I’m drawn to climate catastrophe and dystopian novels the same way some people are drawn to horror or crime stories: seeing fictional representations of my worst fears are somehow calming to me. Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan was compared to Station Eleven and Severence on its Goodread page, so I put it in my library queue figuring it would basically be like catnip for me.
Walk the Vanished Earth is difficult to describe, because it encompasses so much: seven generations, two planets, 200 years, and the end (and/or beginning) of the world. Technically, the plot follows one family over the course of 1873 thought 2073, but it does so in a meandering and disconnected order, and it covers a lot of themes along the way: motherhood, generational trauma, folklore, climate change, self-determination, to name a few.
I enjoyed the wild ambition of this book – it sets out to tackle so much, and it frequently succeeds. This has definitely been one of the more complex and thought-provoking books I’ve read this year. It was also beautifully written, with some lovely, poetic passages and gorgeous imagery: a floating city in the flooded former city of New Orleans, painting the ceiling of the Superdome, the arid landscape of Mars. The plot can be bleak at times, but the characters are (for the most part) beautiful souls who ultimately left me with a sense of hope when all was said and done – very much in the spirit of Station Eleven, so I thought those comparisons were quite apt. My only complaint is one that I find in all books that jump around between different characters and timelines, and it comes down to preference more than anything: I would just be getting into the invested in one storyline when suddenly the chapter would end and I’d need to start all over and get into a groove again with a different one.
If you enjoy apocalypse stories and are able to deal with the heavy subject matter, I recommend checking out Walk the Vanished Earth – it is a very worthy addition to the genre.