Nicholas Lawrence Carter
Independently Published (2022)
Reviewed by Terri Stepek for Reader Views (09/2022)
This post-apocalyptic read finds the final remaining humans of Earth living in a city built below ground. The surface of the earth is completely uninhabitable, offering only fierce toxic storms, a poisonous atmosphere, and sheer desolation. For generations, scientists have been sending out an android to survey the surface and determine if/when/how it will be hospitable again.
Nicholas Lawrence Carter paints a bleak picture of Earth’s future in “Reclamation.” But it’s not just the fact that humans are forced to live underground, never seeing the surface or knowing the feel of the sun on their faces, that creates this feeling. As we come to know the characters, the Prime Scientist (Devon), the Liaison (Elena), the android (Satine), and the members of the Council, we realize that they still have all the faults, foibles, and fears of previous sun-dwelling people.
This novella has much to offer. The setting is interesting; the characters are good, and the storyline raises several thought-provoking points. The author drops us into the story without preamble, assuming readers will be smart enough to find their way in this strange world. That’s generally something I appreciate in a sci-fi read. However, even the great ones, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Bradbury, and Wells, had to backtrack eventually and give the reader some insight into the fantastic worlds they created. They had to flesh out their realms so that they could totally immerse their readers.
I kept waiting for the author to provide such insight for me, but it remained minimal throughout the book. This created a disconnect as I struggled to put terms and actions into context for a world in which I had no foundation to build upon. For instance, the Liaison, Elena, becomes extremely concerned about a “mud sore” opening up on one of the levels. The reader could only guess at the nature of such an event and the possible consequences. We’re given no frame of reference, no basis for establishing an understanding of Elena’s concern. We only know that it’s happened in the past and it’s potentially deadly.
I would have greatly enjoyed this read more if I had something to “hang my hat” on; more substance for my imagination to grasp and run with. I wanted to feel, taste, see, smell, and hear this underground world and the frightening surface of the earth, but I felt like I was looking at a postcard instead. With the exception of Satine, Elena, and (to an extent) Dr. Orchard, I felt that way about the characters as well.
For me, this book has great promise. With a bit more meat on its bones, this story could be outstanding. There’s a profound strength to this work in the questions it raises and the concepts it presents. I loved that all these decades/centuries later, people still suffered from the same basic flaws. I loved that everything wasn’t black and white, although some characters thought it was. I loved the awareness of Satine and what that might mean for the underground civilization. I was captivated by the remarkable relationship between the zealous, hardworking Liaison and the android who seems lonely, misunderstood, and shunned by the society it’s tasked with saving. Intriguing notion. I want more.