Review by C.J. Bunce
Earlier this year I reviewed British writer Tim Lebbon’s Firefly: Generations, a high point for the Firefly series of novels, following another major sci-fi tie-in, his Alien: Out of the Shadows, a high point for the Alien franchise (check out my interview with Lebbon about his Alien novel here at borg). The writer now best known for his novel The Silence (now a Netflix film) created another standalone future world for his latest novel, The Last Storm. After global warming devastates the planet and leaves in its wake massive droughts and fires burning across city after city in the U.S., a supernatural force is causing the return of rainstorms. Called Rainmakers, a chosen few are able to create a device they plug into to bring much needed water from above. But there’s a catch–it’s not all that easily accomplished, and more comes down from on high than just the water.
Despite only five main characters, Lebbon pulls in several concepts. He switches the point of view of the novel, chapter by chapter, and keeps the flashbacks to a minimum. It begins with a Rainmaker named Jesse, whose last attempt to bring down rain brought with it the kinds of creatures written in biblical stories. The creatures killed many, prompting Rainmakers to be feared more than praised–for those that even believe they exist. Jesse’s ability passed to his daughter Ash, who escaped home when she was old enough after her father tried to stop her from bringing rain, leaving him to believe she was dead.
In the present Jesse and his wife Karina have been estranged several years, but Karina has heard whispers of a woman in the desert with rainmaking abilities and returns to get Jesse’s help to track down their daughter. Ash, in what feels like the Dakotas, but could be California or even Kentucky, is out trying to find the odd component to complete her rainmaking apparatus. The device is a bit of a MacGuffin, the components include a woman’s bracelet Ash steals, along with needles that go into her arms, the entirety of which fits in a guitar case. That image is the kind of thing not unheard of in this world where electric vehicles still function, mobile phones still work, but families are starving, townies won’t let you stay long, and gangs hunt and even eat others–at least that’s the rumor. The woman Ash briefly befriends–and takes her bracelet from–is Cee, another drifter woman who has somehow managed to survive.
Cee figures she has one in four chances of being assaulted, and Ash’s number is up, becoming prisoner of a local gang. But Ash’s abilities bring some kind of apparent, also unexplained, ability that draws Cee to track her down, free her from the thugs, and try to protect her from anything and everything. Enter the fifth character in the story: Jimi. Jimi is the son of a drug dealer killed years ago when Jesse’s attempt at rainmaking went sideways. He’s tracking Ash and Jesse, hoping to find them both and kill them to avenge his father.
Most of the story has A Boy and His Dog or a Mad Max (the first movie before Road Warrior) level of driving, escape, and pursuit, with less arid desert and more Twister-inspired scenes, which result in low visibility and frequent car collisions. Lebbon’s descriptions of the bad weather conditions and the impact on the people provide the realism necessary to counterbalance the suspension of disbelief required for the rainmaker plot. The Last Storm is not a quick-paced thriller, but more of a character study and cautionary tale for global warming deniers. Details of places and specific impacts of the apocalypse are sparse. The horror Lebbon is known for comes in the aftermath of the conjured rainstorms, along with survivalist gun battles, fallen monstrosities, and grisly accounts of the resulting blown apart bodies.
This isn’t the first time this year we’ve discussed at borg rainmakers of legend and lore as the focus of genre storytelling. The anime film Weathering with You followed one of the select “Sunshine Girls,” and Black Adam features a young superheroine who has powers over storms–each film a very much lighter treatment of the concept.
The Last Storm feels like a supernatural horror comic book story, something along the lines of Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s bloody series Revival. Lebbon is a better writer of dystopian fiction than found in The Walking Dead, but fans of that kind of world will feel at home here. Sections also have that same hopeless vibe of the dystopian desert of Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. And the final act finds all the elements of the story crashing together in a set-up that conjures Stephen King’s “Trucks” aka Maximum Overdrive.
Lebbon’s future is bleak, and readers may wonder if it’s worth surviving if that’s all that is left of the world. It’s not as riveting as his Firefly or Alien books, but if you’re looking for a dystopian fix, The Last Storm is an imaginative approach. It’s available now here at Amazon.