What is truth? If enough people agree on a thing, does it become a reality? If you have enough power, is everything you say law?
Andrew Vachss explores questions like these in his powerhouse Underground collection. Set in the world recovering from a post-apocalyptic dystopian society, we are given glimpses into a terrible past of the society that escaped “The Terror” in underground caverns. The people of today are in a society built on trust and freedom and maintain themselves by remembering what had come before, and the evils of the system that they had escaped. By telling didactic parables, the speakers tell of the sins of the past, and more importantly to them, how a few were able to change them.
The parallels drawn between our world and this subterranean dystopia are fairly easy to spot. Distant and unseen “Rulers” lay out the rules of behavior, only changing things when they themselves become displeased with the system. The people living in this world are given many rules to follow, almost blindly, and that slow progress with the level of bureaucratic nonsense that rivals current systems today. The focus on truth being the key to awareness is a good focal point of this book, and as you continue you see the importance of the tags in blue, surreptitious phrases to deny the powers-that-be an unrivaled say in the information war that they seem to be waging on their subjects. As the book continues, we are given more information as to where these messages come from, and how important the truth really is.
There’s a good pace to this book, you’re always interested in what’s going to happen next, and the storytelling is quite good at adding little surprises when you’re not expecting them. The drive of the plot never pushes you past a major revelation and keeps you yearning for more as the people in this book yearn for something more.
Everyone we meet in the stories is striving for something. The Rulers have done a good job of giving its people things to strive for that further its rule, but when another truth is presented, the people realize that it’s what they had been seeking all along.
If you dig the Matrix, 1984, Fallout, or Ishmael, you’re going to enjoy this work.