A man named Jasper is part of a ragtag band of survivors he’s known since high school (including Ange, a girl “friend” who attempted college) or those who come strangely and rudely into his life (the singer Deirdre, his lover, who incorporates 9-11 emergency pleas for help into her “music”). Tribe members must fight off members of the Civil Defense and the ruthless marauders known as the Jumpy Jumps (road thugs trying to seize and protect certain territories).
Most of the story takes place near and about Savannah, Georgia, and a world consumed by genetically engineered virus plagues, such as Polio-X; “Doctor Happy,” which renders individuals who are normally violent into very calm, mellow, almost somnambular flower children; and flesh-eating viruses or some that just want to kill you.
The novel is a reflection of loss and how to deal with loss, including economic pain:
“Once upon a time if you didn’t make it into a lucrative career, there were plenty of semi-lucrative alternatives. Now it seemed as if the divide between rich and poor was a chasm. There was no middle class any more. On one side there were the rich – safe and comfortable, living in luxury – and on the other, on our side, it was a challenge just to stay alive.” (page 92).
Environmentalists plant renegade bamboo just to slow too much demolition of the sacred spaces the tribes are losing. One such creates havoc:
“With a newly engineered variety that thrived further north, clogging the highways and airports, slowing the spread of brand-name products even more. Maybe throwing them back into the Stone Age. I still wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. I had no way of knowing what the world would have been like by now if it wasn’t for the bamboo, and Doctor Happy, and any other disruptions that’d been created that I didn’t know about.” (page 141).
The inevitable conclusion to survival could be merely philosophical, from a character named Rumor:
“. . . What do we need to survive? We don’t need more hands, or two heads, or to fly. We need to be healed. Our violence, our sadness, our loneliness, our fear . . . they are a sickness that is killing us.” (page 181).
But how to survive when the very mechanisms of civilized society are destroyed? What does Jasper need to do to keep up any hope of survival in a society completely winding down?
I read this novel in a day (after I broke my left leg – maybe one day I will describe THAT one). It was depressing yet completely compelling (the characters are solid and memorable).
The message McIntosh leaves you with makes you question what we need to do to survive, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
SOFT APOCALYPSE should be nominated for the Nebula and Hugo awards because it is that good.