Travel Documents 23: Burnout

Burnout (Chronicles of the Great Migration Book 1)

Kristi Helvig
Genre: Dystopian, climate change, adventure

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The Dust Cover Copy

Most people want to save the world; seventeen-year-old Tora just wants to get off of it. One of the last survivors in Earth’s final years, Tora yearns to escape the wasteland her planet has become, but discovers her fellow survivors are even more deadly than the hostile environment.

Holed up in an underground shelter, Tora is alone. All Tora has left is Trigger, one of the bio-energetic weapons her father created for the government before his conscience kicked in.

When mercenaries take Tora’s weapons by force, fury turns to fear. Tora must choose between saving herself or honoring her father’s request to save humanity from the most lethal weapons in existence.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

I think we all have this image in our head these days: a dessicated and deadly Earth, without a shred of comfort. Because of us.

Helvig goes all the way there in this work. And this time we didn’t just mess up the climate. No, we messed up the sun itself.

Oops.

Good research and clever ideas mix with interesting technology into a completely believable world. It’s stark, it’s brutal, and it will quite happily kill you.

The survival mechanisms suggested were well-thought-out and nicely evoked. I was pleased to see a novel take on the ‘yep, we fried the world’ trope that allowed us a little more far-out science, without taking the onus off the human race. And I really, really loved the idea of children in this era living in immersive simulacra of the good old days, to escape the hellscape they exist in. It really brought the pathos of the situation home for me.

The Crowd

Characterization

Humanity without its coat of good manners on isn’t pretty. At all. And Helvig does a good job of reminding us of the fact. In this world where every sip of water is precious, death and the dealing of it becomes easy for some people. Others follow the other base human instinct: to form connections and build tribes. Following this instinct, even someone offering a sip of water or finding a way to say ‘hello’ over long distances can give you the strength to go on another day.
The tension between the instincts to kill the threat and find the friend is powerfully played out in these characters, each subtly arguing a case: law of the jungle or law of the tribe.

That isn’t to say that the characters are Socratic constructions put there to serve the argument. No, these characters are visceral. Like the situation, these characters are stripped to the bare essentials. Only Torah has a fully fleshed internal life; we’re not allowed behind the walls of the other characters. But their interpersonal actions, body language, and deeds speak volumes. They feel very real as individuals, though their humanity is constrained by circumstance.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Told from Tora’s point of view, the storytelling is nice and tight, with flashes of her pain and a thread of gallows humor that enliven the resolved fatalism she strives to maintain. It’s a fast and spare survival-adventure, wasting no words and keeping the pages turning.

 

The Moves

Plot

Quick and clean, with unexpected twists, it nevertheless manages to fit in a surprising amount of growth for the main character. Nicely done.

My only quibble was with the attraction-at-first-sight, ‘I wish I could trust you’ subplot between Tora and a handsome new acquaintance. That struck me as a touch overdone, and the mindset of the previous pages made it feel like a distraction. But the irritation was minor.

Overall Rating

A fast-paced, energetic race through the end of humanity. Give it a read!