o back we go into the past (to a book written in the 1880’s) about a future (say, 2100 or so), another one of these casually fun penny-dreadfuls, back from when science fiction was trying to figure where we were going with steam and chrome and a whole lot of Victorian virtue.
The author, Mr. Jefferies, begins by describing the plants and animals and how they are coming back. Fields are vanishing. Roads are slowly being erased. In the silos, the grain rots are is devoured by plagues of rats. Everything is unwinding. Finally, we are given various hints as to why the world is largely abandoned. Perhaps a black body (whatever that is) passed too close to our planet, rewiring people’s brains and causing them to migrate. Or the coastlines silted. Or the land rose up, throwing everything akilter. Regardless, the urbanites of the cities (the “ancients”) have all sailed away, nobody knows where or what became of them. And those left behind (they actually used that series title) have been left to find for themselves.
So here’s were it gets interesting. With all the deadwood floating down the Thames River, the bridges in London have formed natural dams. But the river keeps pumping, the empty city floods, and now you have an interesting land – the central part of England is now a massive lake. And London, with its millions of graves and sewage pipes and storage tanks, it’s a biological hazard of the first order. People who go in there die. And their bones actually turn to powder. Ugh.
In this strange world, we follow Felix, the son of an impoverished noble who pots away in his garden while his house (like the nation) falls. His son feels a restlessness, an urge to go into the world and carve something of his own from it. But it seems Felix is a failure – he doesn’t know how to speak up for himself, he gets pushed around, and when he builds a canoe to sail out on the great lake, it is such a failure that only his brother can make it right
I found the book very interesting – slow, perhaps, in that Watership Down, describe every inch of nature sort of way. And sadly, at the end, well, there isn’t an end, just Felix establishing himself as a king of the wild shepherds (sort of) and leaving to retrieve his lady love. I was just reading and suddenly I was at The End. Pity, too, since while the author wrote many books in his time, he seems to have left this one dangling.
Anyway, its all for free on Gutenberg. Get it HERE!