Beyond the Pale is a skillfully conceived and executed variation on the dystopian novel theme, echoing Aldous Huxley’s device of experiencing his brave new world through the eyes of a stranger. In this case, the protagonist is an “Outlander” named River, and happily for the reader (a sequel is promised), it ends better for River than it did for Huxley’s Mr. Savage.
The tale begins when the lives of River and Nathan Carlson, a Citadel intelligence officer, intersect. As in Huxley’s story, River is a member of an isolated Native American remnant population living beyond the pale of modern society. In this case, they have refused to live in one of the 250 (superficially) idyllic “Citadels” that now house the whole of humanity, and also harbor others that are similarly disposed.
The Citadels are enormous walled cities created not to protect their inhabitants from the dangers of the world outside, but to guard the recovering landscape from the hinted at but undescribed environmental depredations that humanity unleashed prior to the book’s opening.
The parallels with Brave New World continue throughout the book, although Senan’s treatments generally oppose rather than agree with the slants taken by Huxley. For example, while Huxley allowed the elites of the The World State to visit Native American villages out of curiosity, in Senan’s world Native Americans are pursued and captured, and then either integrated into Citadel life or destroyed.
Similarly, River’s father, like John Savage’s, is a member of mainstream society. Butwhile River is eventually reconciled and assisted by his father, John remains estranged. Population is strictly controlled in both worlds, and in Huxley’s book it drives the aprents apart. But in Senan’s story, it brings the parents together and sets up the plot for the next book in the planned series.
I was particularly impressed with the depth of Senan’s awareness of Native American customs and the landscape upon which the story plays out. The descriptions ring true and support the story in a natural way rather than appearing convenient and contrived. References to Native American belief systems and lifeways were largely subordinated, however, to descriptions of a spirituality system based more on yoga and Eastern thought, evidently the contributions of the non-Native Americans that have sought refuge in hidden canyons with their traditional inhabitants.
Like all good dystopian literature, the world that is imagined by the author is interesting and well developed, providing enjoyment from beginning to end as new details are revealed along the way. The pacing is swift, and the events that occur carry the plot forward naturally rather than feeling contrived simply to keep the action alive.
The book ends with intriguing hints of the events that will be explored in the next book in Senan’s Outlander series, and I look forward to reading it when it becomes available.