Thursday, January 25, 2024

All That's Left in the World, by Erik J. Brown

In the wake of a global flu pandemic that has killed the vast majority of the human race, pockets of survivors attempt to eke out a living by scavenging for supplies.  Sixteen year-old Andrew is heading south when he has the misfortune to get caught in a bear trap.  He stumbles his way across a remote cabin, where its lone survivor Jamie is holed up.  Jamie helps Andrew recover and an awkward friendship develops between them -- awkward because Jamie's gay and attracted to straight Andrew.  

But before any sort of romance can develop, the two boys are forced to flee when more hostile invaders arrive on the scene.  The two of them set out roughly following Andrew's original plan, heading south to the remains of Washington DC.  And when things don't work out, they then go down to Florida, encountering both friend and foe.  Along the way, they find vivid examples of how different choices have fared for the varied survivors.

While the writing is decent and the characters well-developed, the author really struggled to come up with a story.  The bulk of the novel is just a series of encounters with strangers stringed together.  Some go well and some go poorly, but they don't add up to a story and do get very repetitive.  The overall goal of the trip, which might have formed a true plot, keeps shifting.  It feels like Brown just fell in love with the idea of a post-apocalyptic survival story between two (maybe) gay boys.  However, even the romance is not really consummated and notably lacking in any heat. 

In the author's notes at the end, Brown attests that the story's similarities to recent events is largely coincidental.  It was originally drafted in 2015 (and thus predates COVID) but it's hard not to draw parallels.

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