Radio Life

Written by Derek B. Miller

Review written by Jon Morgan

Jon Morgan is a retired police Superintendent and francophile who, it is said, has consequently seen almost everything awful that people can do to each other. He relishes quality writing in all genres but advises particularly on police procedure for authors including John Harvey and Jon McGregor. Haunts bookshops both new and secondhand and stands with Erasmus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I may buy food and clothes.”

Radio Life
Joe Fletcher Books (Quercus)
RRP: £16.99
Released: January 21, 2021

I wasn’t quite sure why I was reviewing this for SHOTS, a Crime fiction e-zine, but fifty pages in, I didn’t care. I was hooked! On reflection, it has more in common with a crime mystery than may at first appear the case. I know it is only January, but this is surely a candidate for the best novel of 2021.


Set in a not greatly distant, post-apocalyptic world where survivors, or rather the descendants of survivors are constructing a new society in a former Olympic stadium which has, through internal human movement the ability to generate electricity, this novel is utterly captivating. Its characters, Lilly especially, but others, Henry (Henrietta), Graham and Alessandra their daughter, are deftly drawn, fragile but determined in a common purpose of seeking the knowledge of the Ancients to build again. An early Commonwealth explorer cum scavenger, trapped in a collapse (Tracollo) of one of the old tall buildings for a prolonged period, is presciently named Adam, and like the biblical Adam has a significant part to play


They are not alone in this world, there are ‘Roamers’, nomads in the semi desert world where the tail fin of an Airbus pokes out of the sand, adjacent to the tops of former sky-scrapers, where scavengers, both stadium-based (The Commonwealth) and freelance, seek relics of the past to use as ‘raw’ – material to construct, or as pointers to the technology and learning of long gone societies and cultures.


It is not until a fair way into the book that the reasons for global societal collapse become clear but they are, in the main, germane to our world, particularly at the moment. The other main group of people, motivated by a strong desire to keep ancient knowledge buried so as not to reproduce the conditions or opportunities for repeating their errors are the ‘Keepers.’ They are led by a nameless and clearly damaged man, known only as ‘Leader’. They are hugely underestimated, in numbers, determination and intelligence by the Commonwealth, who, as predicted by the ‘Leader’ rely on a reading of Greek Myths and military strategy (and a full set of Calvin and Hobbes) found in a cache of ancient knowledge for their response to outside threats.


With existential threats from the ‘Keepers’ and from environmental hazards, seeds are starting to fail to germinate, fruits are starting to fail to bear seeds, the stage is set for conflict on many levels. The outcome is initially uncertain and human arrogance will have its part to play in eventual nemesis and perhaps renaissance.


The writing is superb, the imagined catastrophe or cataclysm is all too plausible, and the response to technological advance information without humility is all too predictable. The book is occasionally didactic in its message but not overly so. There are parallels to be drawn with our own state and the inevitable consequences of our actions on our environment and neighbours.


The novel, including its denouement, is witty, intelligent, thought provoking and immensely entertaining. Its use of language and the mistakes made by our descendants in the interpretation of that language are sources of great fun. I have omitted a great deal of detail in this review so as to avoid spoilers.


I could not get through this fast enough, and I am not a great fan of science-fiction but this is in a class of its own. It is also, if the afterword is to be believed the start of a series. I, for one, cannot wait.

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