Empty World – John Christopher

Empty World


A new virus has emerged, and it proves almost universally fatal, leaving young Neil to fend for himself in a small English town.


John Christopher is, generally speaking, reliable, especially in his young adult stories. That’s true of Empty World as well. There’s no really new ground trodden here, but it follows Christopher’s reliable formula of a teen boy encountering a difficult situation with both reasonable skill and introspection. Where this book does less well is in its ending.

Christopher deals quickly with the base concept – most humans dying – though with the novel twist that they die of rapid aging. What he’s more interested in is his narrator’s responses to a rapidly emptying world – watching his family die, then others he’s tried to care for. It’s a rapidly moving story, and I wish that Christopher had spent a little more time on many of the interactions and concepts – there’s a lot of good material to work with here – but I suppose that 70s-era YA books didn’t lend themselves to heftier tomes. Some of the elements explored here were addressed more effectively in The Sword of the Spirits trilogy, where he had a little room to stretch out.

Even within those limits, I think Christopher could have done more with the ending. While he – somewhat unconvincingly – resolves some of the relationship issues he has set up, he ends the story still leaving a number of things hanging. It’s not a terrible ending, but he wrote better ones.

All that said, it is a quick, enjoyable, and fairly undemanding read, despite touching on some weighty topics.

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