Afterland is set in America during a pandemic, where most of the men have died from a virally caused form of prostate cancer. Three years on from the outbreak, now only 1% of the male population is still alive which includes Cole’s 12 year old son, Miles. In a world of women, the few surviving men are high in demand. While the Department of Men wants to quarantine him in a research facility, boy traffickers (along with Cole’s sister, Billie) are also tracking him down, so that they can sell virus-proof sperm to wealthy women on the underground market. Wild, right?
I know a lot of people will be hesitant to read dystopian fiction right now and I can completely empathise. However, I actually find this book comforting in many ways because it not only mirrors our current experience, it makes ours seem better. While the world is a very scary place right now, this book and many other apocalyptic texts paint such an extreme portrayal of pandemics that it does make you think, ‘well, it could be worse!’ Even though this book is technically speculative fiction, the sci-fi/apocalyptic elements are definitely not the focus in this book which some might actually consider to be a good thing. The book is much more of a family drama about a mother and her son and the fraught relationship between sisters, Cole and Billie.
Parts of this book were spookily accurate to the time we’re living through now. The book is set in 2023 and the virus has been active for 3 years, thus meaning it started in 2020. This is actually crazy considering Beukes would have had no knowledge of Covid-19 whilst she was writing Afterland. Timing of this book’s publication aside, there was much to enjoy about this book and I think it would appeal to lovers of fast paced action. I found the premise of this book really interesting and I enjoyed some of the world building Beukes sets up in this novel. In envisioning a world without men, we see how certain industries struggle, particularly now that men no longer take up all of the executive positions, and we also witness how women have adapted their relationships.
However, there were some aspects of this book that I felt needed to be greater explained. The entire plot is about Coles and Miles’ escape to South Africa before their captors find them but there isn’t much evidence to suggest that the situation in South Africa will be any better than the situation in America. I understand why they wish to return to their home, but I wasn’t convinced Miles would be any safer there.
One thing I’m still undecided about is in how the book addresses trans identity. Throughout the book there are references to how the pandemic has effected the trans community. In order to go unnoticed, Miles has to pretend to be a girl. There are moments when Miles, or Mila, questions their identity and at times I wasn’t entirely convinced this issue was handled as well as it could have been. For example, there were a few times Cole forgets to call Mila ‘her’ and ‘she’ but I did wonder what the purpose of this was in the narrative. Also, please note that I’m not an Own Voices reader in this aspect so if anyone could direct me to any relevant reviews I’d be very grateful.
Afterland is out now in ebook and hardback. The audiobook is out on September 24th..
A big thank you to Michael Joseph and Sriya for my digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.