Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review: Pluribus

Book Review: 'Pluribus' by Michael Kurland

4 / 5 Stars

‘Pluribus’ (272 pp) first was published in hardback by Doubleday in 1975. This paperback version was released in January 1980 by Ace Books; the cover illustration is by Boris Vallejo.

The novel is set in California in 2080, seventy years after a bio-engineered virus known as ECHO ‘escaped’ from the lab and, in a massive plague known simply as the ‘Death’, killed 90% of the globe’s population.

While a few scattered Enclaves try to maintain a knowledge of science and technology, the majority of the US population live in small towns and villages where technology is at a 19th century level, and Christian fundamentalism is the major social and political force.

Throughout these remnants of the US, there is a disturbing swell of suspicion and resentment against the Enclaves and their inhabitants, as the fundamentalist preachers argue that the Enclaves, and Science, were responsible for the release of the Death. Conflict seems inevitable.

As ‘Pluribus’ opens, the Palisades Enclave receives some disturbing news from the colony on Mars, where technology remains intact. The ECHO virus is due to mutate, and the new strain is likely to wipe out everyone left alive.

A desperate plan is set into motion: Mars colony will send a ship carrying a seed stock of a new vaccine strain of ECHO to the space station still orbiting the Earth. There, the Martian pilot will transfer to a docked space shuttle and fly it down to the Chicago Spaceport, to deliver the seed stock into the waiting hands of a team of scientists. Then it will be up to the Enclaves across the US, to grow and distribute the vaccine before the advent of a mutant strain of ECHO dooms what remains of mankind.

As part of the efforts to prepare the Enclaves to grow the vaccine, an elderly man named Mordecai Lehrer is recruited for a vital, but secret, mission. Under the guise of being a travelling magician, he and his team of young helpers will travel from California, through the Midwest, to Chicago Spaceport, handing out instructions to Enclave representatives along the way.

Lehrer’s mission is not without danger. If the fundamentalists discover what he is doing, at the very least they surely will imprison him and his helpers…… at the worst, they are likely to execute him. But if the human race is to survive, Lehrer must succeed……..

‘Pluribus’ bases its plot on the recognizable trope of the solo (often Jewish) protagonist who, under his outward stance of deference and self-deprecation, uses his wits and guile to outmaneuver the Orthodoxy that is ruining society through its own stupidity.

What sets ‘Pluribus’ apart from other post-apocalyptic novels of its time - for example, David Brin’s ‘The Postman’ - is its underlying tone of cynicism, rather than the carefully layered note of optimistic humanism that is present in some works of the genre. In ‘Pluribus’, the efforts of the dwindling remnants of sanity and civilization are fighting what may be a losing battle against the tide of ignorance and superstition.

The verdict ? If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic sf, then it’s worth your while to obtain a copy of ‘Pluribus’.

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