A debut novel sees a young man seek survival for himself and his village in the desert wastelands of future Earth.
Sean Anders, 18, lives in Nova, a small settlement that has sprung up and clings grimly to life a century after World War III. Nova’s population is only 133, yet food is scarce, and the desert beyond is home to predators that have grown deadly by radiation. The only game to hunt is cattleworm (a sort of legless, burrowing cow), but with their numbers dwindling, the mayor of Nova decrees drastic action. Four men will be chosen at random to travel through the outer desert, one to each compass point, seeking a new food supply or another town with which to trade. The final name drawn from the mayor’s bucket is Sean’s. And so he sets out, leaving behind his mother and baby sister; his uncle and cousin; his best friend, Billy Rose; and, most heartbreaking of all, Casey Clarke, the girl he loves. Can Sean endure the lethal wilderness with its lions, sandstorms, and mimics, the savage, near-invisible monsters that took his father nine years ago? Will Sean die alone or return a hero? In this series opener, Martinez emphasizes the hopelessness of life after a nuclear apocalypse. He commences with a flash-forward prologue in which a badly wounded Sean is about to be killed, his quest for vengeance having failed. The novel proper features moments of tenderness—the characters have that all-important spark of originality, and the relationships between family members are enough to restore faith in human nature. But those episodes are undermined by Sean’s bitter motivations and the cruel fates that befall his fellow conscripts, each of whom is given a chapter’s narration. The book moves along at a swift pace and is easy to read (in terms of prose, if not subject matter), yet it does not catch up to its prologue. Sean’s apparent failure thus hangs like the Sword of Damocles, precluding any sense of closure and limiting the story’s appeal to those readers who thrive on the anguish more than the accomplishment of survival.
An adept, if bleak, dystopian tale.