In The Dead Lands, an elegantly written post-apocalyptic adventure, author Benjamin Percy puts humanity through the wringer.
First a flu pandemic wipes out most of the population. Then there’s a thermonuclear war that no one wins, environmental disasters caused by nuclear power plant meltdowns and extreme climate change in which parts of the planet harden into permafrost while others become a broiling desert wasteland.
More than 150 years later, one pocket of survival is the walled city of downtown St. Louis, where 40,000 people eke out a bleak existence during extreme drought. It is a society on the brink of collapse.
But there is hope. A girl arrives outside the outpost walls — the first visitor to the Sanctuary in 60 years — and she brings word of unspoiled habitat and the chance for a better life in the Pacific Northwest.
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This motivates a small group to embark on an arduous journey through the Dead Lands, tracing the steps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s.
The cross-country trek — led by Mina Clark, a rough-and-tumble Sanctuary sentry, and Lewis Meriwether, a soft museum curator — won’t be easy.
Along the way, they’ll encounter harsh environmental conditions, terrifying mutant predators (including an army of spiders the size of cats!) and human adversaries who might be even deadlier.
“Though apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories have always been with us, there’s been a tide of them lately,” Percy, a Minnesota-based writer, says in press materials. “I think this has everything to do with our post-9-11 anxieties and these environmentally challenged, politically divisive times.
“Destroying the world has never been more popular, because destroying the world has never seemed more possible. I wanted to tap into those fears.”
— David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram
The Dead Lands
by Benjamin Percy
Grand Central Publishing, $26
Audiobook: Grand Central Publishing, $35; narrated by actor Holter Graham.