THE PENAL COLONY by Richard Herley


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In this vigorous if unoriginal adventure yarn, the English author of a rugged Stone Age trilogy (The Stone Arrow, The Flint Lord, The Earth Goddess) imagines a near-future battle between civilization and savagery on a isolated penal island. John Carpenter's film Escape from New York depicted 1990's Manhattan as a hermetic prison colony where felons, tossed in for life, either slipped into anarchy or aligned with a protective dictatorship that ruled a mock-civilization. That's the set-up here, too, though Herley sets his tale on a 1990's Cornish island and invests the 200 odd inhabitants of his meritocratic ""The Village""--as opposed to the 300-odd degenerate ""Outsiders""--with a conscious allegiance to social contract. Onto this island drops hero Anthony Routledge, a surveyor wrongly convicted of murder who's given the same deal as all newcomers: if he can survive for a time ""outside,"" he may join the Village and pledge obedience to its leader, ""The Father."" Scraping through a tense six-day trial of wit and brawn--during which he tests his mettle against the filth, rape, and cheap death of life outside--Routledge joins the Village. His character and math skills soon catapult him to a high rank working alongside the Father and others on an escape plan: the building from scrap items of a sonar-directed sailboat. Meanwhile, bloody feuding among the Outsiders--limned in a series of brutal vignettes--leads to a closing of their ranks and a massive but failed assault on the Village. Reeling from the damage, Routledge--who's come to love the puritan values of the stern yet benevolent Father and his Village--and several others embark on a perilous flight to freedom. Herley wisely mutes his anti-Lord of the Flies message--reason can defeat animal instinct--in favor of muscular action fare set in a well-considered microcosm; but this good novel is less than outstanding in its failure to examine fully the potential savagery in all hearts--rule of law or no.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Morrow