Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews By the Feet of Men by Grant Price. (Cosmic Egg Books)
For a while, it seemed like we were getting dystopian stories about characters becoming enlightened to the false utopia they found themselves living in; the more they learned, the more the benevolent elements of their society crumbled under the weight of the truth. This makes sense because of the world we currently find ourselves in. We see resources being sapped for a momentary gain without much thought for the future. Through such stories, the façade collapsed and we were shown a desolate wasteland outside of the shortsighted paradise. We saw the sacrifice it took to create that society.
I think most of us are pretty much past the idea that we are living in anything other than inevitable destruction. Climate change is making real-world impacts right now and it doesn’t seem like a lot is being done to mitigate or reverse these effects. So, it’s a waiting game before we see our world fall into a dystopian state.
As a reverse to what I’ve become accustomed to, Grant Price has taken this inevitability and woven it into a story of hope in By the Feet of Men. His characters don’t have grand illusions for what the world is—no, they’re surviving as best they can. This isn’t a book about insiders realizing there’s more world; it’s about two outsiders who, against everything they’ve come to believe, still find themselves on a suicide mission to see if there’s anything worth fighting for on Earth.
We see the necessity in not recreating what once was but growing something new and sustainable. I love this idea—we can’t go back in time and retroactively preserve something we’ve lost; we can only go forward and find a new way of living.
By the Feet of Men takes place in the future where climate change has decimated the planet. There are small groups of people who have survived “the Change” and they are pocketed in small villages across the world, doing their best to survive. There is a job for people who have working vehicles called Runners. These consist of duos—a driver and a navigator—who travel to villages delivering needed supplies. The two main characters, Cassady and Ghazi, are two of the best Runners working in the apocalyptic wasteland. The first 50 pages reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath as these two men traveled through the dust, maybe in search of a better life, but likely just looking for a simple change of scenery. At one of the drop locations, they realized they’re being watched and come to find out there are three other sets of Runners. Bringing the Runners together is convincing them to take on a dangerous job. Scientists have found medicine that could help reverse the effects of the Change—something that could return the world to where it once was—and they need someone to drive it through the Alps to get it to the right people.
All the Runners are convinced to attempt this mission. They prepare for danger, knowing the whole reason for recruiting multiple Runners is to ensure at least one of them will make it to the destination. This is our first tip for what to expect during their journey. There will be dangerous situations blocking the group from achieving their goals. And this is when the point-by-point plot begins. We see a forward progression of these stubborn men and women as they’re forced to work together. This is also where we get glimpses of a different life—a life that both Cassady and Ghazi are drawn to. We see the necessity in not recreating what once was but growing something new and sustainable. I love this idea—we can’t go back in time and retroactively preserve something we’ve lost; we can only go forward and find a new way of living.
By the Feet of Men is dependent upon the plot. There is always forward action, which can be a good thing, but here it tends to miss the moment of retrospection—no matter how small—that could flesh out the road story. Since all we seem to get is forward progression, we get a lot of action without an emotional core that would allow us to fully invest in the story. The relationship between Cassady and Ghazi is compelling, and there are moments when they get into philosophical discussions, but these moments are short and fleeting. I would have loved to see more of them, as well as other characters’ perspectives on the matter. Price could have used Ghazi—the more inquisitive of the two characters—as a baseline to grow other points of views. The characters are definitely there, and I have a good feel for who each of them were but it was all in service to the plot as opposed to the themes simmering below the surface.
Price wrote an entertaining book, but because he gives us hints at what it could have been, I’m almost discouraged. It’s like walking into a room and catching a scent from a recently departed friend. We just missed the moment of true connection. The bar was set in the first 50 pages, and then By the Feet of Men falls into a comfortable story being churned out by what should happen to Cassady and Ghazi. As much as I enjoyed it, I wanted a slight deviation into something unexpected.