1981’s The Gathering is the third book in Virginia Hamilton’s Justice Trilogy.
Justice, Levi, Thomas, and Dorian each have their own special power. Apart, they are impressive (even if some of them do not think so), but together they can step through time itself.
That’s good, because they have unfinished business in the future.
Dustland is a vast, barren desolation in a time to come. Despite the harsh environment, there is life there. Some of that life, the human Duster and his friends for example, not to mention the three-legged Slakers, have befriended Justice and company. The children from the past are determined to guide Duster and company to a better place, one that lies past defences set up by their enigmatic antagonist Mal.
That better place turns out not to be some protected valley or blessed island. Instead, it is a domed city run by machines. Many of the peculiarities of the Dustlanders become more comprehensible in the context of the city and the doleful history of the Earth that transpired between Justice’s time and Duster’s.
Other details, such as who or what Mal is and why Mal feels the need to periodically expel the inhabitants of the city out into the waste lands, remain unclear. These are mysteries Justice and her companions must solve, if their friends are to remain in the city.
An earlier edition has this snappy Dillon cover.
I wish Open Road Media had acquired the cover rights. While I am impressed by Open Road’s catalog, their covers seem … uninspired. At least they are not the eyesores for which another company is known.
It turns out that mysteries are a lot less mysterious if you can unravel them with some conversation. The various native players in this odd future setting have cognitive blinkers that keep them from grasping the situation. Third parties from the past do not have the same mental blocks; they can gather all the information they need just by talking to people.
I suppose one should appreciate a book that plumps for the most obvious and reasonable approach. However, I would have liked a few more plot twists.
The earth, in our time filled with green and burgeoning life, has been reduced to desolation in the future. You would think that Justice and her friends would be horrified by the reasons for this descent into lifelessness … and perhaps make some effort, upon returning to their own world, to fix what went wrong. But they do not. Perhaps they consider the course of history to be fixed and unalterable?
This book was aimed at younger readers and is fairly straightforward. It is the concluding novel of a series and answers all or at least most of the questions raised in the earlier books.
I suspect that the audience at which this was aimed would enjoy this book. (It was not quite my cup of tea.) True, Dustland is grim; the tale of how the world was almost entirely denuded of life is even grimmer … but readers absorb the tale as history rather than lived experience, which may help. In any case, judging by the success of The Hunger Games and similar dystopian fare, young readers don’t mind grim. Which is good, given what their lives are likely to be like.
I was reminded of certain works of Octavia Butler’s … that is, if Butler had been several orders of magnitude less pessimist1.
1: Which is nonetheless still pessimistic, mind you.