Dark Futures Book 14: Children of the Dust

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 we see the death of the old way and the birth of the new through three generations of a post-nuclear family.

So, we arrive back in the land of Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Fiction, with a book taking up a slot that was hard to fill, simply as there was so many choices. I chose Children of the Dust knowing next to nothing about it, other than that clearly, read at the right age, it leaves a lasting impression. And as much as I’m about to be reasonably harsh on it, it is worth pointing out, right at the start, that this is not aimed at me, and naturally a lot of its impact passes me by.

This is a book that starts strong. It’s first act, which features the experience of living through a nuclear war and its immediate aftermath through the eyes of a young girl, is grim and affecting. It ends with her, and most of her family dying of radiation poisioning after handing over the mysteriously resistant younger girl to a commune likely to survive the comming winter. There are some issues – cheifly the almost mystic resistance just mentioned – but the rest of the section is pretty harrowing, and I’m mindful that reading this at the age its aimed at must have been pretty shocking stuff.

The next act is more problematic, insomuch as it throws off some pretty cool ideas and then doesn’t do anything with them. Set initially in a surviving Government Bunker it skips forward many years to show the Bunkers starting to stick their heads up again and see what has survived. Now, one of the things I’ve not seen a lot of is the exploration of the decision making needed in the aftermath, from just these sorts of groups, and this may not have been the place for it, but what little of it there is feels muddled and just a little “off”. Its the usual “adults are bad and out of touch” stuff you get in YA fiction, as one of the characters becomes a mouth piece for how badly everything is being run, and how we shouldn’t try and rebuild but live a new way and so on, but with little examination of the life of the Bunker its hard to tell if it’s genuine or angst. Oddly these debates are explicitly mentioned as happening but just not actually written in the text.

The final act skips on another generation and is just…well, laughable. Sorry, but I couldn’t take it seriously. Set 50 years after the war, by the 3rd generation humanity has evolved on the surface into psychic, white-furred vegitarian hippies who have rebuilt a great city and consigned the now primitive bunker people to history. Our Bunker-person POV struggles with it breifly but then realises how outdated he is and goes to help them build their new utopia. I mean, what? It’s the plot of The Chysalids without the massive length of time required or the interesting social setup to start with. It’s just plain odd.

In some ways Children of the Dust is stitched together from the greatest hits of other disaster fiction, and would probably serve really well as a genre primer if I was 12 or 13. In fact it would probably mean I wouldn’t sleep for several days! But really, it’s just not very good; under-using what strengths it does have and leaving too many characters underwritten. It’s a shame, more so because I probably could have read something better.

Next time:  David Brin’s tale of redemption and rebirth, The Postman. I promise not to mention the movie.

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”.

More from the world of Geek Syndicate

%d bloggers like this: