Sandy's Reviews > Walk to the End of the World

Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas
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Aug 18, 11

really liked it
Read in August, 2008

In the mood for a good piece of postapocalyptic, feminist sci-fi? Well, then, I've got a doozy for you! Suzy McKee Charnas' first novel, "Walk to the End of the World" (1974), is just such a book, combining a tough little tale with a healthy dose of sociopolitical rumination. Taking place many years after mankind has destroyed its planet with wars and pollution, "leaving it to the wild weeds," it introduces the reader to the society of the Holdfast, a seaside community whose inhabitants subsist on the seaweed, kelp and hemp they manage to farm. Charnas reveals an extraordinary wealth of detail regarding the Holdfast's customs, religion and cultures; her depth of imagination, not to mention writing skills, are most impressive, especially for a beginner novelist. Perhaps the most salient aspect of life in this postapocalyptic world is the degraded status of its female members. Known simply as fems, they are blamed by the men for the wars of destruction, and looked on as witches fit for nothing more than breeding and drudge labor. Fathers in the Holdfast never learn who their sons are, as these male cubs are quickly placed in the so-called "Boyhouse" right after birth to quickly remove the female taint. Society, for the most part, is based on a hierarchy of Youths and Seniors, and homosexual relationships amongst the Youths and amongst the Seniors are the norm. The use of hemp to elicit dreams is encouraged amongst the Youths in their fruition into men (an entire society based on pot ingestion!), whilst automatonlike Rovers (soldiers constantly kept narcotized by the drug) guard the various private companies that work in five-year shifts to farm the district. It is in this unique setting that Charnas introduces us to the book's four main characters.

We meet Eykar Bek, the "Endtendant" of Endpath, the state-sponsored euthanasia station, who goes on a quest to find the father he never knew; his boyhood friend, Servan d Layo, the so-called DarkDreamer and a roguish gadfly; Captain Kelmz, a soldier and master handler of the Rovers; and Alldera, a seemingly ignorant fem who naturally has a lot more going on behind her blank face than the men ever imagined. The journey that the four go on together shows us a wide cross section of Holdfast life, and it is not a pretty one. This is a very brutal book at times, with shocking bursts of casual violence and very little in the way of sentiment. It is a very serious book, with hardly any humor to speak of, and some important points to make. The novel was chosen for inclusion in David Pringle's excellent overview volume "Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels," and like all the other books on Pringle's list (well, the 70 or so that I've read, anyway), it displays remarkable imaginative flair and shoots off fresh ideas like sparks off a Catherine wheel. The book may be accused of leaving the main characters' ultimate fate up in the air, and of not giving us a precise enough idea of the size and population of the Holdfast (not to mention the possibility of existent life outside of it), but those issues are, I would guess, dealt with in the next three books in what has since become known as the "Holdfast Chronicles." Those next books, for those who are interested (and I can't imagine any reader of "Walk to the End of the World" who would not be interested in learning more), are "Motherlines" (1978), "The Furies" (1994) and "The Conqueror's Child" (1999). If they're on a par with this first installment, or with another excellent Charnas novel that I read some years ago, "The Vampire Tapestry" (1980), readers will be in for some nice treats indeed....
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