I love the blurb on the cover of this book:
“By far Leigh Brackett’s best novel to date and comes awfully close to being a great work of science-fiction.” — New York Times
When I saw that, I thought, “Hmmm. What does that mean? Is this just an okay work of science fiction?” And I’m still not sure what the Times reviewer was thinking fifty years ago when he wrote that, but I can certainly make a hypothesis.
The only real science-fiction-y aspect of the novel is the fact that it takes place in the future, after a World War III nuclear holocaust has destroyed all the cities in the world. After this catastrophic event, the government has outlawed cities (too much of a target) and pretty much everyone has taken to being a New Mennonite and living just like the Amish do today. Part of the new religion preaches the comfort of being ignorant, thus keeping people from wanting to invent another nuclear bomb.
But a couple of kids in the Youngstown, Ohio area (not sure exactly where they’re meant to be, but I recognized a couple of city names nearby, Andover and Canfield) are more curious and less mindful of their parents than they should be and end up hearing about and lusting after a forbidden city called Bartorstown, where men are purported to be able to learn things and to be allowed to remember what the world was like 100 years ago, before the bombs and terror and whatnot. These kids set off to find the city, but since no one talks about it for fear of being stoned to death, and they can’t even really be sure the place exists, the quest is a little harder than they expect.
I rather enjoyed this little book! It has just the right combination of adventure and reality, and the main character, Len, is really easy to relate to. The novel is really more about Len’s physical and emotional journey rather than his destination, and there’s a lot of really good commentary about the human condition. And, for a dystopian novel from the fifties, the writing is pretty darn clear and concise. Good marks all around. (Also, Brackett’s a chick and worked on The Empire Strikes Back, which is like plus ten more points.)
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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.