Alan Deniro takes us just a step or two beyond the current economic and political situation. As the author suggests, with American military forces deployed around the world; glaciers and icecaps melting amid climate changes; jobless rates constantly rising; the cost of health insurance more expensive than mortgage payments for homes no longer worth their original values; and multiple threats of pandemics threatening an overgrown population (H1N1 is making strides faster than expected, AIDS continues to spread, and, according to recent reports, avian flu isn’t flying away any time soon), things can only get worse. Deniro timed the publication of his first novel perfectly: Total Oblivion, more or less may not be that far away.
The time is the present, plus a few weeks, months or years. One summer day sixteen-year-old Macy is looking forward to her senior year in high school, hanging out at malls and watching reality TV. The next day reality does an abrupt shift as warrior bands from the distant past, Scythians and Thracians, among others, descend on her suburban Minnesota town and most of the Midwest and South—maybe the whole world. Modern technology either shuts down or finds strange new ways to operate.
And, parallel to the ghettos in 1930s Europe, Macy, her astronomer father, her mother, her older sister and her younger brother find themselves shipped to a refugee camp outside Minneapolis. But, at the last moment, the family escapes the camp and begins a voyage down the Mississippi like nothing Huck Finn ever dreamed of.
A strange plague has descended on the land—think a combination of small pox and video games. Some folks, Macy among them, live through the disease. Victims who are unlucky enough to be stung by savage furry wasps soon find their skin turned to paper and disintegrate to nothing.
The plague is just one of many crises Macy must survive along a river that has retained its natural splendor and added surreal dangers, as she tries to hold her family together and grow up in the process. A likely symbol here is that all of this strangeness is probably not that different from what goes through the mind of the average adolescent during his or her teen years. Yet Macy, as most adolescents do, finds a way not only to survive, but to thrive.
Total Oblivion, more or less is a pretty terrific ride into a future world that is sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, and always bizarre. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the weirdness seems overdone—weird for no real purpose, just for weirdness sake. Still this is a very impressive first novel, and Alan Deniro is an author to watch.
Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper since 1988. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a blurb on a book, it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.