NO REFUGE IN THE RUINED CITY
The protagonists are damaged children, starving and scrounging amidst the rubble of a ruined city. Nothing is clear at the outset of this science fiction novel except that some sort of unholy conflict centred upon Ceylon has produced tribes of feral youngsters.
Yes. Because the British Empire is still intact, China never became Communist and because this is 2033 and history as we know it is just another mirage in the reader’s mind. Even the little children who seem so pathetic in the opening pages are not what they seem. The Silent Girl for instance, is a vicious little warrior. She wields a wooden spear and can only speak via a cassette player she uses in place of a voice. She befriends a boy named ‘the Pissa’, a word which, according to the internet, means ‘crazy’. Together, these two scale a towering mountain of garbage, and fight their way into a refuge called Halfway House. Except it’s not a refuge at all and the man who runs it is to be feared rather than trusted.
Wijeratne backs his way into this tale of horror and degradation with a series of nested revelations, involving the ruling élite of Ceylon and their pale-skinned, Caucasian administrators. He holds our attention by concealing the true scale of the betrayal ticking at the heart of the story until well past the mid-point. Once the mystery is revealed however, the final third of the book settles into predictability. There’s a clunky court scene, some amusing caricatures and a sari-clad heroine is introduced before the story comes to an open-ended conclusion. This book is, according to the front-cover sticker, the first of what will be the Commonwealth Empire trilogy.
While the plot is mildly innovative in terms of science fiction, what makes the novel interesting and strangely poignant is its setting. The depiction of lush, beautiful Ceylon/Sri Lanka as the site of extreme devastation is an absolute perversion of reality. This is the kind of future we must hope will never come to pass.”
THE INHUMAN RACE by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne HARPERCOLLINS`299; 200 pages