Book Review: “Emergence” by David R. Palmer

emergence“Emergence” is one of those books that is good enough that I re-read it on a regular basis. It is at once tremendously fun and deeply thought-provoking; at once bracingly cynical and relentlessly optimistic. The story is told from the viewpoint of an unusually gifted eleven-year-old girl who has managed to survive the apocalypse.

After learning that she is likely one of just thousands of North American survivors of a bionuclear apocalypse, Candy Smith-Foster must use her genius-level IQ and advanced martial arts training to rapidly figure out how to start rebuilding civilization – and how to survive the other survivors she meets along the way.

The book contains liberal doses of post-apocalypse ingenuity, an unflinching look at the hard questions that arise in the absence of civilization, and fun. The delightful efficiency of Palmer’s prose in no way stops him from building characters who are at once endearingly earnest and hilariously quirky.

The same can be said of all of Palmer’s work: he has a strong command of the English language, and can communicate a huge amount of profound sentiment in a tiny amount of text. But he also has a strong sense of fun, and his books frequently involve characters and plot devices that would seem ridiculous if they weren’t both delightful and actually, in the final analysis, completely effective.

Its author, David R. Palmer, is a bit unusual among writers. Instead of producing a steady stream of works of varying success Palmer seems to emerge from some sort of batcave once in a blue moon to deliver a single ingenious work, which almost always receives critical acclaim.

Palmer’s first published work, a novella about an eleven-year-old girl surviving in a post-apocalyptic environment, appeared in Analog in 1981. It promptly won Analog’s Readers’ Choice Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award.

His second novella appeared in Analog two years later – and also received a Readers’ Choice Award, and a Hugo nomination.

In 1984, these first two novellas were compiled into a novel, and that novel is “Emergence.” (Which was also nominated for a Hugo award for novels, and described by Spider Robinson as “…probably the best first novel I have ever seen.”)

Unfortunately, Palmer almost entirely vanished after publishing two fantastic books in the 80s, each of which were planned to be the first book of  trilogy.

He finally eventually re-emerged in 2008 to publish a series of novella sequels to “Emergence” – where else? – in Analog.

If you choose to seek out the works of this mysterious author, you won’t find them for cheap – I was not aware until writing this review that there has been only a single printing of “Emergence,” and that used copies of the paperback now retail for about $20.

There has been a rumor for some time that a re-print of “Emergence,” and possibly the publication of one or more sequels, was planned by an elusive “Wormhole Press.” However, that rumor first debuted in 2014, and now there seems to be some doubt as to whether this company even exists.

As of this writing, the only means of contacting anything affiliated with the name “Wormhole Press” appears to be a telephone number owned by another publishing company.

I may just have to give them a call this week.

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