If you were to misspell “can’t” as “cant” and “don’t” as “dont” in a school essay, then your teacher will give you a D minus. But when author Cormac McCarthy did it in his novel The Road, they gave him a Pulitzer Prize . . .

But that isn’t the most notable thing about McCarthy’s 2006 novel, The Road. Nor is it the fact that the 74-year-old literary author is finally enjoying the sort of sales that “less literary” best-selling authors such as Stephen King and Dan Brown take for granted for the first time in his 43-year-long career. Nor is it that the normally reclusive author actually made an appearance on the Oprah Show after The Road was the April 2007 selection of her book club. Or the fact that The Road is being made into a film starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron and would be the third McCarthy novel to be made into a movie (the others are All the Pretty Horses, which were made into a movie by Billy Bob Thornton in 2000 and No Country for Old Men in 2007 by the legendary Coen brothers).

Nope. None of the above. The most amazing thing about The Road is how hard everybody is in denial about the fact that The Road is actually gosh! gasp! a science fiction book! Yup, The Road is a bona fide sci-fi novel. Its plot belongs to what must surely be the oldest subgenre in science fiction, namely the post-apocalyptic story. Just how old is it? Mary Shelley wrote one of the earliest examples of the subgenre as long ago as 1826. The book was The Last Man and is about a future 21st century world ravaged by the plague and, quite, literally the last human survivor. Shelley wrote it eight years after she wrote Frankenstein.

Cormac McCarthy’s book is also set in a post-apocalyptic 21st century setting. In the near future a father and his son are trekking on foot across a devastated American landscape towards the ocean where the father hopes living conditions would be better. Unlike most science fiction novels, The Road is vague on specific details. The cataclysm that destroyed civilization and most of humanity is never spelled out. Only a few clues allude that it was most probably a full-scale nuclear war: there are practically no plant and animal life except for some mushrooms and a dog the novel’s protagonists come across. Most trees are dead and barren. It is overcast and bitterly cold and, most tellingly, the landscape is covered in ash. At one point in the narrative burning cities are also briefly mentioned.

It is several years down the line since the initial cataclysm that brought humanity to its knees and things are markedly worse than in your average Mad Max movie. Yeah, not only aren’t there any cars around not even your standard Road Warrior-customized dune buggy, but what is left of humanity has descended into sheer barbarism. Cannibalism is rife as lone bands of human survivors desperately scour the landscape for food.

Next: "The Road owes more to the horror writings of Stephen King than, let’s say, Roger Zelazny. . ."




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