The war between man and beast goes amphibious in this second installment of the author’s New Wilderness trilogy.
Ten years after humanity was attacked en masse by Earth’s fauna–everything from cougars to ants to household pets–Matthews rousts his New Wilderness heroes out of their Canadian bunker for a tour of civilization’s remnants on the Pacific coast. They stop at a resort cat-ranch where man-eating felines are fished out of underground mines and tossed in the stew-pot, take in the metropolis of New Portland and finally get shanghaied onto the aircraft-carrier city Terpris. Safe from land animals, they now must fend off seagull attacks and the occasional kamikaze albatross. But the greatest threat is dolphins–toothy and brainy–who use ingenious tactics to jam the ship’s sonar and stall its motors as a hurricane approaches; the crew replies with ultrasound that scares off animals but drives some humans insane. The author serves up plenty of hand-to-flipper combat–â€œMajor Dawson rolled his body and slammed both daggers into the back of a dolphin”–but it’s a long cruise, with time for melodrama. Communications whiz Lena bickers with her perpetually stoned mechanic boyfriend Caps. Truculent martial-arts honcho Darcy explores her femininity by becoming a nightclub chanteuse, while edging toward a tedious affair with callow master electrician Noah. Elder statesman Sid lands on a cutthroat prison barge where guards bet on which inmates will survive the week. Meanwhile, the most fearsome predator, stone-cold hunter Ethan Toffee, lurks charismatically. The ambience here is less perpetually ominous than in the first in the trilogy, New Wilderness (2005), and the action is less gripping, with Love Boat-esque characters constantly gossiping about each other’s sexual orientation. Still, Matthews’s meticulously imagined near-future is fascinating, where the presumption of a docile, abundant environment no longer exists, and drastic material scarcity makes everyday life a matter of agonizing trade-offs and ruthless negotiation.
Another engrossing portrait of humanity on the ropes.