Pros: Love the characters!
Cons: Would have liked a little more explanation or background
Rating: 4 out of 5
I enjoy a good book of apocalyptic/survivalist fiction now and then. Fall of the Cities: Planting the Orchard, by Vance Huxley, is the first one I’ve read that takes place in Britain rather than in America. Somebody has destroyed oil refineries throughout a large portion of the world, leading to quite a few shortages. Harry Miller, an army pay clerk, has just come back from Kuwait, where he had to overcome a block against shooting at actual people in order to save his comrades. The army has been brought back to quell riots all across England. Once they’ve all returned, the government determines that there are too many of them, and suggests early retirement. Harry heads off to help his sister and her kids. Unfortunately by the time he gets there, no one is allowed to leave the city. Harry ends up trying to pull Sharyn and her neighbors together so they can survive the riots and looting.
There are a few fascinating differences between American survivalist fiction and this picture of British post-apocalyptic survivalism. For one, every American tale I’ve come across so far immediately assumes that cash is worthless the moment things go to Hell. In Fall of the Cities: Planting the Orchard, cash is still used as a viable type of currency. Even credit cards are still in use–although as one person noted in the narrative, that didn’t make any sense seeing as phones were only working for local calls. (Huxley never did explain this.) In fact, given how much still seemed to be working, I had a little trouble figuring out why the rioting was so incredibly severe. I would have liked a little more background on that. I’m also surprised that the city retains electric power through everything.
Another difference is that our group of survivors, once they decide to move on before the rioters get to them, move into a neighborhood and engage in a friendly dialogue about whether there’s room for them and whether they’re welcome or not. There are weapons, of course, but not nearly as much threat and paranoia as you’d see in almost any American version. It’s really nice to see people coming to agreements and helping each other in a tale like this. Also, the army isn’t turned into a monolithic bad guy the way it often is in other apocalypse survival books.
Harry is a wonderful character, as are those around him. There’s plenty of personality given to the main characters and even many of the side characters. They develop in-jokes and teasing and all the things you expect from a reasonably-sized community of inadvertent friends. The organized looters/rioters are relatively thin on personality, but we generally see them in context as a mass entity, rather than individuals. In this tale that made sense.
I love that Harry and the others found ways to develop a good relationship with the Army as long as they obeyed a few restrictions. It certainly helped later on. There are also great details such as Harry going out and finding brewers who were afraid of getting robbed or drafted by a mob, and convincing them to come on board with their little neighborhood, making them one of the only places with beer!
There’s plenty of action, and Harry goes through several more rounds of learning to get over things like his fear of leadership, or his distaste for having to harm people. I like that he does it without becoming paranoid and super-violent.
Be aware that there are some very dark things in this narrative. They mostly aren’t shoved into your face and certainly aren’t used for titillation, but it’s easy to see that there are some terrible things going on.
One of the interesting points raised is that of figuring out at what point are you simply trying to survive and doing what you have to, versus when you become a looter and thief. The author doesn’t try to force his definition on us–we get to see his characters bit-by-bit trying to come to terms with what they do and don’t have to do.
I absolutely recommend this book, and look forward to the sequel coming out soon!