Reviewed by Chris Limb
The year is 2206. In a post-apocalyptic America, the human population has been devastated. Most people only ever know their parents, their partner (“the one”) and their single offspring. In addition to this each of them is also allocated a “counsel”, a one to one mentor with apparent precognitive powers who guides them through late adolescence into adulthood and eventually partnership.
‘The Lost Men’ is the tale of one such couple, Mann and Faith, and the details of their lives before and after being brought together by their mentors, Joy and Paine. The only snakes in this future Eden are the eponymous lost men, feral outsiders who do not abide by the rules of this new world, savages who seem to exist only to destroy.
In this novel the author conjures up a realistic deserted future world and the day-to-day existence of Mann in his luxurious abode, La Maison is meticulously and convincingly portrayed using rich description.
In stripping the human race down to a minimal population Colón is able to explore what it is to be alive, asking questions about free will, justice, fate and the disturbing urges that can lie at the heart of the most unexpected people. The text is at times verbose and didactic and some of the philosophical conversations and debates seem to become an end in themselves, the characters speaking appearing merely vessels through which the author can advance his theories and opinions. This impression of authorial presence – by no means a bad thing in such a philosophical work – is reinforced by an omniscient narrative mode.
The power of allegory lies in its ability to present an idea or ideas through story, sneaking concepts past the reader and into their mind using the power of imagination. ‘The Lost Men’s’ subtitle seems therefore unnecessary – its presence may even serve to confuse the reader, leading them to wonder whether in fact they have “got it” as the author intended. It also can come across as telling us not to pay attention to the genre setting, that the book is far more than simply a fantasy.
This is a shame as the descriptions of deserted cities and towns across the US are first class. The account of the pulverised remains of an unnamed town in Nebraska that Faith and her mentor Paine discover during their journey to join Mann sticks in the mind as do their subsequent experiences in the cities that follow. The precise nature of the catastrophe is never disclosed, the reader left guessing as to how the world was emptied of people.
Parts of the novel are academic and intellectual, but overall it is the atmosphere of this brave new world that lingers long after completion thanks to its vivid and visceral portrayal of the human condition.