Carey offers a post-apocalyptic tale set in England in a future when most humans are "empty houses where people used to live."
Sgt. Parks, Pvt. Gallagher, Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell flee an English military camp, a scientific site for the study of "hungries," zombielike creatures who feast on flesh, human or otherwise. These once-humans are essentially "fungal colonies animating human bodies." After junkers—anarchic survivalists—use hungries to breach the camp's elaborate wire fortifications, the four survivors head for Beacon, a giant refuge south of London where uninfected citizens have retreated over the past two decades, bringing along one of the study subjects, 10-year-old Melanie, a second-generation hungry. Like others of her generation, Melanie possesses superhuman strength and a superb intellect, and she can reason and communicate. Dr. Caldwell had planned to dissect Melanie's brain, but Miss Justineau thinks Melanie is capable of empathy and human interaction, which might make her a bridge between humans and hungries. Their philosophical dispute continues in parallel to a survival trek much like the one in McCarthy's On the Road. The four either kill or hide from junkers and hungries (which are animated by noise, movement and human odors). The characters are somewhat clichéd—Parks, rugged veteran with an empathetic core; Gallagher, rube private and perfect victim; Caldwell, coldhearted objectivist ever focused on prying open Melanie’s skull. It may be Melanie's role to lead second-generation hungries in a revival of civilization, which in this imaginative, ominous assessment of our world and its fate, offers cold comfort.
One of the more imaginative and ingenious additions to the dystopian canon.