Some books have a distinct message. Some books are just out to have fun. Some books are just out to tell an interesting story. In my experience more often than not novels with a dystopian and frequently post-apocalyptic aspect tend to borrow heavily from that first goal. A Canticle for Leibowitz looks at the inevitability of mankind’s self destruction, Earth Abides looks at the removal of social barriers and shift of historical memory over time, Level 7 looks at the notion of mutually assured destruction, while books like Swan Song and The Stand take the apocalypse to look at classic battle of good versus evil. There are countless others many falling into the realm of cautionary tales. However, post-apocalyptic fiction can just as easily be used to tell pure adventure stories such as Zelazny’s Damnation Alley or the Mad Max films. Brian Evenson’s Immobility is a strange mix of several of these elements. Set in a post-apocalyptic society couched in the airs of a dystopia yet at the same time a novel of discovery and confusion.
Immobility is a novel with a deceptively simple premise. Josef Horkai is awakened from cryogenic sleep by a man named Rasmus with no memory who or where he is. Rasmus claims to be Horkai’s friend and tasks him with a mission to retrieve a mysterious something from another group. Unable to walk Horkai is given two “mules,” human engineered for strength and endurance but who barely resemble humans at all. Immobility focuses less on the ravaged landscape of Horkai’s world and more on the barren landscape of his own psyche as he attempts to remember himself and the people around him. Evenson’s language is terse and direct. Immobility is not a novel to go into lengthy and florid description of the landscape and the sights and sounds of Horkai’s experience is relayed with direct observations of the world and distinct descriptions of only that which immediately surrounds Horkai.
Horkai’s discussions with his two mule companions serve the twofold purpose of giving a bit of background on the society that Rasmus has created while at the same time uncovering the fanaticism and zealotry of Rasmus’ followers. While Horkai may have very little memory his discussions with the mules are odds with his recollections of what humanity should be like. In many ways it is the jarring contrast between the mules and Horkai’s hazy recollections that serve as the impetus behind his slow recovery of some memory.
Immobility seems to question how much of who we are is defined by out pasts. On the one hand Horkai is a blank slate. With no memory of his past to inform his sense of self-identity his instinctual reactions to the world around him become the foundation of defining who he is in the present. One of the first actions of Horkai after his initial thawing is to strangle a man. It is this act that really sets the tone for Horkai’s experience. In many ways Horkai is the perfect tool for violence. With no memory of his past and no way to make a connection to the world and people around him combined Horkai’s already ingrained penchant for violence make him all the more effective at his work. Despite the seemingly remorselessness to Horkai’s violent acts Evenson does an excellent job of engendering sympathy for a man who has so clearly been manipulated into his situation and how lacks the means to truly and completely comprehend the nature of his mission.
Immobility is not an easy read; it is a dark novel that casts human in bright and particularly unforgiving light. It examines what becomes of us when survival of the species as a whole becomes are goal so much so that we seemingly irrevocably change ourselves in its pursuit. A difficult novel that fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction will likely enjoy.