cover image Walk the Vanished Earth

Walk the Vanished Earth

Erin Swan. Viking, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-29933-3

Swan’s ambitious but flawed debut follows a family through many generations from the plains of Kansas to the sands of Mars. In 1873, Samson, an Irish immigrant, hunts buffalo on the prairie. In 1975, his descendant, a mute, 11-year-old girl named Bea, gives birth to a son named Paul, who becomes an engineer. In 2018, Paul devises a plan to rebuild New Orleans after it’s submerged in a worldwide cataclysm. In 2027, in the Floating City Paul helped design, Paul and his poet daughter, Kay, entertain David, who dreams of mankind finding a new home on Mars. In 2073, a nomadic Martian named Moon contacts survivors on Earth and considers becoming a mother, and a section set in 2046 delves into the lineage that connects Moon to Paul’s family. Swan has limited success with the sci-fi elements; the futuristic backgrounds fail to persuade, the technology involved in the characters’ journey from Earth to Mars is glossed over, and the choppy, nonchronological narrative muddies the water. On the other hand, Moon and the other characters are created with true depth of feeling, and the consideration of motherhood as its meaning changes over time lands as just short of epic. There’s a lot to admire, but it bites off a bit too much. (May)