Dark Futures Book 19: The Road

Dark Futures is a 20-book exploration of the fears of our futures, an odd sub-genre of Science Fiction that draws in on the society of the time and projects it forward, into uncomfortable visions of the world to be. The idea is the same across many books, the results, very different.  This week, there is only the  horror of the true end of the world.

America, The Future. We don’t know where, we don’t know when. A man and his son head down The Road, headed south, towards the coast. Civilisation has passed on, most of the supposed survivors have long past on, and all that remains are corpses, the looted remains of towns and villages, and gangs of cannibalistic looters. All they have is each other, a gun with two bullets in it, and a vague sense of direction. So this is bleak, bleak stuff, more akin to horror than science-fiction.

It’s grimness is actually one of the books problems. The lead characters have no name, the style is very much “stream-of-consciousness” so what little dialogue there is, is embedded in the text, and the placeless, blasted wastelands feel almost dreamlike; visions of a washed-out, colourless hell through which the characters trudge on the way to one soul-scarring set-piece to the next. And emotionally, there isn’t a lot to connect to, so I sort of just bounced off the text a little bit.

It’s not to say it’s not a good book – it is. It’s vision, for all the horror, is well realised, but given that On the Beach left me in tears, and The Handmaid’s Tale made me angry, and so many of these other books this year have drawn me in and moved me, emotionally, The Road leaves me cold because it’s so abstract I’m just reading it and absorbing it with my mind, not my heart.

With that criticism in mind though, I have to concede that it’s deliberate, studied ambiguity is a strength. We don’t know how old the Boy is, for instance. We don’t know anyones’ names, or any locations. We don’t know where they think they are going or why they think it’s a good idea. We don’t even know what actually happened to the world. Dreamlike, or rather Nightmarelike, keeps popping into my mind when I think of it – a book with little in the way of story, just layers and layers of vision and sub-text.

Next time:  We are approaching, finally, the end, and I’m on the lookout for a 20th, ultra-modern Dark Future. Or maybe several, for one last hurrah before Darkness Finally Falls.

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus. Earlier Reviews in this series can be found using the tag “Dark Futures” or the column name “Tolkien Gestures”.

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  1. This book was well written, but much like you, it didn’t grab me. I think the characters not having names would make it easier to relate to the characters and to put yourself into their shoes. I also discussed this with someone who said that they were reading it with their child. I don’t have any children, and don’t have any plans on having them any time soon. It would be interesting to see a reaction from people reading this book both before and after having children.

    • dwgrampus /

      thing is – i am a dad – to boys, as it happens – so you’d think i’d find it easier to empathise with the obvious desire to protect his son and so on, but theres so little in their relationship i find that hard. I mean, I wouldn’t expect the sort of twee bonding that cropped up in Falling Skies or anything, but any sense that they had a relationship beyond mere survival would have been nice.

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