Review: Immobility, by Brian Evenson

>>To be published: April 2012

“What’s in these?” asked Horkai, more as a way to slow Mahonri down than out of any real curiosity.

“Records,” said Mahonri. He stopped, turned around. “What we have here is the history of the human race, a record of births and deaths for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

“Why?” asked Horkai.

“What do you mean, why?” Mahonri responded. “Humanity is important. All these things must be preserved so that, when the time comes, humanity shall know what it has been, is, and will be.”

“When the time comes for what?”

“When the time comes for humanity to return.”

***

Josef Horkai isn’t having all that much fun. Brought out from a thirty-year cryogenic slumber and paralyzed from the waist down due to a mysterious illness in his spinal cord, an illness that will kill him unless regularly (and painfully) treated, he emerges into a sparsely populated world with nothing but a mission, a pair of mules, and the constant threat of death looming overhead. Maybe not his death—maybe humanity’s, or maybe his two stalwart and intellectually truncated companions—but death nonetheless.

Horkai is tasked by Rasmus, the enigmatic leader of this last-of-humanity shelter called a “hive”, to go forth into the wasteland carried on the backs of two mules—test-tube human simulacrums named Qatik and Qanik—and retrieve a mysterious canister of seed, which, according to Rasmus, is essential to their survival. The journey will take Horkai and his mules through the toxic remains of the world, and past what little of society still exists in the wake of “the Kollaps”. Despite his paralysis, only Horkai is genetically equipped to withstand the brutal wasteland environment. His two mules are sacrifices so that this paraplegic anti-hero can accomplish his mysterious mission.

What the Kollaps was, what sparked it, and the direct fallout from the event, are not Evenson’s primary focus. Instead he uses the aftermath of this seemingly global catastrophe (likely nuclear, though details remain uncertain through to the very end) to tell a tale of a violent man’s limited purpose in a world where the only necessity is to find a way to kickstart humanity all over again. Horkai’s past is alluded to in snippets of exchanges between him, Rasmus, and the unlucky few he comes into contact with along his journey on the backs of his two sacrifices, but even then, details are never concrete, never entirely trustworthy.

Immobility is a test of brevity. With effective and conventional writing, Evenson offers up an are-they-or-aren’t-they zombie/vampire/Mad Max-style narrative. Immobility doesn’t bring an exceptional use of tone or language to the folds of the post-apocalyptic story. Minimalism is more the game on display. Evenson uses the setting to great effect to show both the essential quality of a blunt instrument in a world gone to shit, and to show that same character’s uselessness in the possible future that might grow from his actions—and to illustrate, as we’ve come to expect, that in such a setting, knowledge will always hold the wild card over brute strength.

Through the objective certainty of his mules and their acceptance of the roles they must play in Horkai’s journey, the predictably opposing sects of science and faith, and a lone wasteland holdout with no name, Evenson offers some quiet philosophizing that is not often seen in this genre—at least, not with any degree of subtlety. Immobility never goes too far astray in this manner, nor does its narrative ever become obstructed by the rather large red herring at the core of the tale—the how and the why of Horkai’s ability to survive without protection in the wasteland’s toxic air.

From beginning to end, Evenson shows impressive restraint, never giving more than we need, never leaving the reader pissed off at what we aren’t told. It stumbles a bit from time to time—specifically with its all-too-revealing-yet-not-at-all dream sequences—but they do not negatively impact the story’s rhythm. In the end, however, that’s a minor quibble—an overused crutch in a lot of science fiction. Regardless, Immobility is a solid, fun, post-apocalyptic tale.

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