Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Colony: A Review

Mary Vigliante's The Colony is a post-plague apocalyptic novel set in the then contemporary setting of the late 1970s  Catskill Mountain region of Upstate New York. 

The cover actually has this soft fuzzy look to it.

Mary Vigliante is the pen name and maiden name of Mary Vigliante Szydlowski.  She has written a variety of novels and stories.  After a couple of "science fiction" novels, she seems to have focused on kids-lit, and detective stories.  Her primary career appears to have been as an inspector of mental health facilities for the State of New York.  The Colony, published in 1979, was one of her earliest works. 

The apocalypse is the result of a highly effective germ-warfare attack by unknown parties, and falls within the last-man (or in this case last-woman) on earth trope.  Our heroine, Sunny, takes a day-trip fishing excursion to the Catskills.  When she gets home, everyone is dead from some hyper-quick pandemic attack.  She notes that there must have been some sort of warning, because people are generally at home, and not on the roads when it occurs.  The exact nature of the disease is never resolved, and after its initial deadly strike, does not reappear.

Sunny, leaves the Catskills, heading down to Florida looking for people, giving up she eventually returns to the Catskills.  That is pretty much it for the apocalypse-in-progress portion of the story.

But she is not alone. And when she gets back to the Catskills, she is captured by "The Colony".
Sunny had been captured by four men who informed her she was now their wife. When the survivors organized, the men far outnumbered the women. They created a society and a family structure that supported male dominance. By their decree women existed only to serve their husbands and male masters. Sunny resisted, but was beaten and forced to submit. When she could bear no more of their cruelty, she tried to run away. But they dragged her back

What we have here is something of a sado-masochist romance soft-core porn novel mixed in with a lot of strange 1970s era hardcore feminist verbiage.   The sexual language is relatively tame (if disturbing in theme), but the punishment of the rebellious Sunny, and the psychology of the situation are detailed relatively closely.  It lacks the intentionality of something like the Story of O (of which I have only glanced at the setup portion), but that very lack of obvious intentionality makes it a very strange story.  Her captures are described by Sunny as being very handsome, and intermitently kind, which is somewhat the give away that this is not a serious tale of capture/rape.

If the story was realistic in its portrayal of events, it would be awful.  But the odd romance novel feel, and the odd psycho-babble 1970s feminism mixed in makes it an oddly funny read at times.  They build up Sunny getting hold of a gun from the very start of novel -turning the tables so to speak - but the end is actually somewhat of a surprise.

As a useful portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world, or even current social trends, it is of zero value.  Other than its sequel - The Land -set 300 years in the future, and apparently with the women having the upper hand this time- it may be unique within the apocalyptic trope.  If it is not - I don't want to know about it. LOL

O.K. , so we have our usual descriptive (versus qualitative) criteria (1 to 7 with 7 max), starting with realism/grittiness.  Since grittiness for our purposes, does not include faux-slave whippings, but how identifiable the setting is with our world today,  we will have to call it a 1.  There is nothing realistic about any of this.  That within a handful of survivors their will be a bunch of jerks is plausible.  That all of the survivors will form this cult-like group with a non-church going, but biblically justified anti-feminist bias is just not very likely.  There are no issues of survival.  Survival is easy.  So of course, we will tie up our women and make them behave!

Readability?   Tougher to decide.  It has a lot of navel gazing, and not a whole lot happens.  The language is executed reasonably well.  I am going to say that it is at the mid-point of a 4.   Easy language, simple plotting, twisted thematically.


PioneerPreppy said...

Well she got one thing right from the sound of it. Feminism will last about 10 seconds after the lights go out.

I may pick that title up just for the humor.

russell1200 said...

Actually, I think she is pro-feminist. But in a really really weird way.

There are so few people that there is not much in the way of survival pressures.

I suspect that with a little luck an eight year old could survive.