IN 2010 A CLEVER BLOG titled the Hypothetical Library posted covers, jacket copy, and blurbs for books that did not actually exist. The April 5, 2010 entry was for a bleak, post-apocalyptic detective novel, Immobility by Brian Evenson. In an odd case of art imitating art then becoming art, the description of the fake book caught the eye of an editor at Tor books, who then encouraged Evenson to write the real book. Got all that? Given its grim, all-too-plausible, post-nuclear disaster setting, let’s hope for no further iteration, no life imitating art.
Evenson has written stories of apocalypse and nuclear devastation before, most notably in his unnerving 2009 short fiction collection Fugue State. Evenson’s repeated use of the weaponized atom as a thematic concern is not surprising — he, like me, survived the Reagan-and-Watchmen 1980s. Immobility opens with Josef Horkai waking after being stored — a form of frozen stasis — for 30 years. Horkai does not remember being stored, nor does he remember his life before the Kollaps: a cataclysmic event described in blurry snapshots of panic, violence, and the unholy white fire and light of nuclear bombs.
Upon waking from his stasis in a dreary, concrete room, a disoriented Horkai attempts to strangle the inscrutable technician attending to him without really understanding why he does so. His attack fails when he discovers he can’t move his legs. Horkai then meets Rasmus, the leader of the small, dying community referred to as the Hive. Rasmus informs Horkai that they stored him for his own good, and as a result of exposure from the nuclear blast, Horkai is slowly dying from an insidious disease that will in time shut down his body. “Eventually you’ll be completely paralyzed, suffering from utter immobility.”
Rasmus and his two towering cronies, Olag and Olaf, give Horkai a painful epidural to slow his encroaching paralysis. Rasmus further explains that they have awakened Horkai to help complete a most important task: to retrieve a stolen cylinder that contains seed, which the community desperately needs if they are to start over. He tells Horkai that pre-Kollaps he was a fixer, a kind of detective who, simply if ominously put, solved problems. Rasmus is coy with what information he gives and in what form, filling in only some of the considerable gaps in Horkai’s memory.
Rasmus is one of the only characters in the novel who uses Horkai’s first name, Josef. It’s a first name that recalls Franz Kafka’s Josef K., who is arrested by unidentified agents working for an unnamed agency in the oddly humorous bureaucratic and totalitarian nightmare The Trial. Horkai also resembles Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, waking to a terrible physical transformation; in addition to his waist-down paralysis, Horkai’s skin is hairless, smooth, and eerily pink. Oleg calls Horkai a monster that shouldn’t have been awoken, while others insist that Horkai has been transformed into something no longer human. Horkai, like the cockroach, the only other wildlife spotted in Immobility’s poisoned environment, can now withstand prolonged exposure to radiation. It’s why Rasmus and the Hive need him to find the cylinder. Only Horkai can survive the trek to the mountain to retrieve it.
Horkai cannot walk so he is carried on the backs of two human mules, Qatik and Qanik, who may or may not be identical twins. The Qs&rs...read more