Books You Should Be Reading: Deathlands

Friday 21 June 2002

After thinking about it for several days, I realized that I had no idea what to put up here this week. With time getting short, I decided to talk a bit about a series of novels that I've grown fond of.

The series is "Deathlands" and it was started in 1986 by James Axler (a pseudonym.) The basic premise is that nuclear war decimated the Earth in 2001, and now it's about a century later. The former America is a mix of small towns and really nasty radiation pockets, with abundant mutation and crime. It's truly a dog-eat-dog world. In the first book, we meet a band of people who barter or fight their way across the land. To make a long story short, their big, well-organized (and much-feared) convoy comes to a violent end, and the handful of survivors run across a hidden cache of pre-war weapons and supplies. They also find a weird scientific artifact: a teleporter, one of a number installed before the nuclear war. Using this, they can travel instantaneously to a variety of unknown, dangerous, but random places; some group members are killed while new allies join. That's the hook for the series.

It's not Shakespeare, but it is entertaining. It also takes on a sort of "X-Files" quality as the group slowly uncovers more pre-war secrets, including time travel, biological weapons, cryogenic suspension, space exploration, deliberate genetic mutations, killer robots, an immortality project, and so on. Some of the teleportation gateways lead to strange and wondrous destinations such as an undersea complex, a nuclear armory, a radiation desert, other continents, a space station, and (one time) what appeared to be Mars.

I won't go into more detail here, but the series is worth checking out. The first book is kind of slow (its first two-thirds was written by one author, while the rest - and the next 35 novels - were written by the man who gave this series all the flavor I described above.) Read the first two and see what you think. I am confident that some of you will be glad you did.