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Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky

31/05/2024
Tomorrow's Children by Daniel Polansky

There is plenty of post-apocalyptic media set in and around New York. On the film front you have Escape from New York, the original Planet of the Apes films and I am Legend. And on the book front there is everything from Colson Whitehead’s zombie apocalypse Zone One to Kim Stanley Robinson’s clifi 2140. Which is all to say that Daniel Polansky’s new novel Tomorrow’s Children, set 6-7 generations after something called the “funk” decimated New York, has plenty of antecedents.

There are so many characters in Tomorrow’s Children that it is hard to know where to start. The action is set in a New York divided into territories that are run by different gangs. The book opens with two critical events, the arrival of a “tourist” to the city and the wiping out of one of those gangs, creating a power vacuum. The story broadly follows two groups – those sowing chaos for reasons that eventually become clear, and those employed to the ruling Commissioner, “the sheriff”, to track them down. But nothing is that simple and readers who can stay with it will find plenty of twists in that particular tale.

Part of the problem though it the sheer number of characters and the telling of the story in short episodes. While this is in some ways immersive in Polansky’s world it will take readers a long time to understand who is who and just what is going on. The stakes are unclear as are many of the character motivations. That said, those characters, are just weird and engaging enough to keep readers’ interest.

Tomorrow’s Children also displays some very clear influences from across the post-apocalyptic spectrum. Its combination of neo-barbarism, retro-futurism and western tropes recalls a range of influences beyond those mentioned above, from Mad Max to Fallout. It is not that this book feels derivative but it never feels like it gets far enough away from its influences to be truly original. The most original aspect is the funk, which is like a cloud that can both kill and somehow give a high and possibly also cause visions. But it is never really explained – where it came from, why it is possibly only around Manhattan, and what it actually does.

The overall impression that Tomorrow’s Children gives is anarchic fun. Polansky revels in plots, explosions, chases, sword fights and the futuristic use of emojis. He has created a violent but vibrant world and then throws a wrench into this machine so he can sit back to watch the chaos play out. This is an approach that some readers will respond to and enjoy, others may just find derivative and exhausting, particularly as this type of narrative has been done better elsewhere.

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Tomorrow's Children by Daniel Polansky

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