September 17, 1990 12:00 PM

by Elizabeth Hand

Hand’s first novel presents an eerie picture of a future in the rubble of Washington, D.C. The population has been thinned out by a series of world wars, but mankind still hasn’t lost its belly for belligerence.

We have, however, lost the knack and knowledge for building missiles and planes, so now we’re using blimps to lob chemical and mutagenic weapons at each other.

The social fabric is a tattered patchwork stitched together with cultural remnants from Biblical times on. The elite class reveres tradition and science, not realizing how warped and misinformed its assumptions about the past are.

The first 100 pages or so of Hand’s book are a considerable stylistic and imaginative accomplishment, as noteworthy in its way as Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaiden’s Tale—with bells and whistles thrown in for the sci-fi fan. Then the story lurches off into a labored tale of twins, separated for years, who must undergo a myth-portended ritual to decide the future of the race.

It’s a toss-up as to whether Hand will generate enough momentum with her exciting opening to keep you chugging through her desultory close. (Bantam, paper, $4.95)

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