Waubgeshig Rice’s 2018 Moon of the Crusted Snow is a standalone post-apocalyptic novel.
The end of civilization comes to Evan Whitesky’s northern Anishinaabe community not as panicked broadcasts or fire dropping from the skies. Instead there is simply a sudden quiet as satellite communication abruptly stops.
The Anishinaabe are used to unreliable services. Moved north to clear their land for European settlers, their well-being has never been high priority for officials. Indeed, many of the amenities that just stopped working are a recent development, left in the wake of northern industrial expansion. Losing cell phones and television is annoying but hardly catastrophic.
Electrical failure is likewise nothing new. That’s why the reservation still has its own generator. As long as the fuel holds out, they can generate their own electricity.
The scale of the problem becomes clear when two Anishinaabe teens arrive, having fled their school in Gibson, three hundred kilometres to the south. Gibson’s communications and power have also failed and with them the town’s capacity to keep its population fed, warm, and alive. Whatever has gone wrong is widespread and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
The timing is unfortunate. Winter is coming. The scheduled food and fuel shipment had not yet arrived when the bubble burst. The reservation will somehow have to make it to spring using only the resources on hand.
The reservation has been an oft-neglected oubliette for an unwanted First Nations populations. The reservation has made its own contingency plans. Those plans, however, assume that the disruption will be temporary. The generators are only as useful as their limited fuel supply. There is a well-stocked emergency food supply, but well-stocked is still finite and hunting can only do so much to stretch supplies. Anyone dependent on imported medicine is in deep trouble.
All of which means that people are going to die, despite the best efforts of the council and of people like Evan and his family and friends. As the long, cold, hard winter stretches on, the makeshift morgue begins to fill with the bodies of the sick, the old, the unlucky, and the despairing.
Disaster for the community is an opportunity for Justin Scott. The burly Zhaagnaash — white man — arrives in town shortly after the power fails, begging for refuge, offering a trailer load of supplies as his entry ticket. Despite Evan’s misgivings, Scott is allowed to stay. This will prove a tragic error in judgement.
This particular reservation was never intended to be entirely self-sufficient. If it’s dependent on government, it can be dominated. Native culture can be obliterated. But … the Anishinaabe are already experienced in coping with apocalypses.
“The world isn’t ending,” she went on. “Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when the Zhaagnaash came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us. That was our world. When the Zhaagnaash cut down all the trees and fished all the fish and forced us out of there, that’s when our world ended. They made us come all the way up here. […] (T)hen they followed us up here and started taking our children away from us! That’s when our world ended again. And that wasn’t the last time. […] But we always survived. We’re still here. And we’ll still be here, even if the power and the radios don’t come back on and we never see any white people ever again.”
Moon of the Crusted Snow belongs to the subgenre of disaster books in which people are suddenly forced to survive on limited resources. Perhaps the best-known example would be Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon. This book, like Alas, Babylon, tells of a community determined to keep as many people alive as possible. It’s not a lifeboat story, in which only so many can be saved and the rest are turned away (a story such as Lucifer’s Hammer).
Moon is an effective novel, well written, with engaging characters. It’s not the feel-good novel some of you may need right now, but it’s worth reading when you can handle a littler disaster.