FRONTIER, a new novel by newly minted science fiction novelist Grace Curtis, is a heartfelt queer romance in a high noon standoff with our planet’s uncertian future.
In the distant future most of the human race has fled a ravaged Earth to find new life on other planets. For those who stayed a lawless society remains. Technology has been renounced, and saints and sinners, lawmakers and sheriffs, travelers and gunslingers, abound.
Frontier is kinfolk to The Mandalorian, Firefly, and Mad Max, but I’d also point to the 1972 television show, Kung Fu. In that series, a Shaolin monk named Kwai Chang Caine (played by David Carradine) wanders through the American old west, looking for his half-brother. But these comparisons are only of value in helping readers decide if this book might appeal to them. Once you crack into Frontier, the comparisons will soon fall by the wayside.
Told in a series of vignettes and interludes, the story begins in the future on a ruined, mostly-abandoned Earth. The sparse population that remains struggles to survive in spite of a corrupt justice system, dwindling water supplies, and starvation. Most folk cling to a new religion that worships Gaia—a female planet-god that binds them close to her heart through gravity and an encouraged hatred of technology.
We enter this future alongside a trio of grubby, pathetic scavengers scheming to salvage a newly-crashed escape pod, after witnessing its fiery plunge to Earth from outer space. Greed takes over, and once the dust settles, the way has been cleared for a boot-clad, gun-toting woman to emerge from the pod.
Referred to only as “The Stranger”, we soon learn that she wants to find a working communication device. She’s desperate to send a message. She needs to find someone who’s gone missing; the woman she loves. Through various adventures, mishaps, detours and standoffs, she makes her way towards a place rumored to have the technology she needs to send her message, in hopes it reaches the ears of the love of her life. And so she keeps moving, any way she can, towards that destination.
As she travels, she encounters a variety of people and situations. Each reacts to her differently, and thus The Stranger becomes The Courier, who temporarily teams up with… well, Garraty. I quite liked Garraty. That’s all you’ll get about him from me, so as not to sand away the shine of discovery for you.
And when The Courier’s vignette ends, she becomes The Tramp to a small boy struggling with the local concept of God. Later, she is The Stowaway on a problematic train ride. As she continues the struggle to reach her destination and fulfill her dream of finding her lover, she becomes The Traveler, Darling, The Guest… and when the time is right, we learn that she has a name.
The interludes tell one story, while the chapters tell another. Eventually, they twine together. The worldbuilding that created this post-apocalyptic Earth is strong enough I could almost taste the dust in the air while squinting at the scenery, from small decrepit towns, to open desert, to a huge and crowded city. The author crafts a future Earth that wobbles between the brink of despair and the edge of hope. Which way will it ultimately tilt?
The character development is some of the best I’ve ever encountered—succinctly managed, and with a sharp understanding of ‘show, don’t tell’. The plotline(s) wander about in an easy, organic fashion, and while they might seem to be disjointed in the moment, each proves in the long run to be anything but. To my astonishment, I learned that this is Grace Curtis’s debut novel. I absolutely want to read more from her in the future.
Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields in Michigan, where she grows herbs and vegetables when she’s not playing games with a cat named Chives. She’s fond of crafting, reading in the dark, literary worldbuilding, and pulling up dandelions. Visit Lori at brassbrightcity.com and ceejaywriter.com.