In a world ravaged by cataclysmic oil blowouts, a vagrant survivor witnesses the cruelties of a degraded civilization in Cheney’s (So I Can See the Trees, 2013) dystopian novel.
In 2031, members of a messianic terrorist group called CRUD simultaneously blow up oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico and across Canada, unleashing an extinction-level flood of petroleum. It wipes out much of civilization, at least in North America, ushering in a new, literal dark age as pollutant-saturated clouds blot out the sun. Earthquakes are frequent, respiratory disease is rampant, and oil is everywhere. The stripped-down prose in this novel follows Bird, a nondescript everyman-survivor with no special agenda or aim as he wanders the wastes, tangling often with the results of “Stadium Culture,” a brute-jock version of society. Here, city-center sports arenas comprise the last organized community, where tuneless marching bands are part of the elite and the main activities are continual public executions (via impaling) and death matches against maddened woolly mammoths—a species revived from the ancient past by genetic engineering, right before everything went wrong. At one point, a sadistic, pinheaded boss is also described as being genetically modified—part of a botched attempt to create a master race. Bird, whose most distinguishing feature as a character is that he isn’t driven by nonstop urges to hurt people, briefly becomes the companion/protector of a mystery woman and an infant. Overall, the ecologically-minded author Cheney offers a grim, dystopic narrative that takes a page from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. It will likely remind many readers of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), with its terse, semi-poetic descriptions, often of unspeakable violence, in a nihilistic, post-apocalyptic world. Although the caricatures of Red-Staters verge on deadpan satire, the minimal storyline doesn’t overstay its welcome. Indeed, it even shows signs of being an allegory in which a bruised and abused Earth finally turns on the Homo sapiens who have caused it so much pain.
A compelling, spare story that portrays its ugly, oil-disaster future as crude in more ways than one.