In some not so distant future after a nuclear war, humanity lives in primativist small communities to guard against future attack. In the epigraph of the novel we see that there’s been a 30th amendment preventing towns of more than 1000 people. This is to guard against the mass death they clearly experienced, but what this has led to is a lost sense of American identity and the formations of 1000s of small towns with small town histories, cultures, and identities. Len Colton and his cousin begin the novel in their kind of backwater Christian town looking forward to the yearly fair that will be coming by. An accident at the fair gets them in trouble with their folks where they’re exiled and seek out “Bartortown” a somewhat mythical technologically advanced town that knows of the old ways.
So the writing is sometimes very good in this novel, and sometimes fairly corny. It’s a lot like a long Twilight Zone episode as well. For a sci-fi novel, it does something that I do think a lot about: what will future societies look like in the fallen chaos of our current world. On the one hand, we’ve had a fairly long continuity in our current run of things, but the 600 years from the Renaissance to today is preceded by 1000 years since the fall of Rome (at least in Europe) and our current myopia about our time (and I have to imagine some version of this has always existed) makes it seem like it’s been this way forever. I’m scared about that, but this future is not the worst one we could get.