Three years after the pandemic known as The Manfall, which has decimated the world's male population, governments still hold and life continues. But a world run by women isn't always a better place. Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs.
Lauren Beukes’s fifth novel is a smartly written thriller that opens with a satisfying bang ... Beukes is too wise and story-oriented to wham away at ideas that have been thoroughly explored, sometimes at tedious length, on cable news and social media. She lets her tale do the talking, and the results are quite splendid. This is your basic neo-noir, coast-to-coast chase novel, and Beukes, who is from South Africa, sees America with the fresh eyes of an outsider ... Cole and Miles/Mila...are being chased by the Department of Men, a kind of female Gestapo dedicated to a new law called reprohibition that basically forbids women to get pregnant by the few men still available to do the job. This might seem like a shaky proposition in a world close to becoming one sex only, but Beukes almost makes it sensible ... Reprohibition offers Beukes the chance to incorporate all sorts of interesting (and often amusing) possibilities into her fiction, although it would be wrong to call any of them social commentary. The manless world Beukes imagines is seen from the corner of the eye and enriches the story without taking it over ... There’s an interlude between Parts 1 and 2 of the story I could have done without because it stops the action cold with a lot of geeky science hoo-ha, but one paragraph does add some needed perspective ... Beukes writes with such verve and mordant wit. How can you not fall in love with a book where the P.P.E.-wearing scientists tasked with discovering a vaccine are called plague-o-nauts and there’s a government bureau dealing with PMdFs, or Previously Male-dominated Fields?
With remarkable prescience, Lauren Beukes's Afterland takes on an 'unprecedented global pandemic' with chilling results—and surprising comic relief threaded throughout ... Never-ending body counts, attempted sororicide and tween exploitation might not particularly be phrases that invite 'Read me!' but this pandemic distraction is ready for worldly audiences, offering titillating thrills, schadenfreude and, most surprisingly (and necessarily), even a few take-me-away snorts and shrieks.
Beukes is such an idiosyncratic writer—one who deftly mashes up suspense, sci-fi, horror, time travel and, yes, dystopian fiction—that she’s hard to ignore. Like P.D. James and Margaret Atwood, to whom she was implicitly compared in that over-the-top blurb, Beukes often spotlights strong female characters plowing their way through harrowing situations ... less grisly than its predecessor but perhaps eerier since it imagines a world changed utterly by a pandemic ... a suspenseful and intricate on-the-road adventure ... The long section of Afterland devoted to life amid the kooky cultists drags somewhat, but, overall, Beukes imbues what could have simply been a sensational thriller with psychological depth and sharp detail ... If the last thing you want to think about are surprise attacks and masks, perhaps a cozy Golden Age British mystery might be a better choice. But for those whose taste for dystopian suspense is undiminished, Beukes’s tale of a mother and son making their way across a post-pandemic-ravaged landscape is prescient and taut.