"Art does not reproduce what we see.
Rather, it makes us see."
-Paul Klee

In the year 2028 the Earth's civilizations came to an end. An all-out nuclear annihilation occurred, combined with germ warfare gone awry. A turbid plague was visited on the human population, while a nuclear winter wiped out most of the planet's vegetation. They were times that would not be called "the best of times, the worst of times" in any memoirs.

There were, however, a few isolated pockets of people that escaped. Some had stronger immunities; some just more clever. Thus, Darwin's theory of evolution proves itself, emerging from the ashes intact but twisted. A new world emerges too, no less twisted. It is primitive, naive, with cultural myths rooted in the twenty-first century.

Warrior, by Donald E. McQuinn (Ballantine, $8.95), is an account of the brave post-nuclear world of the mid-twenty-sixth century. A resident of the Pacific Northwest, McQuinn chose familiar ground on which to place his fable. The old names of the land have been forgotten and replaced with names which describe in literal terms what the land is about. To the east, in Idaho and Montana, is the land of the Buffalo Eaters. Along the Cascade rim live the Mountain People, in the shadows of Destroyer (Baker) and Snowfather (Rainier) Mountains. To the south, along the former Oregon/Washington border live the River People, drawing their livelihood from the the mighty Mother (Columbia) River. The people of western Washington (Ola) are more sophisticated than their hunter-gatherer neighbors, dwelling in medievalesque city-states, a sharp contrast to the nomadic Dog People of Eastern Washington.

The Dog People are so called due to their practice of hunting and fighting with dogs. These dogs are no garden variety breed. They are descendents of the Scottish Sheepdog with extra-developed sensory perception that allow their master to communicate with them telepathically. They're also keen on hand and voice commands.

The reader is challenged to get his mind around

concepts in contradiction . . . The author deliberately

puzzles us, and so doing, hooks us.

Early in the novel we learn things are not well with the Dog People. King Altanar, ruler of Ola, seeks to form a pact with them. He knows they would make formidable allies in the event that Ola and Harbundai, the kingdom to the north, go to war against each other. Ola is a restless nation seeking to expand and neutralize their foes. To gain the Dog Peoples' alliance, a mediator named Sylah is sent, but alas, her allegiances lie elsewhere. She is Church (a matriarchal remnant of Catholicism) and uses the opportunity to gain an upper hand on both the Dog People and King Altanar.

Upon Sylah's arrival she is treated as a spy by her host, Gan Moondark. He is a dynamic sentry who just happens to be in line as the next War Chief. He presents Sylah to his people, and she is welcomed by most as a good omen. A calculating woman, Sylah catches on quickly to the tribe's dynamics. Basically, the Dog People are made up of two clans: sheepherders and warriors. Historically, the warriors have held the real power - Gan's father is presently in command - but a handful of sheepherders and warriors would like to change that, thus a plot to eliminate the house of Moondark is hatched.

What emerges is a tale Shakespearean in scope of loyalty and double-crossing. On one hand we have Gan, true and brave. On the other, Likat, a warrior with an unquenchable thirst for power, and everybody else from Sylah to the tribal council serving as pawns in his ill-fated plot to seize control. It makes for a fascinating read, this post-nuclear world McQuinn's created. Throwing in seven twenty-first century characters waking from a cryogenic sleep would seem unnecessary, but McQuinn does just that. Fortunately, he's a skilled writer and eases them smoothly into the storyline. Where a lesser writer might have failed, McQuinn not only advances the plot with these newly awakened characters; he hinges the story's success on them.

Warrior is fantasy. It's fanciful, adventurous, and - albeit far-fetched - scientific. McQuinn creates a palpable emerging civilization by filling it with twentieth century history. From the onset he grips the reader by presenting societies that have backgrounds in common with our own. The reader is challenged to get his mind around concepts in contradiction, such as nomads who have mastered the art of forging steel, and a culture that is non-Christian although the last vestiges of Catholicism are intact. The author deliberately puzzles us, and so doing, hooks us.

Warrior is a good read, but read it carefully. The year 2028 is not so far away.

posted 06/08/02