By far my most favourite post-apocalyptic novel, Emergence was written in 1981 and follows the life of Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, an eleven-year-old girl, who is unaware that she’s a Homo post hominem, mankind’s next evolutionary step. Hominems have higher IQs, they’re stronger, faster, more resistant to illness and trauma, and have quicker reflexes. Their eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell are superior as well.
By the time the narrative opens, Candy has acquired a high school education, some college, and learned karate, having achieved her Fifth Degree Black Belt from her neighbor, 73-year-old Soo Kim McDivott, who she is led to believe is merely a retired schoolteacher. McDivott, whom she calls “Teacher”, is actually the discoverer of the H. post hominem species, and has identified and continues to mentor and lead a group of them, the AAs. As part of her karate training, she has learned to release her hysterical strength, which permits brief bursts of nearly superhuman activity.
Emergence relies on epistolary retelling, unrealistically detailed at times, and pronoun/article deficient (shorthand). The style might annoy some readers, but you get used to it, and, actually, that cut away fat provides an ideal landing pad for Candy’s punchlines. Simple language = comedy gold.
Sentence structure throughout will have English teachers spinning in graves (those fortunate to have one)… English 60 percent flab, null symbols, waste. Suspect massive inefficiency stems from subconsciously recognized need to stall, give inferior intellects chance to collect thoughts into semblance of coherence (usually without success)… (p. 3).
Also, like good Hard SF, Palmer thinks of everything. Everything! And he manages the technical information in intense bursts, keeping it interesting without sacrificing character, and I loved the fact that the girl was really pro-active about her situation and did not dilly-dally about her surroundings like Ish from Earth Abides.
Started to go on way; stopped—had thought. Returned, bled air tanks as had seen Big Olly do. Had explained: Compression, expansion of air in tanks “made water” through condensation; accumulation bad for equipment. Found was starting to think terms of preserving everything potentially useful against future need. (Hope doesn’t develop into full-blown neurosis; maintaining whole world could cramp schedule.) (p. 29.)
Most Heinleinian is the way Emergence embraces controversy that sometimes feels disgusting, especially when the plucky eleven-year-old girl is regularly propositioned for sex. (Who are these men who can’t seem to keep it in their pants around a little girl just a few months after the apocalypse?)
But more often, the controversy is subtle, insidious, until the end, when you realize you are essentially rooting for the extinction of humanity.
The book continues with Candy’s search for other humans, a potential mate that she could be with and when she finds a boy, she is happy but also put off by his insistence to be with her as man and woman. She does like him though, and he is a mechanical genius who is able to convert her car into a train/car in order to use the train tracks to travel as the roads would more than likely be closed off with cars.
Candy and her parrot develop a sort of a telepathic link which is awesome, considering that she goes missing shortly after getting a message of a space base. The rest of the super smarties are gathered together to build a rocket that will go into space to destroy a Russian bomb which is set to go off if no Russian agent enters the code. Having most of the Earth de-populated by the killer virus, there are no agents left and the bomb is slowly descending into the Earth’s atmosphere set to kill the Americans. (Yey!)
Candy gets to them in time and volunteers to be a pilot as she is small enough to fit in the bomb’s cokpit and de-activate it. As a surprise turn of events, one of their co-pilots was a Russian double-agent and he manages to almost destroy their mission. Candy is brave, Candy is a martial arts expert, Candy is a ruthless killer. I loved the ending and I was left wanting for more.
I was happy today when I found out that a sequel to Emergence, Tracking, was serialized in three parts, beginning in the July/August 2008 issue of Analog.