Books Briefly


by Donald E. McQuinn

Ballantine/Del Rey, $8.95 paperback

The large genre of ``post-Holocaust'' fantasy novels uses nuclear war as a plot device to replace our civilization with rugged survivors who live off the land and engage in exotic rituals. It's frightening to realize that this book's author, Seattle writer Donald E. McQuinn, is a retired Marine officer; do our military leaders really think The Bomb would leave survivors, let alone a robust warrior race?

Fans of this genre often are less interested in a novel's prose quality than in its concept, its ``universe.'' McQuinn's universe combines pseudo-Native American and pseudo-medieval cultures, all living near the decayed remains of Seattle and Tacoma. His characters have typical fantasy names: Gan Moondark, heir to leadership of the Dog People; Sylah the War Healer, an operative of the world's only female-run organization, a religion known as Church. Also in the cast are some pre-Bomb soldiers who have awakened from cryogenic sleep.

The plot is a series of episodes that reveal this universe over the course of 634 pages - migrations, battles, treachery, palace intrigue, a little delicately discussed sex, and folk legends about forgotten past residents who left behind so many pieces of metal. McQuinn does avoid some fantasy cliches: His characters don't have supernatural powers, and they're not imitations of J.R.R. Tolkien's creations. More important, McQuinn holds a decidedly unromanticized view of the status that women would face in such a muscle-bound world.