Radio Life by Derek B. Miller (book review)

April 24, 2021 | By | Reply More

In a post-apocalyptic future several centuries from now, various tribes live in uneasy co-existence, their philosophies differing as to whether it’s best to recover ancient knowledge to improve their lives or make sure that knowledge is forgotten forever so as not to bring destruction on the Earth once more. Some are traders, some travellers and some bandits and one group lives in an old stadium where electricity is available and dregs of technology are cherished. This group of several hundred people, who call themselves the Commonwealth, organise their treasured knowledge according to the six categories specified in the treasured game of Trivial Pursuit that had been found many years previously. This is just one aspect of the touching naivete that permeates the lives of these groups of people.

The generally peaceful existence is threatened when one of the few remaining half-buried skyscapers in the nearby city ruins collapses, exposing a subterranean world of technological wonders. It exposes secrets long kept and lies that have been perpetuated and sets in motion a chain of events linking a number of characters in an intriguing and thoughtfully rendered society. There’s a map at the beginning, too, which is always fun, but unfortunately the map didn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the directions mentioned during the course of the book.

It wasn’t until half-way through the book that I read the note on the back flyleaf that Derek B. Miller was partly inspired by Walter M. Miller’s classic ‘A Canticle For Leibowitz’. Once I’d read that I could see how that inspiration played out throughout the novel, although you wouldn’t necessarily make that connection unless it was pointed out. It had a similar sense of historical weight, of a struggle to understand the past and of a society trying to move forward together.

The book continues to expand and surprise throughout, adding layers of complexity and secrets, interrelationships with people inside and outside of the Commonwealth and richly constructed pasts. There are unexplained stories, phrases and names early in the book but, gradually, the reasons behind these are revealed through flashbacks and conversations. The society of the Commonwealth gradually takes shape, proving to be wonderfully complex and optimistic, yet composed of flawed characters with their own agendas and opinions. It makes for an immersive experience as the story develops.

The Commonwealth’s society is built around finding scraps of ancient knowledge, safeguarding them, understanding and applying them. Amassing nearby are the Keepers, who want to keep things as they are and not dig up the past with its possible disastrous consequences. Elishima is out exploring the Gone World, the nearby ruined city, when one of the towers is brought down by explosives, but this only gives her the chance to discover far more than she could ever have imagined about the past. The consequences are tense and dramatic while maintaining a steady pace, slowly building the drama through a series of crisis.

Previously a crime writer, Derek B. Miller has applied the same careful considerations to this post-apocalyptic drama as you would expect from a complex mystery plot. He has constructed a touching and gripping novel of a future full of possibilities.

Gareth D Jones

April 2021

(pub: Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus, 2021. 477 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-52940-858-4)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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