“May you live in interesting times.” I’ve heard it a lot recently, that old Chinese proverb. And you might even say that, yes, we are most certainly living in those times. The paradox of the proverb is, of course, that it’s a curse as much as a blessing, and you might venture that the modus vivendi of our current era (the pandemic, lockdowns, inflation, mass migration, civil unrest, rampant corporatocracy masquerading as government, yadda yadda) is an absolute shitshow, and you would have strong ground for such an analysis. Interesting times indeed.
Dylan Boyer’s novel, All Saturn’s Children, is one which examines our current climate and takes it to its logical, horrific conclusion, a world in which nothing––except perhaps business––is sacred and nothing is certain. A world where human life is disposable and careening towards some awful, burning end. Such is the near-futuristic setting in which the ailing main protagonist of the novel, Kurt, struggles to ground himself:
“When he opened his news app in the morning, as he lay in bed smoking a joint, Kurt saw portions of the coast of India flooding. Bangladesh was gone. That was the top of the hour. He continued to scroll, and as he did, Kurt saw China’s ongoing genocide against Muslims, he saw Brazil’s civil war raging, the Sahara blooming, Japan’s coasts shriveling under constant tsunamic tides, monks committing public suicide by the dozens, the water bubbling up from the collapsed tunnels in the Hudson, the mudslides creeping towards L.A.”
Yes, it’s as apocalyptic as it sounds, yet what’s most frightening is that none of it is the least bit far-fetched. Cataclysm is the order of the day, and who can look around them today and not see the shadow of collapse somewhere on the horizon, perhaps over there beyond the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, threatening to wash ashore and consume us all? There has never been a better time to be a fatalist.
Fighting alcoholism brought on by the death of his wife and daughter, a dark cloud hangs over Kurt’s shoulder as he takes refuge in the beach house of his dead parents, his father (fighting his own demons) having recently killed his mother and shot himself. Kurt fights the impulse to block out the disintegration of the world around him, failing miserably as the ghosts of his past refuse to let go. “Jesus, I’m too drunk for the end of the world,” he says at one point, and can we blame him? While the world burns, what else is there to do?
An assortment of drifters pass in and out of Kurt’s final days, among them his own sister and brother. Together, they rail against a world which is determined to swallow them whole. And when civil society breaks down, so does conscience. Bad shit happens.
“What was ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ seemed now to be abstract notions lingering in a place that had moved out, past polarities and determinations of guilt and innocence, of blame and responsibility, out into the lands of Reason’s waste.”
With the demise of law comes the death of basic human responsibility, and horror follows.
The horror which marks the climax of the novel is foreshadowed throughout as we watch society come to reflect personal and familial disintegration, which feeds off of itself in an unrelenting and orgiastic frenzy. As Kurt’s wife commented to him once in his long-gone past, “The spirit of the west has become some sort of schizophrenic, bloated, cannibal phantom.” That spirit is the cloud that chokes the novel, one which will eventually consume all its players, the clawing and desperate dregs of humanity.
All that said, the end of the world is no time to get queasy. Apocalypse requires a strong stomach, and that is just what you’ll need to see through All Saturn’s Children. As Kurt muses in the midst of total collapse:
“But the world was ending; why bother with trepidation, with fear?”
Book review by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.