Why is the future such a terrible place? Science fiction writers owe us an explanation. In The Island of Lost Girls, we return to the world that Manjula Padmanabhan created in Escape. It’s planet Earth, but barely recognisable. The written word has vanished. Cities have crumbled under cement rot or drowned beneath rising seas—and are now built in tubes suspended over toxic waters and seething gorges. They heave with “the crush of fetid humanity”—feems, transies and clones, jostling for space. While on omnipresent screens are “severed heads, twitching limbs and shiny mounds of gut”, images from the war games being endlessly played in the Zone.
The Time Before—we are told—disintegrated 22 years ago after cataclysmic events. When eco-anarchists detonated nuclear devices in the Suez Canal, the earth’s mantle was punctured. Icecaps melted, wildlife perished, nations collapsed. After this cataclysm, the planet has been split into four exclusive enclaves. But the Whole World Union has obliterated one land from the new map—the Forbidden Country, in which women have been systematically exterminated.