The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn (Mariner/John Joseph Adams 978-0-544-94731-3, $14.99, 272pp, tp) July 2018.
Carrie Vaughn’s The Wild Dead is set in the same universe as her Bannerless, where there has been a cataclysmic Fall of the society and technology we’d recognize now. Those who survived from Vaughn’s version of 100 years ago had to make hard choices. They saved the knowledge to make pharmaceuticals but not refrigeration, solar power over combustion engines.
On the Coast Road, they spent the Fall and what came after building a society that lived well within its means. Those families who follow the rules, care for their community, and love each other are rewarded with the opportunity to reproduce; those who don’t are punished. But Vaughn’s world is too sensible to be a true dystopia. Instead of pitting haves against have-nots, these Coast Road settlements’ true antagonist is the environment itself. Even the punishments meted out to the rule-breakers are sensible, if only because their labor might be needed later to keep everyone alive.
It’s Enid’s job to travel the Coast Road and act as investigator, judge, and jury when an infraction is reported. After solving the case in Bannerless, she planned to spend time back at home with her family, who’d received a “banner,” which means they can have a baby. When The Wild Dead opens, Enid’s wife is nearing the end of her pregnancy, but justice waits for no labor and delivery. Enid takes on a case in a far-away settlement that looks like it will be simple – it’s essentially a property dispute – and a trainee who needs to get some time in the field. All seems to be going well until, of course, it isn’t. A body shows up on the town’s riverbank and a mystery unfolds.
Even with the murders on Vaughn’s Coast Road, there’s something almost gentle about both of these very smart stories. There is friction between the people who live in each of these towns, yet there is also a sense of comfortable community, of it being humanity against a word that is largely indifferent to their survival. That ease, however, never keeps Enid’s investigation from being suspenseful and interesting, and its conclusion is satisfying.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the October 2018 issue of Locus.
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