I’m calling this the best post apocalyptic book ever. (Please disregard the fact that I haven’t read all that many post apocalyptic books. Maybe fifteen?) But that does not deter me from standing my ground on this one.
It started with the attack of the flying monkeys, spreading a dust of some kind of chemical all over the world. Launched from Jamaica. (Ok, Ok, calm down. I didn’t write this stuff; I’m just reporting the facts.) The flying monkeys were actually a swarm of small rockets with monkey faces painted on them, hence the name. The dust stuff caused people to pretty much instantly melt from the insides out, and it wasn’t long at all before there were only a handful of people left on earth.
It is a funny book, both dry and laugh-out-loud funny. But there are undercurrents of sadness. And terror.
Patrick and Ben, native sons of St. Louis, were living in Chicago at the time, Ben single, and Patrick married with a 5 year old daughter. The wife and daughter didn’t survive. Hence the sadness, yeah, as if seeing every day the skeletons and remains of all those dead bodies weren’t enough. Not to mention the search for food.
Ben has set up a secret knock so he will know who is at his apartment door:
Three hard knocks, two soft knocks, one long knock, three short knocks, two and a half quarter rapid-fire knocks, one flat palm slap, four knuckle taps, another palm slap, seven knuckle taps, two long knocks, seven left hand-right hand alternating slap-pounds, three short knocks, one knuckle tap, two palm slaps, three hard knocks, two soft knocks, four hard knocks, one rippling knuckle tap, two palm slaps.
You just can’t be too careful in the apocalypse.
Patrick tells Ben he wants to go to see Disney World.
I survived M-day. I lived on for three years in this crumbling urban wasteland. I beat the Monkeys, fought crippling depression, and learned how to eat canned tuna without vomiting all over myself. It’s been a long, cold, miserable, broken-down, yellow-haze road, and, if I’m going out, then by God, I’m going out with some dignity. Benny, my boy, we are going to Disney World.
So off they go, after packing up their remaining food, and an assortment of weapons, which include a machete, a hammer and a wrench. They decide to take the Amtrak train as far south as it is running, and miracle of miracles, it IS running, kept on the rails by a despotic Conductor who rapidly rose in the ranks thanks to the demise of everyone else who worked for the railroad. He has assembled a team of Red Caps who act as security and crew for the train, which he is obsessional about keeping on schedule. This desire is constantly thwarted by blown up tracks, animals and people on the tracks, and other obstacles to maintaining a tight schedule. But Mussolini would have been proud!
It is a typical quest story, with our travelers meeting up with all kinds of weird and nutzo people on their route. (And by the way, they make it to St. Louis by rail, Buddha be praised.) On the train, the only other passenger is a young woman journalist who has made the astounding discovery that the only people left alive and seemly immune to the effects of the dust were those still living or who had grown up within 50 miles of the Mighty Mississippi, perhaps having survived due to the toxic wastes dumped in the river from somewhere below ummmm…… oh I forget where. But kinda far north. So anyone they meet in say, Alabama, who is still walking around, grew up along the Mississippi.
As is de rigueur for a quest story, we have the strange fortune teller, Madame Siquo, who predicts their obstacle they must overcome:
The light bringer. The running man. The butcher. The mummer. The demon’s daughter. The siren. The fire drinker. Ubasti Tom. The hollow man. Perils all, and one must fall.
You will love some of the characters they meet along the way, such as the monk-like members of the Post-Alignment Brotherhood, led by Brother Triedit. There was the ditzy chick floating down the river with the current in a motorboat without the motor running, planning on going to New York, in spite of the fact she was headed in the opposite direction. “I am?” There was the isolated family in the woods who seemed to be doing a reanactment of Leave It to Beaver. There were lots more. Lots.
Like I said, the BEST post apocalyptic book ever. With zero zombies.