Barricade by Jon Wallace book review

Jon Wallace’s debut Barricade is a gleeful and satirical trip through ruined Britain

An emotionless android isn’t the most obvious choice of protagonist, but surprisingly, in Jon Wallace’s Barricade, it kind of works.

Kenstibec is a “Ficial”, a former construction droid turned taxi driver in the post-apocalyptic remains of the UK. His job, now that society has crumbled and only a few pockets of horribly disease-ridden humans remain, is to transport other Ficials from one place to another – because the one thing “Reals” can still do is attack Ficials.

His latest cargo is a pleasure droid dubbed Starvie, and she needs him to get her from Edinburgh to London in one piece. But the journey isn’t going to be simple, especially because she’s hiding something sinister amongst her luggage…

The destroyed world of Barricade is a familiar one – it’s even got a Matrix-style sunlight-blocking cloud barrier – so it’s the shift in perspective that keeps things interesting. Kenstibec is a detached narrator, and through his eyes the human world seems more than a little ridiculous.

Why can’t they control their impulses, why are their bodies so repulsive – and why are they so obsessed with their televisions?

There are some pretty obvious digs at modern society threaded throughout the novel, even as Kenstibec describes how utterly wrecked everything is. Wallace even manages to ask a few basic philosophical questions along the way, as both Ficials and Reals struggle to understand what the other’s existence says about the nature of humanity.

Usually, though, a more pressing problem – or a giant mutated rat – shows up before things get too heavy.

It should be depressing, but even a machine would find it tough not to enjoy the glee with which Wallace breaks the world apart.