See the Apocalypse Through the Eyes of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

In the Talking Heads song “(Nothing but) Flowers” David Byrne playfully laments a world overtaken by nature: “This used to be real estate,” he sings. “Now it’s only fields and trees.” That is pretty much the world that C.A. Fletcher (a pen name of Charlie Fletcher, author of the children’s fantasy Stoneheart and the adult magical thriller The Oversight) shows us in A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, though there is little playful about the post-apocalyptic world he imagines. Nature has reclaimed our planet, yes, but only because, 100 years before the book begins, most of humanity died off.

The reason for humanity’s decline is chalked up to a “soft apocalypse”—a modern day global event of unknown origin that rendered the vast majority of the population unable to reproduce. This spontaneous outbreak of mass infertility was eventually dubbed “The Gelding.” The human race slowly aged into near-oblivion, leaving only small pockets of fertile survivors—less than .0001% of the world’s population now remains, struggling to build families and survive in a rustic new world in which most technology has become ancient history.

All is relatively right in the world for young narrator Griz, a child of this new epoch.  He and his family—mom, dad, a couple of sisters—live a somewhat self-contained lifestyle on a rocky island off the coast of Scotland, surviving thanks to a little farming, tending to sheep and horses, and the occasional forage off-island to “go a-Viking” for supplies. Their precarious but happy existence is through off kilter when a roguish traveler named Brand, full of stories and braggadocio about the outside world, makes landfall on their island. The visit does not end well, and by the time Brand sets sail again, he has claimed, among other things, possession of one of Griz’s two dogs.

But you just don’t separate a boy from his dog, apocalypse be damned.

That’s the setup for the main arc of this lightly fantastical tale. Griz heads out to parts unknown with his remaining dog Jip, hoping to track Brand (and his flamboyant red-sailed ship) across the sea to the lands beyond and reclaim his loyal pup. It’s a noble and headstrong act, but anyone who has ever experienced the immutable and undeniable human-dog bond will more than relate to the boy’s blind determination. It’s sweet, daring, and perhaps not completely thought out, as what’s left of the inhabited world—as sparsely populated as it is—can still be a dangerous place for a boy and his dog.

While the search for Jess the dog motivates Fletcher’s tale, there is much more going on in the story, and it is in these moments where the novel truly connects emotionally, above and beyond the universality of a master’s love for their dog. As our narrator, Griz recites/dictates/explains—often in bluntly honest terms—all he experiences in his post-Gelding world in a monologue spoken to a long-dead boy in an old photo he’d discovered on one of the family’s exploratory adventures long ago. The boy in the photo—taken well before things went south, apocalyptically speaking—provides a touching thematic bridge to a past Griz has never known. As the boy wanders the nature-reclaimed countryside, Fletcher shares, through the innocent eyes of his narrator, rich glimmers and glimpses of what once was, and what it has become.

Books, naturally, survived The Gelding, and Griz has devoured hundreds of classics. Those tales bleed into his perception of the real world, and the references to A Canticle for Leibowitz and The Hobbit serve as a sort of gently comforting breaking of the fourth wall, a sense that a piece of the beauty we’ve created will endure into the future, whatever sort of mess we make of it. One particularly monumental work of nonfiction figures seamlessly in and impacts massively the story’s final pages, delivering a resounding punch that moved me to near tears. It is a wonderful thing – it truly is.

Tales of the apocalypse are commonplace these days, a symptom of our national anxiety, but Fletcher has managed to infuse his with real heart; he had me at a boy searching for his pilfered pooch. Long before the I reached the final page, I knew the book was a likely contender for “year’s best” status, and I have found myself going back to  Griz’s world in my mind on more than one occasion since, usually as I walk my dog around my quiet, as-yet-unapocalyptic neighborhood. This is a story both achingly familiar at its most basic levels and daringly questioning at its deepest, and it’s all driven by (and for) the love of a dog.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you need to get a dog.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Artificial Awakenings, Indigenous Monster Slayers, and Good Doggos of the Apocalypse

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C. A. Fletcher
After the Gelding, an event that rendered most of Earth’s population sterile, society has crumbled. On an island off the coast of Scotland, a boy named Griz lives with his family and his dogs Jess and Jip, and rarely sees any signs of other humans. When a stranger with long red hair arrives one day offering trade, the family is uneasy, but allows him ashore—but the interloper rewards their kindness by drugging them, stealing all of their supplies, and dognapping Jess. With no law or government left to appeal to, Griz doesn’t hesitate to act, grabbing Jip and setting off in pursuit of his beloved dog. His journey takes him on a nightmarish tour of a world that has been hollowed out and is falling apart—and which also isn’t quite as empty as Griz imagined. This is post-apocalyptic sci-fi with heart, and a few very good doggos.

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan
We’ll include this one here, even though the famous literary author who wrote it has loudly insisted that his new novel isn’t really science fiction because it deals with the ramifications of technology on a human level. Of course, regular readers of the genre know that this has long been a hallmark of its greatest works, but we’ll forgive the Man Booker Prize winner his snobbishness just this once. Certainly his book is our kind of thing—nominally it concerns a growing relationship (both physically and emotionally intimate) between a man (thirtysomething Londoner Charlie), a woman (Charlie’s girlfriend Miranda), and a machine (a new model of robot know an an Adam, with a mind that can learn and, like another android we know, a “fully functional” sex organ) in an alternate 1980s in which Alan Turning never died (he makes a cameo appearance). In exploring the growth of an artificial intelligence and considering the ways in which it can and cannot connect with the humans around it (in a plot involving messy human emotions like jealousy and a hunger for revenge), McEwan is of course also really commenting on the messy, imperfect connections between those of us made of flesh and blood. How literary. How science fictional!

Ragged Alice, by Gareth L. Powell
Detective Chief Inspector Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh town of Pontyrhudd haunted by her mother’s murder and memories of a terrifying creature she called Ragged Alice. As soon as she could, Holly left that place, hoping to harness her ability to literally see evil in people by becoming a police officer. When her latest case goes terribly sideways, she asks for a transfer back to her home town, where she works a simple case of hit and run that quickly spirals into something much more terrible: the main suspect turns up dead, mutilated in exactly the same way as Holly’s mother, three decades before. As she delves into the dark threads running through the town, Holly must face her worst fears and the secrets of her peculiar talents. Powell has wowed readers with his science fiction (his space opera Embers of War just won the British Science Fiction Award); with this paranormal procedural, he proves himself just as adept at creeping them out.

Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse delivers a rip-roaring sequel to last year’s Trail of Lightning, the first book in the post-apocalyptic fantasy series The Sixth World and, oh yeah, a Hugo and Nebula award nominee for Best Novel. Navajo monster slayer Maggie Hoskie learns that her gifted medicine man beaux Kai has been kidnapped by a dangerous cult leader, so she sets off beyond the high wall separating Dinétah from the wastes of the former southwestern U.S. to save him. Facing new monsters (not to mention that titular plague of insects) and a blasted landscape, Maggie reckons with her toughest challenge yet—and makes some new allies along the way. Roanhorse continues to breathe new life into the urban fantasy genre with another fast and furious adventure built on Indigenous legends and beliefs.

Ravnica: War of the Spark, by Greg Weisman
The first novel set in the Magic: The Gathering universe to be released in years tells the story of Teyo Verada, a young man training as a shieldmage to protect his world from devastating diamondstorms. When the first real test of his abilities goes horribly awry, he’d buried alive. The incident should’ve killed him; instead, he finds himself transported to Ravnica, a city that spans an entire world. It seems Verada is a planeswalker, and has been called to the city by the Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas. Bolas seeks godhood by taking Ravnica, and his power and army is opposed only by the planeswalkers who have gathered together to defend the city, recruiting mages like Verada from around the multiverse. Fans of the vast universe of the collectible card game will find much to love in the lore and adventure of this canonical tie-in novel.

Emily Eternal, by M. G. Wheaton
As the sun shows signs of turning into a red giant and destroying the world about five billion years sooner than scientists predicted, humanity seems doomed. But Emily, an artificial intelligence programmed for morality and social interaction,  thinks it has a way for us to endure, after a fashion: by downloading every humans’ memories into its own databanks and launching itself into space. After Emily’s servers are destroyed by a mysterious group opposed to this form of digital salvation, it survives by downloading itself onto a chip implanted in the head of a Ph.D. student named Jason Hatta. Pursued by enemies hellbent on eliminating Emily, including a rival AI called Emily-2, Jason and his AI passenger soon learn what it means to be human—and more than human—as they race to evade capture and put Emily’s plan into action after all.

What are you reading this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Artificial Awakenings, Indigenous Monster Slayers, and Good Doggos of the Apocalypse appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.