31 Jan

Ethan is a forager, but that’s not all he is.

Forager…”I’d wager my bottom dollar they’re here ’cause they want to find out why our team brings in more metals than the others.”

Our team was one of many that foraged in the ruins outside for non-corrosive metals, such as gold, platinum, copper, bronze and lead, that had survived the decades since the Apocalypse. We would take them back to the Recycling-Works where they would be sorted, melted down, and handed over to the factories.

“What do you mean?” I replied, feigning ignorance.

“Them other three goons,” he whispered as he jerked his head back to indicate our workmates in the back seat, “they ain’t too bright. They think you just know the best spots to look, but not me. I’ve seen you.”

That sent icy tendrils of dread creeping back into my gut. “Seen me what?”

“You can drop your act with me, okay?” he said softly as he shifted the truck into gear and drove it out of the Recycling-Works yard and towards the town gates. “I’ve heard about people like you, and you’re secret’s safe with me. Just don’t keep hitting pay dirt every day from now on, ’cause those Custodians, they’re not here to protect us from the Skel…” (Forager by Peter Stone)

Forager is a never-boring science fiction novel set in post-apocalyptic Australia. Forager teams, accompanied by armed Custodians, venture into the destroyed urban landscape and bring recyclable materials back to the walled city of Newhome.

Ethan Jones is the lead character, a young man with a secret: he has a mutation that allows him to use echolocation to find things.

Problem is, people with mutations are rounded up and taken away — but where? And why?

Not only is Ethan hiding a secret from everyone else, but even from himself, and that raises all sorts of questions and problems. As he unravels his own mystery, he puts together clues about the people around him, leading up to what could truly be an explosive revelation.

Author Peter Stone writes an intriguing, fast-paced story. One could say the story is so focused and lean, it doesn’t have room or time to explore the questions that arose as I read:

1) A century after the Apocalypse, how much metal is there left to find?
2) How can the surviving generations obtain fuel for the vehicles they keep in repair?
3) With the limited tech and resources, how do the survivors turn recycled and raw materials into parts, munitions, tools, etc.?
4) I can see people taking rubble and turning it into construction materials — they’ve been doing it for millennia, as almost any urban archeological dig will reveal — but what about medicines, medical supplies, and medical tech? How can something as sophisticated as genetic engineering continue in the wake of such disaster?
5) The mysterious submarine — who sailed it? Who converted it?
6) Who built Newhome and established the oppressive laws and traditions?
7) Who’s the culprit who behind Ethan’s first near-fatal injury?
8) Who are the Skels, really?
9) What’s gonna happen to Leigh?

As an interested reader, I hope he addresses these questions in the next two books.

Nothing beats a ticking clock — or a bomb timer — to create instant tension in a scene. Even though it’s effective, it’s a tired device, but Stone uses it well.

He adds romance to the tale, too. It’s low-key — not over-the-top, soap-operatic emotionalism — but real and vital the story. This may seem a weird thing to say about the way he wrote the love element, but I appreciate it. Don’t ask me to explain. Don’t know if I could.

There’s another thing I appreciate: the sense of reality. People feel pain, experience consequences, run out of ammo, etcetera. Although I had a lot of questions about the story world, I believed it.

Readers of this blog know I’m an editor, and that my job bleeds over into my leisure reading. If a book rouses the grumpy editor in my head, it’s set aside and likely never finished. Despite tripping over some minor proofing and grammatical errors early in the book, I finished the bulk of Forager in one day, because the writing and storytelling are strong enough to pull me into Ethan’s world.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and look forward to reading the rest of the story.


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