The end is nigh in a rash of recent novels, including Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Edan Lepucki’s California, and Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star. But all dystopias are not created equal, and your survival depends on which type of end-of-days you’re dealing with. Is it a proper apocalypse? Is it a natural or biological disaster? Is it zombies? Or is it a complete disintegration of civilization followed by desperate societal restructuring, as seen in Zachary Thomas Dodson’s incredible first novel Bats of the Republic?
Dodson’s vision of American society after the Collapse invokes all our fears of surveillance, nepotism, and discrimination. Civilization has been reduced to seven City-States, each populated by people in the same life-phase. The City-State of Silver City, Texas, for instance, is for young adults, and proves to be a breeding ground for rebellion, conspiracy, secrets, and corruption. Behind the new controlled society lies a mystical cult bred out of superstition and manipulation.
Included throughout this intricate novel are meticulously created sketches, maps, handwritten notes, and novel excerpts, allowing us to navigate the frightful world that straddles a Jetsons-like future and a lawless Wild West. These archives created by Dodson are true works of art, but they also muddle our view of the truth. How can a citizen get ahead under these conditions?
The possibilities for career advancement in the Texas City-State are slim to nonexistent, considering the existence of a serial killer, impenetrable walls, and your predetermined social status. But here’s a quick cheat sheet to aid you in navigating your fate:
- Get in good with the Auspices. Whether they’re good or bad is irrelevant. When you discover a sect of women who practice ancient magic, you don’t question their relevance.
- Don’t kill bats, even if you find them creepy and possibly riddled with rabies. In fact, you should probably learn a bit more about the mysterious mammals, as it seems they transcend time and space, even in a surveillance state.
- Either build up a laudanum tolerance or detox. You don’t want to be in a haze of laudanum, the future’s drug of choice, when cannons are stolen and bats swarm.
- Develop a secret potion for invisible ink. Keep in mind, natural ingredients like lemon are scarce.
- Burn any document you don’t want to survive forever. Seriously, think carefully about those handwritten diaries from middle school. They can, and will, be used against you.
- Even in the most repressive of times, the Republic of Texas is out of control.
- Learn sign language. Consider starting a “Surviving the Collapse with Hand Signals” meetup group.
- Learn how to steam open a letter so no one can tell it has been unsealed.
- Forget about the zombies. Auspices trump zombies.
- Fall in love.
There is absolutely no guarantee that taking the above steps will save you from invasive Vault record-keeping and the Lawmen. In fact, fighting against the system might serve you just as well. Flawed hero Zeke Thomas finds some rare graffiti:
Someone had dipped a mop in a bucket of ink and written giant letters: ‘OPEN IT NOW.’ Zeke’s first thought was about the letter. But the message was not for him. It was about the barrier. The Deserters wanted the wall to come down. They spread their propaganda through painted slogans, written in the night.
11. Find a mop and bucket of ink. Join the Deserters.
However, number ten will keep you alive and in the Texas City-State a bit longer, so now’s the time to choose your course. In the meantime, you can practice by paying homage to the 1.5 million bats under the Congress Bridge in Austin, Texas, then reading Bats of the Republic. OPEN IT NOW.