After the end of the world, people haven’t really changed—things still go wrong.
In his debut (Idlewild, 2003), screenwriter and famous son Sagan created a wonderful post-apocalypse scenario, with the final shreds of humanity barely hanging on in a world devastated by a nightmarish plague, Black Ep. Here, he returns to the same world several years later, with the children of the earlier survivors now creating their own virtual reality utopias and getting ready to wreak their own havoc. We get a series of first-person accounts from each of the players—including a few major ones from the earlier novel and two camps of teenagers. One group are “waterbabies,” raised by control freak Vashti, who wanted only girls, thinking they’d be smarter and less violent, and who genetically bred them (fittingly, they’re based in Germany) to be not just smarter and more advanced but also Black Ep–resistant. The others were brought up in Egypt by the deeply religious Sufi Mu’tazz, who keeps the plague at bay with medication. Not surprisingly, the two groups don’t get along at all well. Although most of their squabbling could be put down to standard childish skirmishing, things start to get uglier in paradise (most of humanity has been destroyed, but the survivors keep going thanks to technology and addictive VR environments) when sabotage and a murder enter the mix, and the cabal realize they have more to fear than the constantly mutating Black Ep. Sagan’s episodic and personal approach has its advantages, especially getting deep inside the excellently rendered adolescent mindsets of the gentle Haji and the superior, near-psychotic Penny, but it leaves the wider pictures often fuzzy and ill-resolved.
Fit to bursting with flights of speculation that could fuel the careers of many lesser writers. Sagan’s second may not be quite as awe-inspiring as his first—but that’s hardly a criticism of this rich fantasia, peopled by painfully real characters.