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Brendan Detzner reviews "Badlands" by Cecil Washington

The most boring way to start a book review that I can think of is to simply describe where the book is set, who the characters are, and what they do over the course of the story. I try to avoid this whenever I can, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’m about to do it again. I’ll try and keep it short.

“Badlands” is set in a devastated future world. Most of the Earth’s surface has been stripped clean of vegetation. The remaining human beings mostly live in giant pyramid structures, controlled by alien beings called the Grells, who are responsible for the condition of the rest of the planet.

The hero of the story, named Paris, is a renegade Yogin. Yogin are elite human servants of the Grells, bodyguards and fighters trained in both human and alien martial traditions. By defeating his or her Grell master in ritual combat, a Yogin can win their freedom. Paris has done this, but he is still visited periodically by his old master, who seems to have plans for him despite his emancipation. As the story begins, Paris is wandering through the desert from one pyramid to the other, using all of his considerable skill just to survive.

Over the course of the novel, Paris learns more about the Grell takeover of the earth, fights enemies both human and inhuman, and gradually becomes more and more powerful. As you can guess, he ends up saving the world, but the route he takes towards doing so is less predictable the destination. The book’s like that in a lot of ways. On the surface, it manages to circumvent many of the clichés that often cling to post-apocalyptic-wasteland style science fiction, but even its more interesting ideas always lead back to the same old thing.

Take the Yogin, for example. The concept of the Yogin is unusual, and the Yogin-on-Yogin fights, which take place on a psychic and spiritual as well as a physical level, are a lot of fun, but for the purposes of the story Paris might as well be a guy with a big gun. Does being able to walk through walls and read your enemies thoughts change your perspective on life? If we are to take Paris as an example, then not really.

This problem is even more pronounced when it comes to the larger themes of the book. “Badlands” explores political and racial issues (Paris is black, and racism is revealed as one of the Grells’ most important tools for keeping human’s under control). But none of the Paris’ beliefs lead him to do anything more interesting then Save The World By Killing The Big Bad Guy. When the book tries to end on an ideological note, it falls flat, because the “moral” doesn’t fit meaningfully into the rest of the story.

These aren’t the only problems with “Badlands”. The descriptions and dialogue are uninteresting at best and awful at worst, and the unlikely sex scenes that roll along every so often only serve to emphasize the weaknesses in characterization and style that are present throughout the book. In a more ambitious novel, it’d be easier to overlook such difficulties, but not here. Ultimately, despite some interesting parts here and there, “Badlands” fails to either transcend or serve as a good example of its genre.

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