First, a confession. I’m not a huge reader of genre fiction. I am, however, a sucker for stories of illicit love between young men on the brink of adulthood. And, initially, that’s what drew me into Jason Craft’s Old Green World, a novel that deftly introduces a post-apocalyptic fantasy world through the familiar conceit of star-crossed lovers.
Eighteen-year-old Albert, the son of immigrant farmers, has grown up alongside Thomas, scion of the local administrative class. Their parents and teachers have allowed romance to simmer beneath the surface, but now Thomas must marry (and procreate) to cement political alliances, while Albert is expected to go to war against the savage forest people of the south.
Albert makes an excellent guide to this future world. He’s naïve—which means we’re learning lots of things right along with him. Perhaps only a teenager could be so convincingly surprised to discover the social and political boundaries of his own culture. On the other hand, Albert’s not stupid. It doesn’t take long before he’s questioning the wisdom of rebuilding post-apocalyptic civilization through conquest and subjugation.
The drivers of this civilization-building project are an unlikely group of quasi-Buddhist teachers known as “Adepts.” The Adepts teach seemingly benign lessons in mindfulness and self-regulation, but they also have the power to control human emotions and move large objects with their minds. They are responsible for carrying out the will of the “Old People,” ancient humans who can manipulate time and who may or may not have been responsible for the apocalypse.