Radio Life – Derek B Miller – Audible Book Review
by Pat Viale
Since the publication of Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” in 1826, post-apocalyptic and dystopian tales have caught the popular imagination. The last few years have seen a huge resurgence of the genre in the wake of the bizarre and sinister term of Trump’s presidency and the growth of disharmony and extremism in so many parts of the world. All of this, followed by the devastation of the Covid outbreak, has perhaps focused our minds on the possibility of the end of civilisation as we know it and recent fiction has reflected this preoccupation. Bestsellers like Robert Harris’s “The Second Sleep”, Robert Merle’s “Malevil” and Clare Morall’s “When the Floods Came” have presented us with a world where the social order we know has broken down and where it is left to a small band of people to rebuild a society that is better than the one they have lost.
Derek B. Miller’s latest novel explores these same themes. His first book “Norwegian by Night”, published to great critical acclaim in 2010, is both a tense thriller and the moving tale of an older man who refuses to give in to intimidation, told throughout with great humour. It was followed by the even more remarkable, “American by Day”, and his 2016 work, “The Girl in Green”, set in the aftermath of the Iraq war, adds a political dimension to the taut narrative. For his fourth novel, “Radio Life” he has moved into very different territory.
Set in the future in a world that has been devastated by disease and war, where all the knowledge of the “gone world” had been lost, his story tells of a small group of survivors who call themselves The Commonwealth. They live in a heavily guarded stadium and explore their destroyed world to find and catalogue all that was lost when “The Cloud”, where all intelligence had been stored, (sound familiar?) was destroyed by a solar flare four hundred years previously. Their search for any remnant of information about the lost world is hampered not only by the dangerous infrastructure they have to negotiate but also by a hostile group of outsiders, The Keepers. These people feel that the reclamation of knowledge and technology will result in the repetition of the error of previous generations and lead once again to poisoning and destroying what is left of their world and, as their leader says, they are determined to make the best of the present and not try to recapture the past.
The story starts when Elimisha, a sixteen-year-old Runner for the Commonwealth, is chased by a group of Keepers as she returns from a mission having discovered some valuable material. In an attempt to escape her pursuers and save herself, she jumps into the deep shaft of a damaged tower building nearby. Though injured, she follows what she hopes will be an escape route at the bottom and makes her way to an undamaged room where she finds not only food and water but also a mysterious buzzing machine. On investigation, she discovers that it seems to be a portal to unlimited material and realises that she has found the Holy Grail for the Commonwealth – that mythical and mysterious power whose existence they have only ever heard rumours of – The Internet.
What follows is a tale of political intrigue and double-dealing, of pursuits, battles and betrayals, while all the time it is left to the listener to weigh up the arguments of both camps as they each justify their strategy. As in his previous work, Miller does not just tell a story but presents his readers with social and moral questions. Here Elimisha must decide whether salvaging the unlimited but uncensored potential of the Internet will be of benefit to her comrades and to the future world they are trying to create.
While aficionados of this genre of literature will certainly enjoy Miller’s story, it is not as engaging or accomplished as his earlier work. His approach, at times, is heavy-handed with pedantic diatribes on the evils of our political systems and our obsession with technology and there is none of the humour here that leavened his earlier work. This is not helped by the narrator, Sarah Borges, whose flat and unmodulated delivery does little to differentiate between the characters and fails to bring the story to life. To enjoy vintage Miller, try his earlier work, particularly “American by Day” which will certainly not disappoint.
This audiobook is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 14hrs and 8mins.