Vaughn, who's competent in many subgenres, eschews werewolves (Kitty Saves the World, 2015), superheroes (Dreams of the Golden Age, 2014), dragons (Refuge of Dragons, 2017), and spacefarers (Martians Abroad, 2017) for a smaller-scale story, an intimate post-apocalyptic mystery.
Several decades after the Fall—a series of epidemics and devastating storms that have killed off most of the human population—survivors in California live in an interdependent confederation of towns along what they now call the Coast Road. Every household produces only what it needs and can't have children unless granted a banner for one by the town committee. The brown-clad investigators both look into suspected violations (including bannerless pregnancies) and mete out appropriate judgments. When Sero, an unpopular but skilled handyman, dies under suspicious circumstances, Enid, a young investigator, travels to Pasadan to determine the truth. As she and her colleague Tomas examine the evidence, Enid confronts both the resistance of the townspeople and the memory of a journey which marked a turning point in her life. Despite the worldwide apocalypse, this is actually a deeply personal story about one woman and the mores of small-town living, a deft portrait of a society departed so completely from the complexities of the now-destroyed civilization (except for some technological scraps) that survivors don’t even understand what it is they’ve lost. This is exemplified by a performance of “Dust in the Wind”; the musician believes that it is a song from Kansas rather than a song by Kansas—either way, Kansas is so impossibly distant so as to border on the mythical. Perhaps surviving humans (with the exception of a few desperate scavengers) would develop into a community where murder is rare, most crimes are petty, and shunning is a devastating punishment; it would be nice to think so. The characters definitely aren't angels, but they're still a pleasant and reasonably plausible departure from the grim sort that usually populate this subgenre.
A slight but well-crafted and heartfelt effort.