Pictures of the apocalypse, as related to Ashes of the Earth, a post apocalyptic book

Ashes of the Earth, a post-apocalyptic novel
About the Book

Publisher: Counterpoint (April 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1582436444
ISBN-13: 978-1582436449

Thirty years after global holocaust, the colony of Carthage still struggles to build its new world. While steam engines and other early industrial technology have empowered its economy, the fragile society is undermined by secret crimes, rifts between generations, government censorship, and a legacy of casting out those who suffer from radiation sickness.

Embittered survivor Hadrian Boone-once a revered colony founder-has been hounded by despair and the ghosts of his past into a life of drunkenness and frequent imprisonment for challenging the governor's tyranny. But when a gentle old man, the colony's leading scientist, is murdered, Hadrian glimpses chilling secrets behind the killing that could destroy the colony. Realizing that he may be the only one able to expose the truth, Hadrian begins a desperate quest through the underbelly of the colony into the wrenching camps of the outcasts, escorted by a young policewoman who struggles to cope with the physical and emotional remnants of the prior world. Ultimately Hadrian's journey becomes one of self-discovery, and to find justice his greatest challenge is navigating the tortuous path of the human spirit in a world that has been forever fractured.

Author's Note

Endings of worlds have occurred throughout human history. Some have been abrupt, like the annihilation of the original, ancient Carthage by the Romans. Some have been gradual, like the destruction of the Tibetan world over the past fifty years by the Chinese. But none have encompassed all of humankind. Only in recent years have we developed the capability for annihilation on a planetary scale. While there may be many reasons to believe that such a nightmare will never occur, the moment that capability became real, global apocalypse entered the realm of the possible.

This novel is certainly not meant to be a prophecy, but implicit in its backdrop are predictions about the state of technology and science after such universal destruction. Even with highly trained scientists among its inhabitants, it seems likely that a society of survivors with no electricity and no internal combustion engines would turn to early industrial age technologies. Locating the Carthage colony on the Great Lakes endowed its inhabitants with an environment rich in minerals, timber, water and wildlife, meaning that simple technologies like those for making matches, paper, cloth, glass and lumber would be readily available. Once foundries and forges were developed, steam engines and other simple machines would not be far behind. The setting on the inland sea also means the colonists are able to travel long distances by water–and in a region of long winters with few roads, incentives would be great to advance the iceboat technology of an earlier century.

The effects of global destruction on the external trappings of a community of survivors strike me as far easier to anticipate than the effects on the human psyche. Certainly baser human cravings and prejudices would not become extinct, yet nor would dignity, honor and spirituality. With survivors comprised of a random cross-section of modern society, there would be ample opportunity for the glory, and the shame, of humankind to be exhibited. It was this unique mix of worlds and peoples that drove my curiosity in writing this book. A stage on which a 21st century cast relying on 19th century technology struggles with murder, starvation, tyranny, and even the meaning of civilization itself provides fertile ground for imagination.

As my characters became more like companions on this journey, I began to sense an inevitable tension between the survivors, who must shoulder the nearly unbearable weight of memories of the past world and collective guilt over its fate, and the new generation, who would have to cope with inexplicable physical and emotional remnants of the old world. After being severed from their world would survivors lose all confidence in their past, would they shy away from history? Would the lost world seem more a myth than a nightmare to the new generation? How would it feel to glimpse the possible dying of humankind's light? What would define the people who were the most successful survivors–and how far must humanity be sacrificed for the survival of humans? Of all the mysteries explored on these pages, perhaps the greatest is the nature of the spark that must be kept alive.
Eliot Pattison


Ashes of the Earth.
Eliot Pattison
Reviewed by Melissa Kammer
Posted July 25, 2011

Hadrian Boone lives in a world vastly different from the one in which he grew up, a world that has been changed by a nuclear catastrophe. Sheltered from the worst of the fallout, he and a group of men become founders of a colony they call Carthage. Survival in the beginning was hard, but they managed to live off the land and in time develop simple technologies. They are still far from self-sufficient and still plagued with problems. Unfortunately, their society looks down on things that remind them of the past, so the adults and the children have no common ground. Censorship, child suicides, and even crime run rampant. They exile those who are sick and dying. Will they ever have a thriving community?

Hadrian haunted by the past has long sought solace at the bottom of a bottle. He is quite outspoken in his views, and rather often finds himself in a jail cell. However, when Jonah, a good friend and fellow founder, is found murdered, Hadrian along with a female officer are tasked by the governor with finding the murderer. The hope of Carthage rested mainly on Jonah's inventions, and Hadrian needs to figure out the reason behind his death. He follows a convoluted path through the dark side of Carthage, into the exile camp, and even further beyond their known land. Their path yields some answers but also uncovers more questions. He never imagined the depth of the duplicity and corruption that threatens his colony and the people who inhabit it. Will he be able to convince anyone of the destruction that is coming their way? Will he make sure that Jonah's death is avenged?

Eliot Pattison writes a marvelous thought provoking end of the world novel. He has created a believable dystopian world where society is still separated by class, governing officials look little beyond what they want to accomplish, and criminal organizations still find a foothold to worm their way in. Hadrian cannot forget the past and cannot live as if there was nothing that came before. He understands that there are lessons to be learned, and Jonah's murder is an eye opener that cannot be ignored. His journey leads him into the midst of so much more than he ever imagined. Mr. Pattison weaves an exceptional mystery with so many twists and turns, you begin to wonder if the maze will ever end. ASHES OF THE EARTH is a smart daring read with characters that grab hold of you. I was immediately entranced with the characters, their plight, and their yearning for a better life. This book gives you a lot to think about, and Mr. Pattison has written a winner.

Ashes of the Earth.
Pattison, Eliot (Author)
Apr 2011. 368 p. Counterpoint, hardcover, $26.00. (9781582436449).

From his award-winning tales of Chinese-occupied Tibet to his New World drama, Eye of the Raven (2010), to this complexly plotted, postapocalyptic crime story set along the shores of Lake Ontario, Pattison's precisely imagined mysteries evoke clashes between invaders and indigenous people and feature tormented, self-appointed sleuths who risk all to help dissidents. His latest champion is Hadrian Boone. Once a beloved educator and leader in Carthage, a community struggling to cohere in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, Hadrian turns to drink and lands repeatedly in prison as he grieves for his lost family and protests the increasingly dictatorial rule of the governor. When Jonah Beck, a brilliant scientist, is murdered, Hadrian investigates. Persevering against nearly fatal violence, he uncovers diabolical criminal endeavors involving drugs, smuggled consumer goods salvaged from distant warehouses, and child suicides. Hadrian also discovers a motley resistance movement, including a courageous couple guarding a vast secret library. With a vital cast of villains and heroes, a vividly grim setting, and inventive, hairraising action, ingenious mystery-writer-of-conscience Pattison explores the psychological toll of mass destruction and the need to salvage ideas and values, rather than material riches, so that a just society can rise from the ashes.
- Donna Seaman, BookList

Ashes of the Earth
Eliot Pattison, Counterpoint, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-58243-644-9

Having successfully portrayed both modern-day Tibet and Colonial America in two series, Edgar-winner Pattison (Eye of the Raven) launches a third with this brilliant if grim mystery set in the 21st century 25 years after global mega-acts of terror have destroyed all U.S. government entities and almost all infrastructure. Hadrian Boone, one of the cofounders of the struggling colony of Carthage, located near the Great Lakes, is one of those who remembers the former world, as the time before the apocalypse is referred to, but he's on the outs with the community's leaders and on the verge of being exiled. The chance discovery of a body triggers a series of events that reintroduces murder and other crimes to a community reliant on 19th-century technology. Boone's efforts to find the truth and what it implies for Carthage's future put him in harm's way time after time. Pattison blends the bleakness of The Road with a well-crafted whodunit plot for another winner. (Apr.)

Urgent: ASHES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison

International attorney Eliot Pattison already has two powerful detection (and spiritual search) series underway: one sent in Chinese-occupied Tibet, more or less "now," and the other set in Colonial America, tying together the despair and strength of a Scottish exile and a Native American shaman.

In ASHES OF THE EARTH, Pattison dares to stare forward into a ravaged world, one torn and decimated by the horror of a nuclear holocaust. Although survivor Hadrian Boone is dealing with a fragile remnant of population -- so fragile that the very idea of abortion, for instance, is more than heresy, since the need for repopulating the earth is so extreme -- and although cities have shattered and fallen, still, evil in its most common forms of lust, covetousness, and cruelty looks likely to prevail.

How could the author have guessed that the week of the book's release would see a real world still uncertain about radiation and fallout from a catastrophic collapse of four nuclear plants poised in an earthquake zone in Japan? "Hardened" robots, enormous machines capable of burying sites in water or cement, experts in the mass health crisis formed by radiation in a massive urban area's water supply: all these are headed to the Pacific Rim at this moment.

Hadrian Boone's world is far simpler, mechanically, because so many of the urban structures failed and collapsed in the global holocaust of his time. But emotionally, it's at least as complex. Local children are feeding each other myths of a "better world" reached through suicide, where what they suspect are unreal, never-seen luxuries -- toys, cars, abundant food -- will greet them. Moreover, murders of colony leaders keep occurring, and Hadrian begins to see a plan behind the deaths. Criminal elements, blessed by the protective concrete walls of prisons, have survived the holocaust, along with the dogged pioneers with whom Hadrian identifies. Stronger and with few qualms of conscience, the criminals are close to their goal of overrunning the colony and forcing it into submission.

Readers of Pattison's other two series will recognize in Hadrian Boone's fragile psyche the damaged mid-life souls of protagonists Shan Tao Yun (survivor of the Chinese Tibetan gulag) and Duncan McCallum, unwilling outcast. These are men who have lost "everything": family, home, safety. But they are enriched by friendships with older men who have learned how to love the earth and its creatures in ways that make a difference in who we can become. In Hadrian's case, the losses are made more poignant by the absence of that "teacher" figure: Boone's friend Jonah, a leader who had understood how to empower and embrace the struggling colony, has died. And although a woman police officer, Sergeant Waller, appears to offer Boone support, she's a frail reed -- so ignorant of her own past and present that she betrays Boone and his cause repeatedly, mostly unintentionally but sometimes out of a childlike vindictiveness and refusal to mature.

Some of Boone's struggles have an inevitable "MacGyver" quality as he fights to make his way around and through the tangle of loyalties and collapses that make up his Carthage. But if you stop to consider how we'll manage if the Japanese power plants go into complete meltdown, or how your friends in Tokyo are getting through brownouts, food shortages, and transportation snags, Boone's Carthage begins to make ominous sense.

The question is, can Boone -- and can we -- summon the inner resources needed to make survival into a life worth pursuing? Or are the suicidal children the smart ones after all? "Hadrian wearily rose, searching for something on the young faces, on the magazine pages, that might explain the mystery these children guarded. He should have been angry, yet all he could feel was a deep sorrow."

Pattison dares to turn us toward confronting the mysteries of more than our past: We are building our future in every step. While Hadrian solves the workings of a criminal enterprise and tries to stop it, we as readers listen to his friend Emily, the group's most skilled doctor:

Emily frowned. "Lost world. Lost technologies." She paused and tilted his head, holding the bottle to his mouth.

Hadrian watched the doctor in silence, seeing not just exhaustion and anger there now, but an edge of something that could be fear. "There were a lot of types, a lot of names -- speed, ecstasy, acid, meth, fly powder."

"This is Carthage, Hadrian. This is the other twenty-first century." ...

He was finding no answers, only more questions. Smugglers. Drugs. Murder by jackal. Munitions. 
It's not a "brave new world," but a dire one. Only courage, loyalty, love, and laying one's life on the line -- in collaboration with willing friends -- may take Hadrian Boone and his community out of the ashes that remain.

Read it first as a taut, tightly plotted detective novel, human and agonized. Then let it rest in your thoughts. What Pattison offers us is a dose of courage for ourselves, disguised as a rattling good story.

Reader's Guide

For Hadrian Boone the ending of the world has no ending. The apocalypse that all but extinguished humankind may have occurred twenty-five years earlier, but for Hadrian each day he wakes in the small colony of survivors the torment begins anew. When his friend and mentor Jonah Beck, the leading scientist of Carthage colony, is brutally murdered, Hadrian abandons all hope. But as the colony's tyrannical governor begins to use the murder as an excuse to complete his destruction of the colony's outcasts, Hadrian rises out of his despair, determined to stop the governor by discovering the truth.

Hadrian begins a desperate journey through the underbelly of the colony and into the wretched camps of the outcasts, escorted by Jori Waller, a young policewoman who struggles to cope with the physical and emotional remnants of a world she never knew. Ultimately Hadrian's journey becomes one of self-discovery, and to find justice his greatest challenge is navigating the tortuous path of the human spirit in a world that has been forever shattered.

Pattison's post-apocalyptic world is populated with battered survivors who murmur fifty-year old rock songs like mantras, criminals who use secrets of the old world to subvert the new, priests who fear God has given up on humankind, and a new generation whose view of history is driven by myth and fear. Ashes of the Earth offers a journey through a alternate world that poignantly explores the meaning of justice, morality, and ultimately civilization itself.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Most post-apocalyptic novels are set in the bleak near-term aftermath of destruction. Why do you think Pattison chose to set Ashes of the Earth a generation after the apocalypse?

  2. Why do you think Pattison never speaks in his book of the specific causes of the apocalypse?

  3. The colony of Carthage struggles to construct a new world on the ashes of the old. While it has knowledge of 21st century science, the only tools and technology available to it are of the early industrial age. How do you think science and technology would evolve under such circumstances? How did Pattison's selection of the Great Lakes setting for Carthage affect its technology and economy?

  4. If, as in Carthage colony, all literature and history of recent decades is forbidden, how will culture and learning evolve? When, as in Carthage, religion is intertwined with the works of Shakespeare, what do you think the outcome would be? How do the vestiges of culture salvaged from multiple centuries affect life in Carthage?

  5. The murdered Jonah Beck was driven in his final months by the poet Dylan Thomas' injunction to "rage against the dying of the light." When she encounters the ruined lands for the first time in a generation, Nelly states that "I'm not sure any more if we are the spark of civilization. Maybe we are just the dying ember." Might the poet's words have different meanings for different characters in Ashes of the Earth?

  6. Pattison offers several perspectives on Lucas Buchanan, the governor of Carthage colony. After reading the book, do you see Buchanan as a tyrant or a victim of the events he himself set into motion?

  7. Pattison has often stated that when writing his novels his characters become very real companions to him. What would it be like to have companions living on the other side of the apocalypse?

  8. Why would the characters in Ashes treat the ruins of the prior world—our current world-- and chronicles of the years just prior to the apocalypse as taboo? For many colonists, Pattison writes, "Revealing modern history to your children was like telling them they had a genetic disease." If you were a survivor of that world with children born afterwards, how do you think you would describe that lost world to them?

  9. Pattison states that in writing Ashes he began to sense tension between the survivors and the new generation. Jori Waller rails at Hadrian that "the only real people to you are in your nightmares!" How do you think a character born after the apocalypse would view the lost world? With resentment? With sympathy? With fear?

  10. A shadow seems to lurk in many scenes of Ashes. Often it seems this must be the annihilation of the prior civilization—our civilization. But sometimes it feels like it may be civilization itself. Which is it?

  11. In describing his alternate future Pattison has stated "Everything has changed. Nothing has changed." What do you think he means?

  12. Pattison's novels are often said to span genres. Ashes of the Earth may be a mystery but it is also speculative fiction, and often has the atmosphere of an historical novel. How would you characterize it?










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