The circumstances of this post-apocalyptic near future scenario are familiar: nuclear war breaks out. The United States goes through a period of upheaval. Minnesota breaks off into the Minnesota Territory and creates a government where corporations can create monopolies.People become a homogenous group of automatons for the state. Eventually, the reader follows Sally Dodge as she leads the territory in a revolution.
All good qualities. The writer, Cynthia Kraak, has a pretty good story on her hands, but there are a few problems: its use of current events and the not-so-subtle political overtones.
Kraak uses a lot of dates and mentions too many real events to let the reader know this vision of the future is not so far off. The problem is being told specifically that the disaster happens in 2015. It’s distracting and pulls the reader out of the story. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “This is too close to 2011. How does the entire planet blow itself up four years from now?” Even if I had read the novel in 2009, when it was published, I would have felt the same way.
The dates and references to events and people who are part of our current political landscape don’t add to the story about the rise of the Minnesota revolution. They actually take away from what is otherwise a pretty solid story about survival in the face of nuclear destruction and total upheaval. When it comes to using dates in this kind of near-future story, the writer is usually better off forgetting the dates and sticking to plot and character development. Another solution is coming up with an entirely new dating system a la Star Trek. But at that point you’re not writing about the world we live in now. Also, you run the risk of being cheesy, not campy — if that’s even what you’re going for.
The liberal political overtones are another problem with the story. It’s the same complaint I have about this genre’s conservative counterpart. In this instance, the reader gets big doses of “Did we not learn anything after giving up so many of our civil liberties during the Bush administration?” It’s just as bad and manipulative as the conservative post-apocalyptic sci fi author’s cry, “Have we not learned anything since 9/11?”
Yes. Yes. I know the stories in this genre are usually metaphors describing the current state of things and human nature, but you don’t need to be so obvious about it. Subtlety goes a long way, and repeating the same “have we not learned” mantra doesn’t help you tell your story. It’s a distraction.
But again, these are just little imperfections. The story was solid and the writing was all right. The main character could have used a little more development and the reference to a nuclear was was a little dated, but the story about how Minnesotans reacted in this time of crisis was pretty ok. I say, try it out.