A dystopian novel focuses on an American nuclear crisis.
Aisha has been working on a thesis about English nursery rhymes when a nuclear catastrophe occurs. Although the specifics of the disaster are initially vague, readers come to understand that a portion of the United States is suffering the effects of radiation. Residents in certain areas find it dangerous to go outside, and the government condemns buildings as uninhabitable in what come to be called “exclusion zones.” People like Aisha decide to head west at all costs, while others, such as an elderly woman named Elizabeth, decide to stay put and see what happens. No one trusts the government, and differentiating between military groups that tell people to evacuate and paramilitary bands that have no real authority is no simple task. The narrative follows characters like Aisha and Elizabeth in a loose way as they do their best to survive the unimaginable and carve some normalcy out of their altered world. Later in the story, readers meet the person behind the chaos. The culprit has been imprisoned on the moon, and he explains his motives for the slaughter of “6/6” (as the nuclear incident is referred to) along with a few items of personal taste. It turns out the mass murderer not only has a strong dislike for Israel, but also a fondness for listening to progressive rock and adding Tabasco sauce to ramen noodles.
Warner’s (American Yokai, 2017, etc.) narrative takes a refreshing detour from other post-apocalyptic works in a number of ways. Not only is the calamity fairly contained, its survivors are also described only in bits and pieces while its perpetrator gets to speak at length. This loose construction avoids telling readers too much, though in places more material might have been of interest (for example, what attracted Aisha to nursery rhymes in the first place?). The true, less obvious villain of the whole affair turns out to be the government (at least that’s what the actual terrorist wants people to believe), and it is an idea supported by such events as those in power using the nuclear cataclysm to seize private property. But would government officials really covet land that might be radioactive? What do they plan on doing with these places? Such ideas strain plausibility. This is also the case with sending the nuclear mastermind to the moon, where he may not have access to sour cream but enjoys a high-speed internet connection. If the government was truly so heartless, it seems unlikely it would let him browse digital manga at his leisure. While his rarefied tastes give him some depth, his opinions create little excitement. He argues that destroying a portion of the U.S. helped to teach America a lesson. In the end, that assertion is exactly the type of statement a typical, self-righteous mass murderer might say.
While this post-apocalyptic tale explores intriguing avenues, its cynicism toward government remains heavy-handed.