Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart
Sandstone Press, pb, £6.99
Reviewed by John Dodd
What would happen if the world’s governments accepted that there were too many people on the planet and took measures to reduce the population by any means? They started by killing the criminals, then euthanising those with terminal diseases, then euthanising anyone older than a certain point. At this point, you’re fairly sure that you’re in a really dark world where there’s not going to be much in the way of happy endings. Then they decide that there are still too many people, so huge buildings are made to put people to sleep for a long time, which allows the minimal resources that are available to be used as they need to be.
There’s a lot to take in from the start. It’s a cross between the Matrix and Dark City, where the sleeping pods are looked over by Janitors, who have massive responsibility in watching over those who are in their block of pods, but literally no oversight, they can do as they wish, when they wish, how they wish.
It’s told from three perspectives. Ben, an older man, trying to get through day by day with his wife Rose, who’s suffering from dementia at an advanced stage. Peruzzi, a younger man who is one of the Janitors, and a third perspective, that of the time before, which details the events that lead up to the world that Ben and Peruzzi inhabit.
It’s a bleak picture that’s painted. This isn’t a world where the good guys win. It’s debatable that the good guys even exist in the way that we understand them now. This is a world where everyone fights everyone else and for the slightest things. We see several points where groceries are fought for and killed over, do what you will is the whole of the law. Everyone in the sleeping chambers is implanted with a chip that allows those with control to instantly sedate them, it’s a situation much like Judge Dredd and Mega City One, whereby crimes can be responded to, but only if they’re noticed, and the only reaction that can be taken is to quell the riot by chemical sedation, which means that the bodies will still be there when they wake up, and in the meantime, there’s nothing to stop others from looting those bodies, which in turn leads to more sedation, which in turn…
You get the picture…
It is a dark and unremitting vision of the future, with a past not entirely unlike the world we live in today, just a little to the side, and we could find ourselves there, with the governments making decisions that affect millions, all so that they themselves aren’t drawn in to the misery. Ben is just trying to get through every day; Peruzzi is balancing the power he has with the potential he has to abuse that power, something that his fellow janitors are often less principled about.
What this is, is a study of how the world is, where the world is going, and what it’s going to be when it gets to where it’s going. It’s impossible not to draw parallels with the world today, and that’s what makes the story compelling. We don’t consider that the world could get much worse, but if 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it’s that things can, and do, get worse.
If you want something uplifting, this isn’t the book for you; there’s too much reality in it. If, on the other hand, you enjoy reading about dark futures and enjoy films like Bladerunner and Dark City, where one person may make a difference, but that difference will only be for them, then this is a well written and compelling tale of the horrors that humanity (such a word is misplaced for most of the people in this book) puts upon itself, just by being nothing more than what it has to be.
Would recommend this to fans of books like The Road and the Metro series.