Sip by Brian Allen Carr (Post-Apocalyptic Novel, 2017).
A winner of a couple literary awards for his short writings, Mr. Carr ventures into post-apocalyptic territory for his first novel. I’m not about to dismiss it as truly bad sci-fi, but don’t expect anything in the way ‘hard’ SF. Sip is more a blend of satirical or maybe even somewhat absurdist literary storytelling with an after-the-fall background.
The premise is that in the near-future something (an inexplicable genetic mutation, perhaps?) suddenly enables people to get high by literally slurping up their own shadows. A runaway pandemic of addiction results and civilization crumbles. Anyone whose shadow has been completely consumed is left chronically weak and unable to sleep–unless fed shadows from other sources. Rather than a mere absence of light, shadows are portrayed as symbolic yet vital parts of each living thing’s life force or soul (shadows of other animals can also provide relief to addicts, while human shadows are preferred and non-living object’s shadows apparently have no value). Society fragments as terrified unaffected people retreat behind walled, domed cities and the less-fortunate fend for themselves by wandering the wastelands beyond. For unclear reasons, some of the dome-dwellers begin building trains (most likely to network their scattered outposts back together) and an all-female army of vengeful outside people takes to attacking them.
A century and a half on in rural Texas, the book’s three central characters eventually join forces. Mira is a feisty young woman who spends much of her time keeping her helpless shadow-drained mother alive. Her friend Murk is a shadow-addict, but otherwise a nice enough fellow with a crude peg-leg (other addicts cut off his original limb when they found him too low on shadow to supply their thirst). And then there’s Bale, a former train guard/domer who gets exiled when he can’t bring himself to shoot the curious Mira when she ventures too close.
They embark on a highly dubious quest in search of a (probably mythical) cure for shadow-hunger. It’s some misty nonsense connected to the upcoming return of Halley’s Comet. Anyway, they have tons of weird, violent and somewhat entertaining adventures. Considering it’s more than 150 years in the future, I found a few things (especially Murk’s limited knowledge of, yet odd devotion to a 1960s rock icon) more than a bit hard to take seriously. Then there’s the matter of being able to puff himself into a literal human kite. Anyway, realism is not the focus here. Once you accept that, there’s an abundance of odd characters and inventive (if not always convincing) strangeness.
Point of view shifts among the main characters, plus a few minor ones in the course of numerous short chapters. And the author himself steps up from time to time with italicized info-dumps that help (at least a little) the reader to make something close to sense of things.
In short (and to sum up), this is a flawed and not entirely successful first-effort. But it’s not horrible, either. The writing is boldly lyrical and entertaining in its own crazed way. As a symbolic parable about the haves versus the have-nots it kind of/mostly works for me.
So. . . .not a rave review, but a limited and cautiously positive one.