Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Book Review: 'Outland Exile (Old Men and Infidels #1)' by W. Clark Boutwell

Outland Exile by W. Clark Boutwell
‘A wild-type human in the hothouse culture of the Unity’ – A vision of tomorrow

Alabama author W Clark Boutwell is a physician who in addition to practicing medicine focusing on intensive care for newborn infants, also teaches his specialty around the world and volunteers as a physician in Kenya, India, Ecuador, Zambia and Ghana. His literary interests are on aging, medical care, drug use, cybernetics, society and faith in a dystopian America as his ongoing series Old Men and Infidels attests. OUTLAND EXILE is the initial volume in this five volume series, written in 2015. The other books to date are EXILES’ ESCAPE and MALILA OF THE SCORCH.

Dr. Boutwell’s facility with language is polished, able to capture attention within the first words of this fascinating science fiction dystopian novel – ‘As her consciousness floated in the middle depths, she felt the freedom of her movements and enjoyed the surge of her predatory impulses. For a moment, Malila rippled the chromatophores along her four-meter length in pleasure before returning he borrowed skin to the pattern of the hunt. Her appearance now flowed second by second as sensors discerned the light falling upon them and mimicked the surface opposite to match. Second Lieutenant Malila Evanova Chiu’s mind tasted the salinity, the pressure, the faint rhythmic surge and flow of the waves around her, and…her prey…’ With ease, the author constructs the atmosphere and advanced vocabulary and language of a future time, and in doing so challenges us to enter not only his finely constructed story, but also his philosophy.

As is most important in opening a journey that will continue through five volumes, the range of the plot is key and Boutwell offers a fine summary to guide us: ‘In 2051, America is destroyed, separating into the Unity and the outlands. Generations later, the Democratic Unity has become a Utopia with full employment, free healthcare, computerless-surfing and recreational drugs at quite reasonable prices. All citizens retire at forty before error and fatigue contaminate a society of youth, innovation, and vigor. The outlands, beyond the Rampart and savaged by the Scorching, are populated by savage creatures with strange bloodthirsty reputations. Seventeen-year-old, middle-aged Lt. Malila Chiu, a hero of the Unity, finds her career in tatters. Inexplicably she has been demoted and sent to repair a sensor installation at the very limits of Unity influence. Fortunately, the outlands look abandoned, and she sets her hands to restore the station and her reputation. Work is proceeding well when Malila, collapsing from fatigue, finally goes to bed. She awakens to find her entire platoon murdered and a knife at her throat, wielded by a disfigured, malicious and impossibly old savage. Jesse Johnstone, a lover of poetry, has made Malila--the Outland Exile. Stripped, bound and forced to walk hundreds of miles, Malila and Jesse survive the hostile wilderness, carnivorous plants, disease, slavers, blizzards, snipers, and each other's disdain to arrive at a new understanding.’

Not only is the book completely fascinating as a novel, but also the characters created are wholly three dimensional and well sculpted, and the philosophical postulates are at once challenging and invigorating. If OUTLAND EXILE is the seed from which the entire series will grow, the author has launched a meaningful – and magnificently entertaining – vision of what the future could bring. Very highly recommended.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.