Asheville, North Carolina, faces a military and ideological threat from a hostile, degenerate tribe led by a vengeful ex-citizen.
Veteran author Mustin’s (Sam’s Place, 2013, etc.) sci-fi tale is a compelling, disturbingly urgent spin on the Riddley Walker–esque retro-barbarism-of-the-future theme, contained within a timely (if loaded) debate on laissez faire versus central authority. The story envisions what used to be the southern United States in the winter of 2090, a few generations following the “Great Debacle,” a worldwide economic depression triggered by a monopolist-tycoon U.S. president and an abundance of guns. Associated pandemic guerilla warfare destroyed much of civilization, and what was once Asheville is now the Citadel, a compound of tents and ruins, run along authoritarian lines by Mayor Samuel II. Still, it functions as a cooperative society compared to Freedomland, a surrounding territory populated by “Outliers,” tribal survivalists backsliding ever more into primitivism. Formerly at war with the Citadel, Outliers have established a dubious form of détente, including trade and parlays, under their new chieftain, Abraham Trapper. But Abraham was once Isaac Editor, a prominent Citadel member who defected to anarchy in the name of “sovereign” individualism and brawny self-determination (mental illness is involved; sorry tea party Nietzscheans). In the Citadel, Abraham’s old friend Jakob Historian (scribe for the community’s surviving monthly newspaper) learns that Abraham’s battered slave-wife is his lost love, presumed killed in action many years earlier, one of a number of psychological blows (some cunningly planned ahead by Abraham/Isaac) intended to shake Jakob’s belief in the Citadel way of life. For a narrative containing many philosophical poses, the contest between militia-mindset nihilism and organized government is still put across in terms that rile the mind and stir the blood and are eerily reflective of current talk radio bloviations. Readers living in the author’s Blue Ridge Mountains area will be particularly struck by the sense of place.
A tense post-apocalyptic drama that reads as if the kids in Lord of the Flies were savvy enough to grow up and form political parties.