While hiring a surf mat, California English teacher Paul Sant becomes aware of a vast tidal wave approaching the coast. He takes refuge in the building's basement and survives the inundation by grabbing scuba gear and eventually floating to the surface on the surf mat. But the world has changed utterly; only small islands project above the new ocean's surface. After troubling encounters with giant fish, a floating yellow Volkswagen containing a terrifying corpse-thing, and horrid phosphorescent crabs like human heads, he meets another survivor, old Hiram Bell, who's content with his beer and tobacco and fish. Paul eventually builds a raft and floats away in search of new vistas: giant structures formed of the keels of ships, a volcano amid a sea of mud, and swarms of carnivorous ""gugs"" resembling humanlike sharks. After fighting the gugs, and enjoying various new adventures, Paul meets fellow-survivors Belle, Simon, Tanger, Donk, and Henry the horse; they and others found a hardworking, co-operative, and nonviolent community on the coast of what seems to be a new continent. But then the devil shows up, in the form of the mocking, self-deprecatory, and ruthlessly cynical Saul. Encouraging laxity and shoddy work, Saul soon takes charge and creates an army. One thing leads to another; Paul strikes Saul and is exiled. He journeys far over the mountains, discovering a food warehouse, tools, and a library. Upon his return, he finds Saul has brought in gugs as police; he kills one and is put on trial for his life. Finally, sanity prevails: Saul and the gugs are driven forth, though there will be further trials for Paul and the community before Saul's influence is completely expunged. An impressively imagined, well-constructed utopian fantasy debut that's so careful to provide justifications that it might almost qualify as science fiction: no matter what your persuasion, it's certainly worth a try.