In a blighted, savage, and fascistic New America of the late 21st century, a former fighter tries to escort his children cross-country to a supposed safe haven in California.
In this debut novel, sharp, descriptive prose reveals a nightmarish profile of a United States of the 2070s and ’80s. A corporate-corrupted Washington, D.C., turned the United States into a pariah nation, leading to a coup and takeover of the country by military-industrialist tycoon Nathan Atwell. He is a born-again megalomaniac who believes in his divine destiny as ruler; to that end, he tags the blood of the downtrodden populace with nanotechnology and occupies his near-feudal surveillance state with Star Wars–esque, masked “Secan” storm troopers. He also carries out selective eugenics with every girl of breeding age, and when Secans come for the adolescent daughter of obscure prole John Bradford, it leads to the marauders getting shot and the household on the run. Turns out Bradford is a legendary warrior, retired undefeated from “the Circuit,” barnstorming gladiatorial death bouts masterminded by crime lord Irish Ben of the unconquered outlaw metropolis of Chicago. Bradford reluctantly renews his business relationship with the vicious Irish Ben to literally fight his way across the country, seeking to take his two kids (and dog) to a presumed refuge in free California. Bacci is a screenwriter, and his dystopian actioner (the first in a trilogy) combines the more cinematic elements of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games but raises the violence to near-splatterpunk level. The Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome–type brawls are described in bone-crunching detail. But it’s Bacci’s gift for empathy, in his evocation of the despair at the root of this brute society, that steers the material more toward Mel Gibson Saves His Family than Arnold Schwarzenegger Swats the Mutants. Each is a formula, but at least this one is more about “we” than the World Wrestling Entertainment.
Superior storytelling propels a familiar post-apocalypse, sci-fi premise.