In which I review other peoples' words.

“Where Would You Be Now” by Carrie Vaughn

“Where Would You Be Now,” by Carrie Vaughn, is a post-apocolyptic story about a group of medical professionals and amateurs who travel around patching people up and delivering babies while also defending their base of operations and looking for food and supplies. It’s a prequel to Vaughn’s novel “Bannerless.”

“Where Would You Be Now” depicts what feels like a pretty accurate post-apocolyptic world. There’s a lot of filthy people banding together, some are opportunists looking to take advantage of others by any (violent) means necessary, there isn’t a lot of food, it’s hard to grow food, people are dying in child birth, and babies don’t tend to live very long because they starve. People also spend time both reminiscing (wow, I sure miss golfing on nicely manicured greens), and regretting (if only things hadn’t gone to hell, I’d be doing X, Y, or Z. What would YOU be doing?). It’s implied that a lot of people were killed (one guy’s concerned with “repopulating the earth”) but there’s enough people to strip stores bare of canned goods and various products.

The clinic that the protagonist, Kath, and her partners live and work out of is protected by fences and barbed wire and large vehicles that are hard to move. There’s sentries and guns. There’s residences and a potato patch with rotten potatoes. They’re armed, but they’re also vulnerable. What they have is precious. What they are is precious. They live under the threat of death… accidental or by starvation, or by an armed gang trying to make its weight felt.

More than the other issues, the strongest theme running through the story is very realistic fear of pregnancy and child birth. People die while pregnant (one woman dies of pre-eclampsia). People die in child birth. People die after child birth, bleeding out or from an infection. Babies die from malnutrition, or unclean water, or exposure, or illness, or the million other things babies die from. The clinic is committed among other things, to providing prenatal care, pediatric care, and contraception.

Which makes one part of the story ring false. There’s a lot of talk about contraception, about pregnancy being deadly, and yet when a young woman trading sex for security gently and quietly pulls someone aside and asks for help avoiding pregnancy, the woman she asks for help snaps at her to help herself. She’s in a precarious position. If she tries to pressure her guy to use a condom… he might not. Or he might dump her and leave her to fend for herself. Or he might assault her, condom-less. It was a jarring moment because it felt out of character for what we’ve seen of that woman and for the tone of the story in general.

“Were Would You Be Now” is well written and the protagonist is handled pretty deftly, we get a feel for her. As with many prequels, however, it feels like I’m missing a lot of resonance and meaning because I haven’t read the book that comes after. Reading said book isn’t NECESSARY however. This is a solid stand-alone story.

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2018 Publication, 3 star, female author, short story, Tor

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