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Tuesday, June 23, 2015
It seems like I have been hooked on post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels lately. Some of them are very believable. Some of them stretch the imagination. And some of them are so far off that they could barely be considered for that late-night sci-fi show on Public Access. The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy fits mostly into the believable with a several forays into speculative fiction.

It’s been 150 years since the flu came and nearly eradicated human population. In sudden fear of their impending deaths, the nuclear powers unleashed their weapons to bring on an almost complete destruction of the planet. A stronghold remains amid the ruins of St. Louis, cut off from whatever monsters exist outside their makeshift palisade.

When a stranger shows up outside the walls, events are set into motion that changes life in the Sanctuary. The population has been told that they are all that’s left and that nothing exists outside the walls except dangerous, mutated monsters. It is decided by the power hungry mayor that the strange girl must be publically executed in order to keep his constituents from attempting to leave his city. A wild escape attempt is pulled off by a group of civilians lead by Mina Clark and Meriweather Lewis. They then head to the far reaches of Astoria, Oregon.

Yes, you read that right. Lewis and Clark. This novel is a futuristic retelling of that famous expedition. Just like in 1803, Lewis and Clark set out over an unknown and hostile terrain. After a century and half, the Mississippi no longer flows. Most of the Midwest is a vast desert. The North Dakota oil fields will burn for centuries. In the midst of all this, radiation has mutated every animal and human.

The group encounters car-sized spiders and human-sized, bloodsucking, albino bats, each worthy of a place in the pantheon of bad science fiction movies. In addition, Lewis has some sort of magical power that allows him to shoot lightning from his body as a means of protection.

While I mostly liked this book, I was put off by some of these “hokey” items scattered throughout the narrative. I was especially confounded by the ending that just sort of petered out rather than giving the reader any true conclusion. Perhaps Percy will be writing a second volume to this book. In addition, interludes back at St. Louis really had no bearing on the rest of the story whatsoever, unless again, there will be a forthcoming volume.

The characters never really coalesced into likeable people with any real depth. Clark is angry. Lewis is eccentric and elusive. They never grow beyond their initial descriptions, even after traveling across half a continent facing hardship after hardship. The mayor back in St. Louis read like a cartoon parody of an evil henchman. These aspects were probably the biggest disappointments in this book, in my opinion.

None of this is to say that the premise of the book wasn’t absolutely wonderful. Likely, we will be the cause of our own destruction and this book captures the struggle for relevancy and power after such a disaster. I thought the idea of using a post-modern retelling of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was brilliant. I wish Percy had taken more time to flesh out the characters and their quest. This easily could have been a much better read if it was stretched into multiple volumes.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy is an okay book. It was interesting, but it could have been so much more. I’m hoping that he takes up the pen and writes a subsequent companion novel to this one. Percy obviously has some great ideas. He just needs to set the stage a little better. I’m sure he will continue to write and publish books with great ideas to grab your attention. I’m sure that as he continues to write, he will improve. I eagerly await the next novel by Benjamin Percy. He does have some great ideas.

+Craig Bacon has some great ideas, but he doesn’t always think them through. Of course, that usually brings trouble. Follow all his troubled schemes on Twitter at @hippieboy73.

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