Review by Joel Kreissman
If an apocalypse happens, what will our successors think of the things we leave behind? That is what Renee Carter Hall seeks to explore in Signal.
Jak, an overly curious young adult “rakuun,” finds a strange shell-like object while foraging. It’s not an animal shell, not a rock, not alive, not dead, and after a couple days in his possession, it lights up, blinking. Jak’s clan recognizes it as an artifact of the “Before” and urges him to get rid of it, but he refuses. As Jak keeps the artifact, he starts to have dreams of its creators and becomes increasingly obsessed with it until the clan finally gives him the ultimatum. It goes, or he goes.
Fortunately, one of the elders knows a “yotl” who’s knowledgeable of the artifacts of those who lived Before, and he gives Jak directions to find him. And thus, the young rakuun sets out on a journey across a dangerous landscape of post-apocalyptic ruins and hungry wildlife.
The rakuun are fleshed out as a species derived from, but not quite the same as, raccoons. Their ritualized hand-washing provide a link to their ancestry. But I would have liked more detail on the other sapient species.
The corrupted names of the sapient species was a novel means of indicating which modern day animals they evolved from, while using modern English names for the non-sapient species differentiated them from the sapient ones. Though I would appreciate more description, the writing relies heavily on the species names to give you a picture of the characters. “Rakuun” and “yotl” were clear enough, but “khoni” confused me until I remembered that “coney” was an old name for rabbits.
At first, I thought that Jak’s extremely detailed dreams might be caused by a virtual reality app of some sort. We never get a real answer for the source of the visions, though Inkari speculates Shinto-esque animistic spirits provided the knowledge of such long-dead things as the Rolling Stones.
In all, Signal is an inventive exploration of a modestly-developed post-apocalyptic world. I would recommend it as an example of the world after humanity.