A Vividly Imagined Post-Apocalyptic World

Today I finished reading Catherynne Valente’s book, The Past Is Red.

In the future, Earth’s landmasses have been inundated by flooding, and Tetley lives in Garbagetown, built on and from a mass of the floating detritus of our civilization. It’s a grim life, but Tetley takes it in stride and even believes she is lucky to live where she does. When Tetley makes a decision that she knows is right, but that is wildly unpopular, it changes her life forever.

In most post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, the characters look back on our own society with admiration and wistfulness. That’s not the case here. Tetley and the other denizens of Garbagetown think of us and our 21st century society with anger and contempt — for our selfishness and lack of foresight, in knowing we were destroying the environment and even understanding how to fix it, but refusing to do what was necessary to stop the global catastrophe.

Valente once again proves herself to be a master world-builder. The story sounds depressing, and it is certainly disturbing. But Tetley is a fresh and appealing protagonist, and the author keeps the mood from despair by injecting touches of humor, irony, and jabs at the silliness of our own culture. Highly recommended.

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