After reading the hundred year old dystopian classic, We, I thought I’d bring myself right up to date with the genre. I have previously devoured two of Adrian J Walker’s futuristic tales (The Last Dog On Earth and The End Of The World Running Club). Both were excellent page turners, emotionally charged and set against desolate, post apocalyptic landscapes. Was I hoping for more of the same? Another dystopian journey while our actual lives during the last year has at times felt like they are being lived in a bleak work of fiction, is that what I wanted?
I needn’t have worried. Walker’s latest opus (it was published during 2020) is not only quite different from other futuristic tales, but also a beautiful read.
At first glance there appears to be all the ingredients for a dystopia – 500 or so years in the future, the earth no longer inhabited by humans, but with this book we are almost immediately treated to some hope. The race (The Erta) who now sparsely inhabit the planet were originally one of the last human projects. A last ditch attempt to reverse human damage. Well over those few hundred years that is exactly what The Erta have achieved. So, unlike a typical dystopian, or science fiction tale, the earth is in fine fettle.
Why The Human Son? Well, The Erta decide that their work is done and an experiment should be carried out in trying to create Homo Sapien again in the form of one child, to see how he (for it is a boy, eventually named Reed) will respond and adapt.
Walker has an eye for the soul in his characters, and so Ima (chosen to be the boy’s ‘mother’) immediately had my backing in the project. The writing is almost poetic at times. The book became part of me for the whole read. I always know I’m enjoying a book when my phone goes untouched during my break at work. Or if I read a few pages while I cook.
With reference to some of the literature, journals and podcasts about literary fiction I’ve been consuming lately, The Human Son felt almost refreshingly light in its delivery. Not that it is lacking in any depth at all, just not trying to go beyond giving the reader the actual story. Despite this, there is nothing formulaic. Walker has created Ima to be ‘imperfect’ and the idea that the science of The Erta will trump the emotion of humanity is challenged throughout.
The Human Son is imaginative, but so much more too. The deeper I went in, the more I was getting out. I found myself using the book as a mirror too. The human behaviour which led to the earth reaching its tipping point in the book is going on all around us right now. This isn’t force fed by Walker, it is crumb fed. And that feels right.
Sure it’s a climate emergency book, but it is also a study of how society can fall apart, how even a supposedly scientifically created race can lapse into factions and quarrels. Not only that, it is a wonderful study of parenthood, of childhood and coming of age.
Boasting almost 500 pages, the book soon had me turning the pages and there is nothing daunting about the story. I’m finding myself tired of book labels – who decides what is genre fiction, or literary fiction? What I like about Adrian J Walker’s books is that he seems happy to be classed however the world of books decides. For me, his books are thrilling, exciting, dramatic and pacy, like any thriller. And yet, the levels of poignancy and moments of stillness lend his books an atmosphere of contemplation at times too. That particularly goes for The Human Son. Emotions are gently exposed and discovered as the truth of Reed becomes apparent to both him and Ima.
Walker also pulls off the trick of narrating in the first and second person – Ima is telling the story for Reed to find at a later date. This produces a little bit of clumsiness for me towards the end of the book, but not enough to put me off my reading pace.
A fine read which had me asking myself plenty of questions about existence and truth.
I heartily recommend.