The year is 1873, and a buffalo hunter named Samson travels the Kansas plains. The year is 1975, and an adolescent girl named Bea walks those very same plains. The year is 2024 and, after a series of devastating storms, an engineer named Paul has left behind his suburban existence to build a floating city above the drowned streets that were once New Orleans. The year is 2073, and Moon has heard only stories of the blue planet-Earth, as they once called it, now succumbed entirely to water.
Even through the lens of one family line, Swan’s novel is an ambitious undertaking—the end of our world and the creation of a new one—and it felt, at times, like Swan had to rush to fit it in under four hundred pages. The frequent time jumps were often jarring: as soon as I found my bearings in one chapter, we were jolted into the next, with new people to care about and new rules to follow ... And yet, Swan creates characters so fully lived in, with such detail and heart, that I would have read more if given the chance. As it is, I read the entire book in three days, gripped by the story.
This isn’t a story that fetishizes individualism — it’s family and community and friendship that carries us into the future. And yet, for all there is to love about the burning and guiding hope Swan’s book holds for our future, Walk the Vanished Earth leaves behind too much to be considered a critical vision of the future ... rich with futurity. Spanning hundreds of years, journeying decades into the future, the history of the family is lush, disturbing, and hopeful ... Swan’s breakdown of family legacy and trauma is complex, but the prioritization of certain narratives undermines the book’s lofty attempts to imagine a future for everyone. In the end, I was left wondering what was happening in the rest of the world ... By the end of the book, I felt unsatisfied. A white writer, whose main characters were primarily black, glossing over environmental racism, delegating anything outside of the United States as periphery, and integrating outdated feminist talking points felt flat. The end result is a beautiful, but ultimately two-dimensional, story of family overshadowed by a gender division and U.S. focus that reads poorly in 2022.