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The Islands at the End of the World: 08/28/15

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan:

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan is set in Hawaii on the big island and on Oahu at a time when the world goes dark. Leilani loves surfing and would be happiest doing nothing but in her spare time. Unfortunately she's an epileptic and her parents have put her into a study, meaning she and her father have to make regular trips to Oahu.

As part of Leilani's treatment is to stop her normal meds. This is one of those convenient plot points that often get tossed into disaster stories, because then it's not just a matter of an uncomfortable change in life style or some hardcore roughing it, it becomes a matter of life and death due to an otherwise manageable medical condition.

So, of course, something weird has to happen. The lights go out across the island. Radio goes down. TV goes down. The island is essentially cut off from the other islands and from the rest of the world. And isolated location like Oahu does provide a good, closed environment for a disaster story — more so than a continental one where the excuses have to be more far flung to explain why no one can get through.

A big portion of the disaster part of The Islands at the End of the World focuses on the situation where a tourist island is suddenly cut off from all imports. Society quickly begins to fall apart and the U.S. military presence takes over, putting everyone in protective camps while they decide how to deal with an island which no longer can support the population.

In the background of all of this, is an extraterrestrial event, a thing in the sky that looks like a glowing orchid. The orchid thing awakens Leilani's connection to her Hawaiian heritage. But this part of the plot didn't feel as genuine as the military machinations. It's not that native Hawaiians wouldn't be reacting to the experience against their traditions and creation stories. Of course; it's a natural human reaction. But here what should have been magical realism ends up feeling forced.

Having read The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, I couldn't help but see similarities between the space orchid and the strange light above the Disc. Except Pratchett while playing with tropes and poking fun at a lot of fantasy ended up creating a rather deep statement about our place in the universe. Leilanli's experience falls far short of that which is a shame because the initial chapters showed such great potential.

Three stars

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