George R.R. Martin's amazing A Song of Ice and Fire throws in random elements that seem to come out of nowhere... then make perfect sense. So when he introduces a strange drug to his post-apocalyptic story, it's startling but thought-provoking.
Martin's story, "...For A Single Yesterday," was originally published in 1975, but it's just been republished for free up at Lightspeed Magazine. And apart from some references to the Vietnam war and early 1970s folk-rock, it's just as fresh today as it was back then — maybe even more relevant than ever, given our current obsesssion with post-apocalyptic stories and the ways in which people will try to survive after a civilizational collapse.
I don't want to give too much away, but the drug that Martin introduces into his post-apocalyptic world isn't what you think it is at first — and it doesn't yank us away from the central theme of what sort of culture — what sort of leadership — is necessary to survive after the apocalypse. (The irony is, Martin seems to hint that the leadership you'd need to get through a post-apocalyptic world really is the same kind that caused the apocalypse in the first place.) Instead, the drug sheds a thematic light on the story's central question: Is it better to try to hold on to the past, or just look forwards and try to rebuild, even when the past is amazing and the future is bleak even in the best case scenario?
As usual, Martin avoids making any character in the story one-dimensional or purely good or bad, and he doesn't spoonfeed the reader answers — even though it's clear by the end of the story that one character is mostly right, he's not completely right, and in the end, survival means more than just making some sacrifices — it means debasing our culture. It's a gripping read, well worth checking out. [Lightspeed Magazine]
Top image: Location picture from The Road.