Review: The Amtrak Wars
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"The Amtrak Wars" by Patrick Tilley is a six-book science fiction series based years after a devastating nuclear holocaust in the United States. This is one of the most enjoyable sagas I've read and read againover the past few years, and joins my list of favourite science fiction.
The main thread of the story revolves around Steve Brickman, a wingman with the Amtrak Federation (or more informally, the Trackers), an underground civilisation bred to hate the overground mutants (Mutes) and fear the radiation apparently spread by their presence. The Federation is an extremely strict militarised culture, going so far as to ban certain types of music dubbed "Black Jack" (and known to us as the works of Greek synthesizer musician Vangelis). The story begins with Steve's graduation from the Lindbergh Field academy, his posting to a Federation overground convoy, and subsequent crash while flying over Mute territory.
Captured by the Clan M'Call, Steve meets an interesting trio of Mutes, Cadillac DeVille, Mr Snow and Clearwater. If Mr Snow conjures up images of Roger Hargreave's cute white snowman replete with red striped scarf and bowler hat, think again. This wily old white-haired man is the M'Call wordsmith, teller of tales from the "Old Time" before the holocaust. Cadillac is the clan's abnoxious wordsmith-in-training, learning the tales by heart from Snow. The gift of the wordsmith is more like a photographic memory than simply being able to remember a story or two, these individuals have an encyclopaedia-like knowledge of what has gone before. Two other types of gifted mutes are rumoured to exist, summoners and seers.
Despite being fractured into many disputing clans, the Mutes all believe in the Talisman Prophecy, which states that a "Thrice-Gifted One", who exhibits the gifts of wordsmith, summoner and seer, will come to lead them in the fight against the Amtrak Federation (or in Mute terms, the Sand Burrowers). They also like to use names of power from the Old Time, so watch out for wonderfully named Mutes such as Awesome-Wells.
An enthralling series, with a huge range of realistic characters, see if the first volume Cloud-Warrior is to your liking and progress from there.
SPOILER ALERT! Scroll down no further if you intend to read the Amtrak Wars series.
The one thing most people mention when commenting on the Amtrak Wars is the abrupt way in which it ends. I had to re-read the climax of the story a number of times before realising that that was actually it! After being engrossed in the adventures of Steve for six volumes, revelling in his escapes from both the First Family executive and the Iron Masters, it was hard to believe that he came to so simple and quick an end. In a way, it was reminiscent of the way the Preacher died in the Dune series, soon after confirming that he was the hero, Muad'Dib (and providing a sense of renewed hope to the reader, soon to be dashed!).
Another fan of the Amtrak Wars series who felt the same way was Shaun. He actually wrote to Patrick Tilley to let him know about his reservations, and was surprised when Mr. Tilley replied with this interesting letter explaining the reasons behind Steve's demise:
26th August 1991
Thank you for taking the time to write to me about your reaction to the Amtrak Wars series. I'm sorry you were disappointed by the ending of Earth Thunder but can assure you it wasn't "rushed" in the writing and I agonised long and hard over the fate of Steve and Roz. To be fair, it was signalled as far back as Books 1 and 2 but I know many people feel a keen sense of loss - "Why did they have to die?" they ask. In a way it's a compliment to me for having created characters readers actually care about. In fact I've had so many protests I may have to revive them as Conan Doyle was forced to do with Sherlock Holmes! Sphere Books, (and many readers) want more volumes so perhaps the story will continue - if I can make it good enough. And yes, I'm working on other books.
I really do appreciate you getting in touch. Spread the word!
Best wishes, Patrick Tilley.
We will indeed spread the word and hope that Patrick will continue to entertain us with more novels to come. Interestingly enough, Bookpages has a listing for:
"The Amtrak Wars, Volume 7" by Patrick Tilley
Price - £15.99
Availability - Not yet published - but why not place an advance order today?
Format - Hardback
Publisher - Orbit
Date Published - March, 1999
As well as writing the Amtrak Wars, Patrick Tilley is the author of Fade-Out, Mission, and The Illustrated Guide to the Amtrak Wars. I'm currently reading his latest book, Star Wartz, which starts off in Terry Pratchett mode, but gradually turns more serious towards the end. Another review to come! You can also view the Amtrak Wars cover art by Steve Stone.