Walk to the End of the World: Post-apocalyptic feminist science fiction

Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast 1. Walk to the End of the World (1974) 2. Motherlines (1978) 3. The Furies (1994) 4. The Conqueror's Child (1999)

Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas science fiction book reviewsWalk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas

In the mood for a good piece of post-apocalyptic, feminist science fiction? Well, then, I’ve got a doozy for you! Suzy McKee Charnas’ first novel, Walk to the End of the World (1974), is just such a book, combining a tough little tale with a healthy dose of sociopolitical rumination.

Taking place many years after mankind has destroyed its planet with wars and pollution, “leaving it to the wild weeds,” Walk to the End of the World introduces the reader to the society of the Holdfast, a seaside community whose inhabitants subsist on the seaweed, kelp and hemp they manage to farm. Charnas reveals an extraordinary wealth of detail regarding the Holdfast’s customs, religion and cultures; her depth of imagination, not to mention writing skills, are most impressive, especially for a beginner novelist.

Perhaps the most salient aspect of life in this post-apocalyptic world is the degraded status of its female members. Known simply as fems, they are blamed by the men for the wars of destruction, and looked on as witches fit for nothing more than breeding and drudge labor. Fathers in the Holdfast never learn who their sons are, as these male cubs are quickly placed in the so-called “Boyhouse” right after birth to quickly remove the female taint. Society, for the most part, is based on a hierarchy of Youths and Seniors, and homosexual relationships amongst the Youths and amongst the Seniors are the norm. The use of hemp to elicit dreams is encouraged amongst the Youths in their fruition into men (an entire society based on pot ingestion!), whilst automaton-like Rovers (soldiers constantly kept narcotized by the drug) guard the various private companies that work in five-year shifts to farm the district. It is in this unique setting that Charnas introduces us to the book’s four main characters.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

We meet Eykar Bek, the “Endtendant” of Endpath, the state-sponsored euthanasia station, who goes on a quest to find the father he never knew; his boyhood friend, Servan d Layo, the so-called DarkDreamer and a roguish gadfly; Captain Kelmz, a soldier and master handler of the Rovers; and Alldera, a seemingly ignorant fem who naturally has a lot more going on behind her blank face than the men ever imagined.

The journey that the four go on together shows us a wide cross section of Holdfast life, and it is not a pretty one. Walk to the End of the World is a very brutal book at times, with shocking bursts of casual violence and very little in the way of sentiment. It is a very serious book, with hardly any humor to speak of, and some important points to make.

Walk to the End of the World was chosen for inclusion in David Pringle’s excellent overview volume Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, and like all the other books on Pringle’s list (well, the 70 or so that I’ve read, anyway), it displays remarkable imaginative flair and shoots off fresh ideas like sparks off a Catherine wheel.

Walk to the End of the World may be accused of leaving the main characters’ ultimate fate up in the air, and of not giving us a precise enough idea of the size and population of the Holdfast (not to mention the possibility of existent life outside of it), but those issues are, I would guess, dealt with in the next three books in what has since become known as the HOLDFAST CHRONICLES. Those next books, for those who are interested (and I can’t imagine any reader of Walk to the End of the World who would not be interested in learning more), are Motherlines (1978), The Furies (1994) and The Conqueror’s Child (1999). If they’re on a par with this first installment, or with another excellent Charnas novel that I read some years ago, The Vampire Tapestry (1980), readers will be in for some nice treats indeed….

The Holdfast Chronicles — (1974-1999) Publisher: After a nuclear holocaust humanity survives in isolated enclaves of feudalism, scratching a meagre existence among the ruins of their world. One such community, the Holdfast, has evolved a mythology which holds women responsible, for the cataclysm, and they are now treated as an inferior caste — “Fems” — dominated and degraded by men and valued only as breeding animals and slaves. Holdfast society is rigidly structured with the older men, the Seniors, having absolute authority over the younger juniors. When Eykar Bek flouts that authority by deserting his post two other men, Captain Kelmz and the renegade Servan d Layo, are sent out to find and capture him. Instead, all three elect to go in search of Bek’s half-legendary father Maggomas. Now pursued by the forces of the Seniors, the trio fall in with Alldera, a female slave with a mission of her own — to find and enlist the aid of the Free Fems rumoured to exist beyond the Holdfast. Their travels take them the length and breadth of the Holdfast, reaching an unexpected and shocking conclusion in the distant town of ‘Troi. Walk to the End of the World is both an engrossing adventure story and a penetrating (but never strident) examination of human gender relationships.

Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast 1. Walk to the End of the World (1974) 2. Motherlines (1978) 3. The Furies (1994) 4. The Conqueror's Child (1999)Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast 1. Walk to the End of the World (1974) 2. Motherlines (1978) 3. The Furies (1994) 4. The Conqueror's Child (1999)Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast 1. Walk to the End of the World (1974) 2. Motherlines (1978) 3. The Furies (1994) 4. The Conqueror's Child (1999)Suzy McKee Charnas Holdfast 1. Walk to the End of the World (1974) 2. Motherlines (1978) 3. The Furies (1994) 4. The Conqueror's Child (1999)


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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