RRButler

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Politics in place of style

The Last Exodus is, like so much dystopian literature, an attempt by the author to use the style pioneered by George Orwell to advance/justify his political beliefs. Unfortunately, once you get past the politics there's just not much literary merit here.

The plot is very thin for a novel-length story. John Evermann, the protagonist, grows weary of his life under a socialist nightmare regime, so he takes his family and friends on a voyage from Illinois to Texas. That's pretty much it. The plot is exhausted around Chapter 10, and from that point on the story consists of little vignettes which the characters overcome through coincidence more often than not. There are no new developments and the ease with which the protagonists get through every problem means that there's no real tension. Compounding this is the occasional abrupt perspective shift, often to characters who are discovering things that the reader has already seen.

Dystopian literatures lives and dies on its worldbuilding, and that's where The Last Exodus really comes up short. The world is both generic and anachronistic. Almost all of the lore is set out through the diary entries that preface each chapter (and are likely the real reason why this story is 40+ chapters because, as I said, there's not that much plot). The diaries describe an eclectic collection of myths and conspiracy theories of the American right, many of which have nothing to do with economics. Little of this comes into play in the actual narrative, and the style stands out a mile from the rather plain prose that characterizes the rest.

But the setting is strange in other ways, especially for a story that's listed under "sci-fi" and supposedly set in the future. The level of technology at play is that of the 1960's. Radio and television exist but computers, the internet and cell phones are conspicuously absent (maybe they were confiscated by the government). More damning is the fact that the intrusive, tyrannical government employs no surveillance equipment to speak of, not even things that exist now. The failure of the government to find one of their own stolen vehicles is telling. But that actually fits with the cultural aesthetic, which is also frozen in time. The obsession with Communism, the focus on manufacturing, and the lack of references to globalism make it feel like a project of the old John Birch Society. The result is a weirdly disorienting conflict between the 21st century talking points in the diaries and the 50-year old notions in the narrative that follows.

I could go on, but I'd like to avoid complaints about specific plot elements. Suffice it to say that this comes across as a narrative written to advance the author's politics rather than to advance a plot, an all too common problem with contemporary dystopian literature. It's far from the worst I've ever seen, but it's still watered-down 1984 without Orwell's artistry, wit or foresight.

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