Old Green World: Queer love after the apocalypse

Old Green World: Queer love after the apocalypse
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.

None of this comes across as cartoonish, which is a testament to the novel’s psychological acuteness and finely rendered detail. The Adepts are wracked with doubt as they introduce some of the most oppressive aspects of pre-apocalyptic cultures, and the forest—the volatile, mysterious force at the center of the novel—seems ambivalent rather than purely good or evil.

There are moments when Old Green World veers into a kind of allegory about the Old People. I’m allergic to allegory myself, but I suspect that’s where I differ from many hardcore fans of fantasy fiction. To be honest, I found these moments unsatisfying partly because I longed for the specificity and psychological insight of the rest of the story, and partly because they stubbornly resisted my attempts to map them onto a particular environmental or political agenda.

The world of Old Green World is neither completely dystopian nor completely utopian. The same society that enforces primogeniture (and thus wrenches Albert and Thomas from each other’s arms) also seems to celebrate certain kinds of gender diversity. In the latter half of the novel, we are introduced to Niall, a renegade adept who might be called a trans man in twenty-first century parlance. Niall’s evolution alongside Albert hints at more gender permutations to come as the story continues to unfold.

Old Green World ends with a moment of idyllic-yet-fragile queer domesticity. Craft has indicated that this book is the first installment of an ongoing series. I, for one, am eager to find out what will happen to Albert, Niall and all the rest.

Old Green World is available on Amazon in paperback for under $10 or pick up the Kindle edition for $2.99. Better yet, pick it up in your locally owned bookstore.

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