Hugo-winner Varley has long expressed ambivalent feelings about modernity, as shown in his “Press Enter” and “The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged).” So it comes as little surprise that, despite the horrific loss of life in his novel, the 64-year-old author seems to ultimately resolve that a forced reversion to the days of the 19th century could be beneficial — or at least this is the conclusion protagonist Dave Marshall draws. While this is an enjoyable entry in an already impressive oeuvre, it’s worth noting that Dave’s epic cane-shakery about modern life and his desire to restore the past would mostly affect his wife and daughter. After all, they’re the ones who will “enjoy” the morally beneficial effects of giving birth under 19th century conditions.
Struggling screenwriter Dave Marshall is propelled out of his mundane life into a quest for survival, following the progressive destruction of the world’s oil supplies by a bio-weapon, unleashed by a well-intentioned extremist. Following a template long established by such classics as Lot, Earth Abides, and Alas, Babylon, Dave and his family struggle to survive the accelerating collapse of their familiar society in Los Angeles, a city particularly dependent on cheap oil for life. Amid riots, apocalyptic firestorms and an increasingly dictatorial government, Dave and his loved ones are finally forced on a desperate trek away from the doomed city to a refuge that may not even exist. (ACE, Sep., 448 pp., $25.95)