Scavenger: Evolution is a collection of three novellas set in a post-apocalyptic future where the United States, possibly the Earth itself, has been reduced to a gigantic shifting desert. The source of this catastrophe is left undetailed in the trilogy but may be better explained in the novel Sands by Hugh Howey. Unusually, Scavenger: Evolution is a spin-off of a novel by said author, Timothy C. Ward being so impressed by the man's writing that he wanted to do his own version of the story.
Talk about living your dreams.
The premise is Rush is a Divemaster, an individual who jumps into the sands of the new world in order to find relics from the leftover civilization of our era. I'm not sure about the physics of this particular act but it looks cool in my head so I'm willing to give it a pass. Scavenger's world evokes a combination of Frank Herbert's Arrakis and a Western.
Civilization continues to exist, and in greater amounts than your typical post-apocalypse society, but it is more a series of city-states than any kind of organized nation. I was also reminded of the Fallout series in that humanity is surrounded by remnants of an ancient advanced civilization, which just so happens to be the not-so-distant future of our present day USA.
Rush begins the story as a janitor working in a brothel in the poorest side of a town no one cares about. He is a barely functioning alcoholic who has quit the business of Diving due to the death of his son during a mission. Rush is sweet on a girl named River there but harbors dreams of reconciling with his upper-middle-class ex-wife Star. While I doubt it was an influence, I was reminded a bit of the television show Justified where a similar love triangle was in effect.
Without spoiling the plot, Rush is recruited from the brothel for one last Diving job, which turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for. A series of disasters and escalating events follow follow Rush as he attempts to do the right thing, only to end up making a powerful enemy in the mysterious Governor--a man who wishes to rebuild the United States using technology buried in the ruins of Denver, CL.
Each of the three stories has a slightly different genre to it with Red Sands being the most Western of the three, Blue Dawn being more of an adventure tale, and Twin Suns being the most straight-out science-fiction. While I appreciate Tim Ward being experimental and seeing how the same character can react to different tropes, I have to say I think Red Sands is the best.
The brutal lawlessness and cynicism of the setting was most evocative there as was Rush's character. I also strongly prefer River to Star, even though it's obvious from the second story onward there's no real love triangle save in the reader's head.
The Governor never really rises beyond generic evil but this isn't a problem since Rush is, honestly, his own worst enemy. His heroism is limited to the fact he's not completely monstrous like so many of the people around him. The hero's surprising screw-up at the end of Red Sands sold me on reading the rest of the novellas simply because it was so unexpected. I also felt the second novella nicely followed up on the catastrophic events of the first.
I had fun with this novel despite my preference for the gritty lawless style of the first novella and distaste for the hero's love interest. The third novella is a crazy collection of weirdness which I enjoyed reading through simply for what gonzo science-fiction concept got introduced next. I would like, in future editions, for more focus on the day-to-day life of the world and less on the sinister Governor as well as his cronies but the sheer weirdness on display in the final book has a striking appeal. Either way, Rush is a fun protagonist, especially when his flaws come to the forefront and he's completely out of his depth.
Scavenger may be authorized fanfiction but its got its own feel and I was never lost. You could do much worse to take a visit to the desert oceans of the future.