What would happen if Mad Max were to step into the world of The Dark Tower, aided and abetted on his journey by the likes of William Gibson and Richard Matheson? Well, you'd get something very much like Jay Posey's post-apocalyptic cyberpunk thriller, simply titled Three.
This is a book that demands a lot of the reader - a lot of patience, a lot of imagination, and a lot of faith that Posey knows where he's going with it all. He simply drops us into the middle of his world and expects us to catch up. Not only isn't there a lot of narrative exposition, there's not a lot of background or explanation provided. Terms and concepts are casually tossed around by characters who clearly know what they're talking about, but we're expected to read between the lines and pay attention to the snippets of information to figure out the larger picture. It's likely to be frustrating for some readers, especially since we never do get all the answers, but it really immerses you in Posey's world, with the mystery and the suspense a large part of the book's appeal.
In terms of characters, Three, Cass, and Wren make for a solid trio to guide us on our journey through this barren landscape. Equal parts Mad Max and Roland Deschain, Three is the mysterious loner who stands apart from everyone and everything around him. He's as coldly arrogant as he is fiercely independent, but he's also unshakably loyal, morally grounded, and altogether human beneath that harsh exterior. Cass is a complex character - damaged, addicted, and on the run. She sacrificed her own future long ago, but is desperate to preserve that of her son, while she still can. Wren is somewhat problematic, a little too perfect and precocious, but he has potential. Here is a young boy, on the cusp of something amazing, who holds a mysterious power that certain people would kill to understand.
As for the primary villains - Asher and his villainous gang of henchmen - they don't seem like much more than thugs originally, but as we learn more about who and what they are, they take on a life of their own. By the end of the story, they're not just a serviceable threat, but legitimate foils. More importantly, they're developed as characters with drives and motivations, as unsavory as those may be, and even deserving of some small dose of sympathy. Actually, they probably develop a bit better than the protagonists in that their changes are more gradual, and far less remarkable, than of Three in particular.
The world of Three is largely your typical post-apocalyptic landscape, a barren wasteland broken here and there by remnants of civilization. Much of what's left is literally underground (sewers, bunkers, tunnels, etc.), and the only safe refuge from the Weir once the sun goes down. Despite all that's been lost or destroyed, however, there remains a complex cyberpunk-type element to the world, with characters 'wired' into some sort of network that allows them to do everything from check the time to map their GPS coordinates, and others mechanically augmented with varying degrees of technology. As for the Weir, some readers will definitely be left frustrated by the lack of information regarding their true nature, but Posey seems to understand that monsters are at their most frightening when left with a little mystery. Think fast zombies with a sort of collective cyberpunk consciousness, and you get enough of an idea to truly fear when darkness falls.
It's not a perfect book, but it's damn-near. Yes, we'd all like more information and more answers, but so long as Posey delves deeper into how and why the world works in subsequent volumes, I'm quite fine with that. There's definitely a little emotional manipulation going on here that may strike some readers as a cheap ploy, particularly with Cass and Wren, but it worked for me because their relationship seemed natural/normal, and served to ground the story. The pacing is excellent and the narrative sharp, and even if the conclusion leaves us a little frustrated, it also leaves us demanding more.
Expected publication: July 30th 2013 by Angry Robot
Paperback, 421 pages