by M.L. Byrd
Doomsday dialogues and discussions have dominated the media and popular culture for the past decade. A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study suggests the earth may reach its end by 2030. Fears and consternation over ecological and economic issues may run higher than usual because of the Mayan calendar debate as well. In addition to turmoil, however, end-of-the-world torments and terrors inspire great fictions, and this review recommends several recent additions.
Just released is The Not-Yet by New Orleans writer Moira Crone (University of New Orleans Press, $15.95). The title puns on its genre—warning of what may be coming in the future—but it also refers to the hero, Malcolm de Lazarus, who is slated to join the rich and long-lived ruling class. Malcolm, a talented performer, is from a foundling home. He has won the affection of an Heir and has been chosen and groomed to enter their ranks. The story begins in 2121 at the point he realizes that there is a problem with his inheritance. Two chronologies are established. A chapter of present tense hopscotches with chapters from the past, keeping readers on their toes and demonstrating the confusion of the times themselves and of the hero’s attempt to put his life—and his identity—together. Action is embroiled with philosophy as a researcher (and romantic interest of the young hero) explores the need for meaning and spirituality after “The Reveal,” a time when the potential for immortality supposedly replaced the need for religion.
Last year, Frank MacArthur published 2020 (Kindle $9.95), the first installment of a proposed trilogy. This title too makes a pun, allowing readers to visualize the upcoming decade and to imagine perfect sight. The book questions whether foresight can be followed, or if hindsight will have to serve a decimated country and its inhabitants. Virginia State University professor Michael F. McClure and Youngstown State Professor Scott A. Leonard form the writing team that depicts the United States in eight short years. With expensive, unreliable fuel supplies, the government and its infrastructures have essentially buckled, and people have turned against one another, almost annihilating the population. Skye Langer, returning from a wilderness hiking trip in Northern California, finds this devastation and attempts to make his way back to Ohio to rejoin his family. This end-time story is not set in an alternate reality, a far-flung galaxy, or a flight of fancy. One of its strengths is the novel’s ability to re-imagine apocalypse as almost-ordinary, as the-fate-next-week.
In 2010, Nigerian writer Nnedi Okorafor published the award-winning Who Fears Death (Daw Books, $15.00, Nook ed. $9.99). This, of the three novels, has the most magical plot. The main character Onyesonwu–whose name translates into the title phrase–lives in post-apocalyptic Africa, in Seven Rivers Kingdom. She, like Crone’s Malcolm, is an outcast. A child born from rape and thus scorned, her status changes when she develops the ability to shape-shift and to raise the dead. Her story, like both Malcolm’s and Skye’s, is cast as a journey.
All of these novels feature a coming-of-age plot and protagonist. Each has a distinctive setting and unique style. All merge pressing social concerns and commentary with the fantastical or futuristic. The combination of current issues and plausible other-world or end-time scenarios allows readers to see the natural progression of current lifestyles and social practices. These novels are great selections to add to your library before the end of the—you know—year.