Tom Beaumont’s world of New Haven, Maine in 1987 is not a post-apocalyptic world. It is rather a world in crisis because the catastrophe has not yet happened but is anticipated. The crisis is in the form of a comet, Fletcher’s Comet, named after the scientist who predicted it will hit the earth in a year. The population with any resources has fled coastal regions for the inland in hope of escaping rising sea levels. Tom, who works as an apprentice shipbuilder, is among the less fortunate left behind, inhabiting ghost towns. The remaining coastal population is almost as fearful of running out of food and power as of the comet itself. Some resort to building shelters, marauding abandoned freeways in gangs, and occasionally taking up arms against each other. Through this crisis, Tom keeps occupied by building a ship—the first he has built completely on his own.
This is a compelling book, the science believable, the plot riveting. The setting of a world in collapse before, not after, the catastrophe has occurred seems to almost create a new genre, the pre-apocalyptic rather than the post-apocalyptic novel. The chapters are laid out in numbers, some of them struck through, starting with 305 and ending with 1 (struck through), as Tom counts down the days to the end of the world. This creates strong suspense as we see Tom’s increasingly dire circumstances, and the complications build as time runs out. Tom keeps busy with, besides building his ship, reviewing the scientific literature on Fletcher’s Comet, harboring an increasing sense that they have been duped. Fletcher’s Comet appears to pass the earth on a predictable if infrequent basis, doing no harm. Added to this concern is that several top scientists died in a mysterious plane crash just as they were about to testify against Fletcher. The question arises if the threat of the comet is manmade. I continue to wonder about the motivation of Fletcher and the shadowy “bad guys” in creating this crisis. Perhaps in novel conventions it doesn’t matter; they are motivated simply by evil. In the end, Tom finds a use for the boat he had built almost on intuition, and we find where the real threat lies.
Belle Lutte Press
Matthew Stephen Sirois