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Wasteland Saga
Including: The Old Man and the Wasteland, The Savage Boy, and The Road is a River
by Nick Cole
Harper Voyager, $16.00 TPB, 659pp
Release Date: October 15, 2013
This is a trilogy of stories about a post-apocalyptic America . I’ve always enjoyed a certain amount of post-apocalyptic prose but I’ve always had to take it in small doses because the stories were typically so dreadful and hopeless that they would spoil my mood for days afterward. It’s the nature of the material. But this set…! This is different.

While the facts are all still there: lots of bombs decimate America, small disparate groups of people trying to find a life after the nuclear winter, horrible instances of humans reduced to pathetic and terrifying monsters, and a search for hope where there is none; it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. The prose is sparse yet powerful. There is no visceral depiction of the disaster, death or hopelessness. No gratuitous nastiness.

The first book, The Old Man and the Wasteland, introduces us to a figure known to everyone, and himself, simply as The Old Man. He’s forgotten his name and his past comes back to him in mere snatches of memory. He survived a nuclear strike on Yuma , Arizona and came together with a group of lost motorists in the Arizona desert. They set up a village and lived by salvaging. Years pass, he finds a wife and has children. It is a poor existence but they do exist. The salvage is becoming harder and harder to find without going closer to the big cities that everyone assumes were hit: Phoenix and Tucson . Something happens and he loses the confidence of the village as a salvager so he sets out alone into the desert determined to go further than anyone has before. He has a certain talent for seeing something in the dust or an abandoned vehicle and knowing where the hidden items lie. His travels conclude with finding an entire abandoned city: Tucson . Apparently everyone was convinced a bomb would fall on Tucson and evacuated, never to return. Except for one person: a tank platoon sergeant. This man took it upon himself to make Tucson a refuge for anyone who might come eventually. And The Old Man was the inheritor. Now, he just has to make it back to the village to bring them this treasure. Fortunately, he now has a working Abrams tank.

The second book, The Savage Boy, recounts the life and travels of a young handicapped man in the company of a soldier. This soldier came from the last stand of the US Army in San Francisco , fighting an incursion of Chinese, and had been sent on a mission to Washington , DC to see if anyone was left. It took him the better part of three decades to make the trip and return to California . In the end, he didn’t make it and it was up to the Boy to finish the trip and make the report. But when Boy finally got to the west coast, the US Army was long gone and the few surviving Chinese had set up enclaves where anyone was welcome. Unfortunately, those who have not are always jealous of those who have and the settlements in California are the target of a madman at the head of an army of savages. Boy does what he can to stave off the slaughter but his efforts are not sufficient against an army. In the aftermath, he loses his new love and all his hope. And then The Old Man finds him.

The third book, The Road is a River, finds The Old Man and his granddaughter on the road in their tank. After recolonizing Tucson , the villagers turn on a radio; which gets the attention of the people living under the mountain at NORAD in Colorado . They suffered a direct hit and were unable to leave the bunker. But the supplies within were enough to keep them alive, even with a new generation. However, they are under siege now; someone is trying to breach the bunker. If they do so, everyone inside will die due to the high levels of radiation. They ask for help and the villagers turn away. The Old Man decides it must be done because it is the right thing to do. He attempts to leave with the tank but is ambushed by his granddaughter, 13 years old, who will not allow him to leave alone. Together, they start the journey to Colorado . But now that the nuclear winter is over, the crazies are organizing and they run into very bad things on the way. The General at NORAD still has satellite control and access to old information that helps The Old Man find fuel along the way. The General also has a plan for the tank to break open the bunker from the rear, allowing the inhabitants to escape. They also find the Boy, rescuing him from death. The Old Man is nervous about taking him aboard and the risk to his granddaughter but Boy proves his worth over and over again. They also find that good people still exist, making their own little pockets of civilization which are threatened by the crazies and the intentionally evil ones.

I thought about this book the whole time I wasn’t reading it. The author did not spend the words and the time to give us a detailed examination of personal thoughts, motivations, or back story. He gave us the feeling of the immediate experiences, the driving motivations with the fewest possible words. Which, in my opinion, gave it more suspense, more weight, and more impact. It was powerful and satisfying without lending more horror than necessary for the story. Don’t miss this. ~~ Catherine Book

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