Tuesday, April 27, 2021

24. Day of the Drones by A.M. Lightner

I can't remember what prompted me to take this book from the little outdoor book box where I found it.  I think it was the combo of Post-Apocalyptic and racial issues as a subject matter.  I was wary as well, though, since science fiction about race written in 1969 can be questionable. The cover also worried me that it was going to be psychedelic and lack coherence.

My apprehensions were quite erroneous. This was actually a very enjoyable, straightforward PA adventure with a cool setting and some simple but not wrong-headed thoughts about race.  It takes place in some distant future, several centuries after "The Disaster" when most of humanity (and most mammals) was wiped out.  The surviving humans live inland somewhere in Africa.  They are a civilized society, technologically primitive, but with some memory of the past.  They attribute the destruction of the world to white people (and to uncontrolled use of technology).  The protagonist is a bright young woman named Amhara who is sent to school with the potential to rise high in the society. Her childhood friend N'Gobi is as smart as her, but light-skinned.  Actually so light that it was only by the pleading of his mother and the other villagers that he wasn't killed as a baby.

With the support of sympathetic professors who value N'Gobi and Amhara's skill more than they respect the taboo of N'Gobi's whiteness, they form a team that is going to explore outside of their lands for the first time.  This trip is triggered by N'Gobi's discovery of a new kind of bird with a strange, knotted rope around it's leg that could only be done by somebody intelligent.  They have a solar helicopter that had been hidden away (this is a bit of a stretch, but in line with the rest of the book which doesn't fret about nerdy details so we can get on with the exploration).  The journey, which is cool in and of itself, finally discovers the birds on a small island off the English coast. There they do finally discover other people, a tribe of white people who have patterned their society around the giant bees that feed them.

It's a neat, tight little story. There is conflict but it is all done in a non-stressful way which I appreciated.  The racial politics may be a bit naive (there is one person on the expedition who is disgusted by N'Gobi but she learns to appreciate him as a human) which seems appropriate as the author is I am pretty sure white and definitely lived well (went to Vassar and ended up in NYC).  I much prefer a straightforward racism is bad and can be overcome if we work together message than some convoluted "exploration" that you tended to get in sci-fi and crime books that did deal with race from this period.  I also really dug the portrayal of the bee society.  It was a cool idea to think of primitive humans with no mammals who would become dependent on the insects around them.

Lightner was quite prolific in fiction and non-fiction and did some other YA and PA books.  Worth checking her out more.  Nice little find!

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