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.
If you’re ready for a wild ride across an America forever changed by a devastating pandemic, climb aboard ... a lot of fun ... Billie is...so awful that sometimes it’s hard to sit with her side of the story, but she can be an entrancing villain, often woozy with pain or painkillers and written in the most stylish prose ... There is so much action packed into the book that a few of its bigger ideas get left unexplored. The racial dynamics of a white mother and her mixed-race child get only glancing mention. The way that Miles/Mila is male but must perform as female isn’t much explored. And the larger question of what a world almost completely made up of women would be like, how it would be different, is mostly bypassed.
The narrative perspectives alternate between Cole, Miles, and Billie, helping to make the novel’s plot propulsive and deceptively simple, albeit stressful and frightening, made much more complicated by Miles’ own burgeoning puberty and all the complicated emotions that come alongside. Ultimately, this is a story about a single mother and her child trying to find a safe space in which to just be. A space in which they can develop their relationship, as Miles grows and finds out who is he, other than a survivor of a global pandemic, other than a bearer of sperm. It is sweet and poignant, but also fierce: what else do we expect from a mother’s love? ... a perfect example of when speculative fiction is so fiercely intelligent and logical that it is prescient – call it life imitating art if you will—the book was written before the current Covid-19 pandemic—but there are just too too many uncanny coincidences in both the main narrative, and the mise en scene for one not to admire Beukes’ ability to predict a future that so much of is now reality ... Writers all over the world may be scrabbling to get the next big pandemic book written this year, but Beukes is ahead of her time. And it’s no surprise at all.
... the book shines as one of the best thought experiments of its kind, in which Beukes has stitched together the surprise matriarchy of The Power, the millenarian despair of Children of Men and the deeply intelligent questions of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness ... Yet it isn’t all nihilism. Beukes seeds the book with hopeful rumours of matriarchal societies that have sprung up in other countries. There are never many details beyond the promise, like mirages just over the horizon ... Afterland is that rare creature, a ripping tale that neither shies away from big questions nor interesting answers. What happens when the powerless get power? There is no guarantee that the previously oppressed will wield it any more judiciously than those who oppressed them. It isn’t about the individuals. It is about the society they need to maintain.
... timely and readable ... great fun, with some insightful reflection on gender, power, religion and agency. More than anything, it is a thriller; readers are privy to the perspectives of Cole, Miles and Billie in this action-packed yet thoughtful novel. It is a wild chase from coast to coast, and Beukes nicely balances the violence, not to mention the depictions of head-wounded Billie, with the emotional trauma the characters experience. But it is also a coming-of-age story as Miles grapples with puberty and identity in a world where his true self is both threatening and precious ... The world has changed drastically, but much has stayed the same, and it is in that dichotomy that Beukes’ really interesting ideas shine.
There may be too much pandemic in Afterland for those seeking a few hours’ respite from the current reality, readers unsettled by our own lack of any certain after. Though the book doesn’t linger on the spread of HCV, a few precise touches here and there—the 'FEMA Mercy Pack,' 'the footage of the new incinerators, the refrigerated containers with body bags stacked high'—land hard. Yet the post-apocalyptic twist that sets Afterland’s chase in motion isn’t truly essential to the story; Cole and Miles could be on the run from anyone, toward anywhere ... Interviews explain that Beukes’s decision to stay away from the larger implications of the loss of most of the world’s men is intentional: 'I didn’t want to tell a story that was all about the world, or the characters changing it…. but rather about the ordinary people caught up in that world.' On these criteria, the book succeeds. Even in their dramatically changed circumstances, Cole and Miles feel familiar, recognizable as ordinary people of our world ... The issue readers intrigued by the world-of-women premise may have with Afterland is that both of those threads are fairly straightforward. The wrongness of authorities attempting to hijack bodily autonomy is appalling no matter the gender of the individual or group experiencing the hijacking. And there is no indication a world run by women would be, especially after only three years without men, substantially different from ours. So the pandemic of Afterland, as much as it may have changed the fictional world on the whole, has not added much dimension to the slivers of that world we see on the page ... With such a tight focus on Cole, Miles and Billie, the reader’s enjoyment of Afterland will depend heavily on their feelings about these three characters ... I’d been hoping for a complexity in Billie I never found, and by midway through the book, her tendency to get innocent (and some not-so-innocent, it’s true) people killed in the interest of saving her own skin became not just unpleasant but repetitive ... Too timely for some readers, not timely enough for others, I imagine Afterland might have trouble finding its audience in the current environment. Which, prescient or not, is not a future that any writer would hope for. Like Cole and Miles, we’re forced to contend with an immediate present that is uncomfortable, unaccommodating and dangerous. Like them, we also need hope of a better future to carry us forward. Whether or not Beukes presents the wider world of Afterland, the wider world available to readers can’t be escaped; as relentless as the pace of this thriller might be, it can never truly take us away.
... it’s difficult to imagine anyone rushing out to their local bookstore (if they can leave their house) to seek out stories centred on viral outbreaks. I certainly struggled to make it past the first 30 pages of Lauren Beukes’s new book Afterland. What got me through the novel was Beukes’s skill as a storyteller and the fact that her virus, and the apocalyptic scenario she presents, bears little resemblance to what we’re all dealing with now ... For the first half of Afterland, Beukes expertly parcels out the plot and worldbuilding through a series of flashbacks (the novelist’s best friend) and an interlude that features a colourful FAQ about HCV. Beukes excels, though, in how she efficiently nails the distinctive voices of the protagonists ... As much I enjoyed Beukes’s depiction of the characters, I was less impressed with the narrative choices she makes in the second half ... As a chase novel, the plot requires that the pursued (Cole and Miles) and the pursuer (Billie) be kept apart until the climax. There were consequently times where the narrative sat in a holding pattern waiting for one of our heroes to make a poor decision to push the story along. The novel was also weighed down by the introduction of The Church of All Sorrows: a religious order who believe if all women apologise for their sins men will return. While their zealotry, mixed with empathy and kindness, is undoubtedly memorable, the toxic message they spread, which infects Miles, becomes stifling toward the back end of the book ... My major issue with Afterland is that, given the sudden shift in political and social power, Beukes doesn’t take the opportunity to imagine an America free from the influence of men ... Beukes is a fine writer, and Afterland is a genuinely entertaining read – even during a Stage 4 lockdown – but it’s also a novel that undercooks its premise, and that’s a shame.
Miles and his mom form the beating heart of a harrowing tale that ably explores grief, motherhood, and gender roles, and Cole’s struggle to protect Miles as he grapples with coming-of-age in a radically altered world will resonate. Beukes is a gifted storyteller who makes it thrillingly easy for readers to fall under her spell as she weaves a hypnotic vision of a fractured world without men. A propulsive and all-too-timely near-future thriller.
... intriguing and all too timely ... Though Beukes’s worldbuilding isn’t on the level of The Handmaid’s Tale, in which a pandemic renders most women infertile, this is a worthy addition to the pandemic fiction subgenre.