For the last few years, Nightshade Books has been one of my favorite publishers. Their catalog is full of debut authors that just don’t fit well into any of the usual categories. Rob Ziegler’s new novel Seed is a novel of ecological collapse. The setting is about 100 years in the future in an America that has disintegrated into migrating populations shifting north and south to avoid the worst of the increasingly severe seasons. The only source of seed is the mysterious Satori company and the last vestiges of the government are becoming forgotten and impotent.
The story follows Brood and his little brother Pollo as they try to survive in the desperate anarchy the great plains. With their adopted father-figure, Hondo, they’re plotting one big score to get enough seed to settle down for a while and leave their banditry behind them. Unfortunately, that means crossing the Chupacabras a massive gang that controls most of the seed distribution.
Meanwhile, one of Satori’s genetically engineered designers is defecting, hoping to start over on her own. Things start to get complicated as the government sends an agent to retrieve the designer to help them develop their own seed and Satori sends advocates to make sure that their secrets are kept.
This is a dark book. Death comes swiftly and nearly all of the characters have to be ruthless to survive. The characters are trying to hold on to some kind of hope for the future as their old world dies around them. There is no real heroism here, just unforgiving circumstances and rare moments of kindness. This creates a gritty tapestry, but Rob manages not to alienate the reader or make us lose all sympathy for the characters. A rare and delicate balance.
Ziegler’s voice definitely bears some relation to Bacigalupi’s post-collapse novels, though the geographies and technology are very different. Many of the themes are shared though. There is a distinct feeling that humanity has taken a wrong turn, one that has led to the collapse of world civilization and an equally disastrous ecological collapse.
I’ve really enjoyed these new trends in apocalyptic fiction, portraying our more contemporary nightmares of climate change and environmental poisoning, moving away from the cold war archetypes of nuclear armageddon and alien subjugation. This signals a move away from blaming the other for the failure of our society and coming to terms with the fact that the death of modern society will most likely be self-inflicted.
All in all, a great book. I didn’t find it particularly ground breaking or shocking, but the writing was good and the story was well built. If you’re into apocalypse tales, you’ll probably dig it.