by Pat Murphy
It’s San Francisco in the future. Vegetables grow in Union Square. Bands of monkeys roam through the fog. The human population is made up of flaky artistic types. Some things never change. This is the city, though, after a terrible plague has wiped out most of mankind. The epidemic was caused by the mystical forebears of the aforementioned monkeys, which were brought over from a monastery in Nepal. Hey, don’t blame us. We didn’t come up with this. Pat Murphy did. The woman who won a Nebula Award for her second sci-fi novel, The Falling Woman, has followed up with a real clunker. The prose is by turns pseudoportentous and naive, and often clichéd: “Gambit’s music bubbled through the conversations like water flowing over polished stones.” Initially, the book, while obvious, is at least diverting—in a retro-hippie sort of way.
But Murphy sketches this postcataclysmic milieu more entertainingly than she fleshes it out. The humans roam the desolate cityscape, foraging, musing and painting the Golden Gate Bridge blue. They are awaiting the arrival of the armed minions of a new warlord who has already conquered Modesto, Sacramento and Fresno. But the denizens of the neo-Baghdad by the Bay baffle him with nonlethal warfare, using barricades of poison oak, menacing-looking sculpture, jars of yellow jackets and LSD-laced perfume. One character says, “Let’s think of this war as an art project.” All right, and let’s think of this book as yawn-inducing. It’s a bedtime story for not-quite-grown-up flower children. (Doubleday, $17.95)