In 1984, Steven R Boyett released his first novel, Ariel, and introduced us to his vision of a world after The Change, a world where, at 4:30 p.m. one day, magic returned to the land, and the laws of physics were simply rewritten. All technology – gunpowder, electricity, and even complicated machines – no longer functions, 90% of the people simply disappeared, and magical creatures like demons, dragons, and the unicorn, Ariel, appeared in their stead. The story followed Ariel, and her katana-wielding companion, Pete Garey, from Atlanta, to Washington DC, to New York City and an aerial assault on the Empire State Building. It had all the elements of a great post-apocalyptic road trip story, but threw in just enough swords and sorcery to make it even more interesting.
Ariel became a cult classic, and now, 25 years later, Boyett finally returns to the world of The Change with the long-awaited sequel, Elegy Beach.
Elegy Beach picks up about 20 years after the events of Ariel, and shifts to the West Coast, where Pete’s son, Fred, is a young man growing up to be a talented caster. He and his best friend, Yan, try to apply scientific principles to the study of the magic that infuses their world, and for Yan, a taste of power only fuels his desire for even more.
The events that unfold next can be summed up in a scene where Fred thinks to himself, “In the air above the mountains in a battered gondola of a wounded airship on my way to confront my former best friend holed up in the ruin of a former castle while he perfects the casting that will reinstate the old world’s order I am talking to a unicorn about whether the centaur following us is carrying my captured father. Um, ok…”
It might sound like more of a fantasy novel than a post-apocalyptic one, and in some ways it is, but a key theme here is the disparity between those who lived before The Change, and those who grew up after it, and the differences in their attitudes and world views. There’s a great scene that takes place in a bubble of pre-Change space where Pete gets an old iPod to work, and plays some of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for Fred, and it blows his mind. He has never heard anything approaching recorded music, and with it, he begins to understand the loss that the older generation feels, and starts to realize that there may be lessons from the old world that are worth learning.
And the setting of the book is classic 1st generation post-apocalyptic. Buildings that are not actively maintained are falling apart, forests and overgrowth are starting to reclaim the land, and society is just starting to rebuild, mostly in isolated villages along the coast. They scavenge old stores, re-read 30 year old newspapers, and try to make do with what they have available.
The story of friends becoming enemies has been done before of course, but in this case, the recycled plot doesn’t hinder the book. The settings are interesting, events fast paced, and some of the dialog is just damnned funny, particularly because of the the wise and wise-cracking unicorn, Ariel. She is a fantastic character, and is the added element that transforms Elegy Beach from a standard post-apocalyptic story into something more.
I’m sorry it took 25 years to arrive, but better late than never, because it was well worth the wait. It’s definitely the kind of book that you can pick up every few years and enjoy again. If you don’t mind some fantasy mixed in with your post-apocalypses, I highly recommend it.