2021 so far has many things wrong with it, but on the book front, all is rosy. Following on from the excellent Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovksy is Radio Life by Derek B. Miller. Radio Life is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in the U.S., 400 years or so after a cataclysmic disaster wiped out most of humanity. Comparable with Hugh Howey’s Wool, Radio Life is a deeply thought-provoking novel about redemption and history. It’s a boo that questions humanity’s ability to learn from its mistakes.
What is Radio Life?
Humanity has fallen. Fractured tribes live in a barren wasteland. There is some trade between groups, but little trust. Bandits are rife. The safest place in the known world is “The Commonwealth,” an organized group that resides in an aging stadium. Nearby are towering skyscrapers. Empty, filled with “The Sickness.” The collapse of one of the skyscrapers hearlds the arrival of a new force, The Keepers.
The Commonwealth prides itself on its search for knowledge. They have relearned fragments of what the modern world used to know, and constantly thirst for more. The Keepers see this as close to blasphemy. Humankind’s constant search for knowledge brought about its downfall. Why would we want to repeat that? The Commonwealth and the Keepers are on a collision course.
When the skyscraper collapses, a young Commonwealth explorer (runner) is trapped inside a safe room. What she finds within will change the course of history.
Why Read Radio Life?
Because it’s an excellent novel, that’s why! I can’t really do the book justice in a review; I can’t impress upon you how much I enjoyed it, how artfully crafted it is. How much it will make you think, how it will make you smile, and how it will make you cry.
Derek B. Miller has created a wholly believable post-apocalyptic society. The Commonwealth, in their stadium, reminded me of the silo in Wool but the Commonwealth’s travials are very different from those who lived beneath the ground in Hugh Howey’s novel. The characters’ exploration for new knowledge is fascinating, as are the pieces they’ve found and how they’ve interpreted and implemented them. How they’ve fashioned new beliefs and new systems of governance based around our commonplace objects. Objects that in this projected future have obtained mythological status.
The character interactions in the book are excellent. Most people’s intentions in the book are good. Many of the people are honest, but everybody is trying to survive in a harsh world. Everybody has their own coda by which they live by. Motives and intentions are often shared, but perhaps only briefly. Different philosophies arise from differing interpretations of the same facts; the same stories. Everything that is true of the microcosm that exists in Radio Life is true in our world now.
Miller creates an interesting juxtapostion with his conflict between the evidence seeking Commonwealth, and the more faith-based Keepers. Knowledge vs Ignorance is the obvious take home from this, but Miller artfully demonstrates that this is reductive observation. The Keepers belief is grounded in common sense and rooted in compassion.
The books works on all levels. The society that exists in the book is artfully constructed. The characters’ analysis of the past (largely our present) is fascinating, and because the novel’s most recent recorded past is in our (fictitious) future, there’s some interesting speculative fiction going on too. It’s all stitched together into an absorbing whole.
Most fascinating of all is the central question the book poses. If humanity destroyed itself, should you go looking to recreate what it learned? It’s a common adage that those who do not learn the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Radio Life asks if this is true. Our world is full of hurts that are held to tightly; hurts that fuel resentment and misunderstanding. If we could let them go, if we could forget them, should we?
This underlying philosophical conundrum forms the spine of this fascinating book. A book I can’t recommend highly enough.
You can check out some of my other book reviews, here.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.