What I’ve Been Reading: The Dead Lands

I really enjoyed Ben Percy’s novel, Red Moon a few years ago. For some reason, while genre and horror has recaptured the publics imagination in mass media, good werewolf stories haven’t been prevalent. (I am aware of the existence of Teen Wolf on MTV and Bitten on, I believe, SyFy. But from what I understand, they are not what you would call “good”. I could be wrong. I often am. The werewolf films that captured my attention were the classics, like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London and the older, but still more recent Dog Soliders. There have been other films that have started pulling me in, only to lose me to a silly mythology involving vampires and/or really bad CGI wolves. The story is where it always starts and Percy’s Red Moon respected and embraced the horror genre while also layering on political allegory, literary flourishes, and a solid adventure/ thriller spine. So, I was excited in advance when he said that his next book would be a post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark expedition to chart the territory from St Louis to Oregon.
He’s been fascinated with this journey for years and commented that he even thought about writing a historical novel about the expedition. I’m glad that he went the route that he did, because when writing directly about history it is either a recounting of events or an embellishing of events. Dramatization occurs. By using the expedition as a spine and advancing events past a apocalyptic situation that involved a super-flu outbreak and a panicked nuclear option, he is allowed to invent a world anew, picking and choosing from what already exists. He is free to add those genre elements that both he and I enjoy so much.
Post-Apocalyptic worlds seem ruled by zombies now. They are the most prevalent cypher for whatever metaphor that writers want to place on their landscape (although, with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, I’m glad to see the oil/ nuclear desert populated by biker/ car gangs in leather fetishwear is still alive and well) and zombies have, sadly, gotten a little stale. Surprisingly, virus outbreaks (that don’t lead to zombies) aren’t often depicted in post-apocalypses. The Stand is the only novel that I can think of that takes events past the outbreak. It seems viruses are stuck in medical techno thrillers, waiting for valiant CDC agents and virologists to work against time and develop a cure at the last possible second. In Percy’s world, the super-flu won. Civilization collapsed in an effort to protect itself and we find ourselves about 100 years into the future in a citadel called Salvation that is perched on the bones of old St. Louis (which seems to be a popular rebuilding post, with SyFy Channel’s Defiance also established there … must be something to do with the whole “Gateway to the West” thing). Salvation is running out of water and has fallen into corrupt rule after the previous mayor’s death by his sheriff. The former mayor’s son is a disagreeable man named Lewis Meriwether who runs the museum and has a robot owl that spies on the city for him. There is a guard at the wall, who is also a ranger (a scavenger of the old world outside the wall) named Mina Clark. The guards and rangers protect the citizens from the feral world that has sprung up outside from the virus and the nuclear holocaust, while citizens inside die from cancers. There are other characters introduced, violent government reprisals depicted, and escape plans concocted before the catalyst, a stranger with black eyes named Gawea, arrives in search of Lewis Meriwether on behalf a mysterious Aran Burr. There is a civilization rebuilding itself in Oregon, where there is plenty of water. And our heroes are off and the mayor, desperate to hold on to his little piece of power has to do everything he can to squash this expedition and stamp down the rising rebellion inside his own walls.
And this is just the jumping off place for the supernatural landscape that the expedition has to cross that is as influenced by Tolkien as by the journals of Lewis and Clark.
I really enjoyed this book, I finished this book a few weeks ago and the world he created still seems fresh and interesting. I think that it hit the right balance with genre, with adventure, with horror, and with literary flourishes. And after all of his world building the journey ends in a satisfying conclusion.
Ben Percy has also taken over the writing on DC’s Green Arrow, which has become part of my monthly comics reading list.

Published by: Thomas Rohde

Artist // Writer // Theatre Professional // Nerd // Night Owl Inspired by a steady and lifelong infusion of pop culture, comic books, and a vast assortment of films and books, our friendly neighborhood blogger has doomed himself to a life of creative pursuits. There's not enough time for everything, but we all do what we can. Artist: of watercolor, ink, comic illustration, horror/ sci-fi/ fantasy art. Writer: of fictions, tweets, captions & blogs. Lover: coffee, whiskey, wine & beer. Instagram and Twitter as @demipho

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