In Benjamin Percy's new thriller, a post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark saga, a super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know. A few humans carry on, living in outposts such as the Sanctuary-the remains of St. Louis-a shielded community that owes its survival to its militant defense and fear-mongering leaders.
Then a rider comes from the wasteland beyond its walls. She reports on the outside world: west of the Cascades, rain falls, crops grow, civilization thrives. But there is danger too: the rising power of an army that pillages and enslaves every community they happen upon.
Against the wishes of the Sanctuary, a small group sets out in secrecy. Led by Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, they hope to expand their infant nation, and to reunite the States. But the Sanctuary will not allow them to escape without a fight.
A postapocalyptic America mired in political intrigues serves as the backdrop for this visionary thriller from Percy (Red Moon). Years after a super-flu and nuclear Armageddon have decimated civilization, the remnants of U.S. citizenry cower inside the Sanctuary, a foundering stronghold on the outskirts of St. Louis, the tyrannical leaders of which rule by fearmongering and intimidation. When a visiting emissary from Oregon proves that life flourishes elsewhere, bookish Lewis Meriwether and rugged Wilhemina Clark flee with an entourage of fugitives. They embark on a northwestern trek through the wilderness known as the Dead Lands, mirroring the historical exploration of America's Louisiana Purchase. Percy throws a number of frightening obstacles in his adventurers' way, including giant spiders, enormous predatory bats, and human slavers, but the greatest challenges his characters face are their own doubts about the future and their place in the society they are fleeing to. With its fluid integration of reflections on American values and freedoms into a near-future scenario whose dramas resonate with the contemporary zeitgeist, this novel is a reminder that the best speculative fiction speaks to the concerns and issues of its time.