What if you forgot who you are? What if you lost all your memories in one instant, the names and faces of your loved ones forgotten, your past erased, your hopes and dreams voided? That’s the world humankind faces in Joburg-based author Fred Strydom’s debut novel, The Raft. Set at an unknown time in the future, something or someone has pressed a reset button, in a collective “reboot” of humanity during an event called Day Zero.
Confused and unable to remember how to use technology to survive, people congregate to communes along coastlines. This is overseen by a mysterious group called the New Past, which embraces this new era of “detachment”, denouncing the consumerism and materialism of what it calls “The Age of the Self”. This collective separates family members from one another, and indoctrinates lost souls with dogmas about propelling Humankind into a new era of evolution – “The Age of Renascence”. A few remember fragments of their previous lives, but this is discouraged by New Past, which regularly hooks people up to machines, questioning them about what they might recall.
Kayle Jenner is one of the few who has managed to recover scraps of his past life. At night he is haunted by dreams of his son Andy. When he is tied to a wooden raft and set afloat on the ocean as punishment for helping a pregnant woman escape the commune, Kayle is inadvertently set on a journey not only to find his son, but to discover a devastating and heartbreaking truth about Day Zero.
Strydom’s writing is bold and full of beautifully-crafted metaphors, his characters and their individual stories moving and intriguing. I read The Raft in one sitting. Strydom takes you on a journey that is exhilarating. Strydom makes a notable addition to the growing body of science fiction/speculative fiction that is developing in the South African literary landscape, his name being put alongside internationally-acclaimed authors like Lauren Beaukes and Sarah Lotz. The Raft has been picked up by a US publisher and I do hope it does well.
Any literati who feel that science fiction is not “literary enough”, should read this novel. It The Raft is a comment on humanity’s obsessive consumerism, about love, hope, and determination.
Notable passage: “Finally, I’m on the raft. I’ve seen so many others out here before and been curious about the experience. No I am here: tied down at the neck, wrists and ankles. Spread open like the Vitruvian Man. Eyes fixed on the sky. Mouth Dry. Skin beginning tor burn. Stomach digesting what’s left of my final breakfast, as well as the hallucinogenic flower I was force to ingest a short time earlier. Soon the flower will begin to take effect. When it does, my thoughts will start to slip. My reason will lose its shape and my ideas will fold like a sheet of paper, forming finally into an elaborate origami figure I will not understand”.
Rating: 4 out 5
The Raft is published by Umuzi.
Listen to my interview with Fred Strydom.