Epitaph Road, A Book Review
Introduction to Epitaph Road
Epitaph Road by David Patneaude is a young adult science fiction book where men were almost wiped out by a genetically engineered plague that targeted men, and the government that came into power then decrees that male numbers shall be controlled afterward to prevent future wars and disasters.
The central characters in this YA dystopian book have grown up in this world and learn the secrets of their society and possible solution to its problems. What are the points for and against this young adult sci-fi novel?
Pros for the Book Epitaph Road
Many young adult science fiction novels show an apparent utopia which hides a horrible dystopia underneath. The book Epitaph Road outlines the horror that created the utopia/dystopia in the first place, making the reasons for the creation of the later society clear to the reader.
The book is also one of the few that outlines the realistic science of how the society is sustained, with birth control implants, large scale sterilization of males, segregation of men into male only communes for those that don’t fit into society’s strict rules for men and tight control of all boys under 14 and everyone who doesn’t pass the tests that determine whether you get to live without caretakers supervising your every move.
Epitaph Road features at its beginning a mother trying to save her son from the pandemic that kills only men, with her daughter in tow. The chapter describes the death toll and personal toll of such a situation. The rest of the book center’s on the grown up sister raising her brother’s son, seeing a world where a 13 year old boy is babysat and supervised as if he were 3 and treated as if he’s an untouchable by a mostly female society.
The book Epitaph Road stands out among modern dystopias in that it clearly communicates the reasons why those who instigated the plague did so, for the betterment of society in their opinion. It is also one of the few books that plainly explains why so many adults would go along with it, though it is in many ways inferior to the society that preceded it. For example, crime dramatically plummets because crime is mostly the preview of young men, and if there are 96% fewer young men, the world is dramatically safer. For the few men left, life is circumscribed with the few allowed professions, but they are given the shelter of male only communes if they want to opt out and ample sexual opportunity if they opt in. Men are bribed well enough that almost all identified for sterilization willingly take the money, since very few men are allowed both fertility and the option to raise their children by marriage.
The boy and two girls through which we see the modern day society learn to see both the good and bad of the current system they live in, making it both more realistic as a society and realized as a fictional work.
The solution / revolution in Epitaph Road is better than books like “The Scorch Trials” and “Mockingjay” because it isn’t a violent overthrow of the state. While that makes for exciting story telling, even the “Hunger Games” books faced the problem that the person behind the revolution was as bad a person as the dictator being overthrown. In Epitaph Road, the solution involves lifting the specter of the bioweapon’s re-use and revelation of the truth to a new generation to act as they choose.
This is one of the few female dominated societies and matriarchies I’ve read that is plausible, from how it is set up, to how it is maintained to how people in it actually live. From “Gate to Women’s Country”, “Woman at the Edge of Time” to “A Door Into Ocean”, the female only or female dominated worlds require the suspension of belief in the form of psychics. Another mistake feminist science fiction makes is to irrationally presume women will magically be far more peaceful and form hands to create a totally egalitarian paradise while ignoring the human nature, such as the horror that the mean girls will likely come to rule such a world.
In this book, even the turncoat rebel scientist and “evil” female leader are fleshed out as humans with understandable motivations for their actions. That’s rare in modern science fiction, much less YA books.
Cons of the Book Epitaph Road
Modern society has made the mistake that evil is insane and irrational. The author goes to lengths to demonstrate how the people who created the modern society and the pandemic that made it possible are insane, though carefully controlling themselves and the outcome.
I agree with Dennis Prager that evil can be quite rational, though thoroughly self-serving. It is rational to cheat on a test to get into a good school, though immoral. It is rational to steal from a company and improve one’s own finances, though immoral. Evil does not have to be the result of insanity or mental illness or a severe response to abuse at the hands of men. Going to efforts to ensure that the plot to kill several billion males sprung from horrific child abuse and mental illness is an insult to all who suffered child abuse and didn't commit atrocities as a result while denying the truth that many evil acts can be accomplished by those who consider the end result more moral than the evils committed to achieve it. After all, socialists and communists for years wrote off suffering and death camps as acceptable when seeking to create a utopia.
Epitaph Road stands out as a high quality young adult dystopian novel, rich in its realistic explanations and resulting fallout. It is one of the few plausible ways a female dominated world could arise and thoroughly realized ones that could truly exist. This is a five star YA novel.