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Through Darkest America
      Dawn's Uncertain Light
Neal Barrett, Jr.
      Neal Barrett, Jr.
Biting Dog Publications, 428KB
      Biting Dog Publications, 439KB

Through Darkest America
Dawn's Uncertain Light
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Neal Barrett, Jr., of Austin, Texas, has written novels and stories in the fields of mystery/suspense, science fiction, Westerns, historical novels, YA novels and what some term "off-the-wall" mainstream fiction. His novelette "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" was a finalist for both the SFWA's Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, and his short story, "Stairs", received a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. In 1997, he served as Toastmaster of the 55th World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Prince of Christler-Coke
SF Site Review: Prince of Christler-Coke
SF Site Review: Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Maddox

Over one hundred and fifty years ago there was the Great War, which wiped out most of humanity, brought down all the old cities and technology, and eliminated just about all animal life. But humanity has struggled its way back to reclaim the land. In Middle America, life continues, farmers grow their crops and raise their stock, and try to make an honest living in the world. But there's a much darker side to all of it, beyond the new war between the Loyalists and the Rebels brewing in the West. This darkness goes to the root of all society and no one wants it uncovered.

This is the world of Neal Barrett Jr.'s novel Through Darkest America, and its sequel Dawn's Uncertain Light, originally published in 1986 and 1989 respectively, which have been rereleased in digital format by Biting Dog Publications. The initial idea of a post-apocalyptic society a few generations down the line doesn't seem that new. But the twist Barrett takes as a casual aside is so disturbing as to causes the reader to re-evaluate the entire concept of this world.

A few spoilers will follow, but nothing that will ruin much of the revelations of the stories. During the War, most animal life was wiped out, and over time it's come to be believed that this was God's way of cleansing the "unclean flesh" the previous, corrupt, generation of men had eaten. Now all meat comes from stock, genetically bred humans with no intelligence or speech. And because this is just something taken for granted through most of the first novel, the reader finds it all the more horrifying.

The two novels are told through the eyes of Howie Ryder, a young boy who basically represents this New World's coming of age. Through Darkest America follows the young boy as his parents are brutally murdered by an evil Loyalist Colonel, and Howie's subsequent revenge and adventures with a backstabbing sympathy-less criminal named Pardo. In this harsh land, Howie undergoes brutal punishment and is literally beaten into adulthood.

Through it all, the only saving grace is the knowledge that his younger sister Carolee has gone to Silver Island, the idyllic paradise the government has created to help restart society. But of course, this is not a world of happy endings and Howie makes an awful discovery about the true nature of Silver Island and its connection to the stock that people eat on a daily basis.

Dawn's Uncertain Light picks up where the previous novel ends, with Howie searching the remains of the now burned Silver Island in hopes of finding any reference to whether his sister might have survived. The enigmatic Preacher Ritcher Jones joins him as they venture far West to California and the High Sequoia compound run by Lawrence, a visionary prophet who preaches the enlightenment and rebirth of the world, but has his hands in all aspects of the current War.

Howie's continual quest for vengeance leads him to more duplicity and backstabbing from those he trusts, and even more revelations about the rot that has corrupted this newly forming America. The sequel does manage to end on more of a positive note that its predecessor, but it does leave the reader wanting to see where Howie's travels take him next, and what the rest of this world now looks like.

Through Darkest America and Dawn's Uncertain Light may be close to twenty years old now, like truly good post-apocalyptic fiction, they read very much timelessly. With luck, the recent eBook versions of them will spawn more interest and perhaps Mr. Barrett will continue Howie's exploits.

Copyright © 2012 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been Star Trek characters, the Riddler in a Batman stunt show and holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. He has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider and the Star Trek Communicator. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories while acting on stage, screen and television. He can sometimes be seen giving tours at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing Norman Bates.

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