Walter Jackson is already in the midst of a personal crisis when the apocalypse hits. His wife and daughter have left him, running to California from their home in Memphis after despairing at Walter’s emotional distance. That distance comes from his job. Walter is an FBI agent, a hardened, blunt-talking type who’s heavily focused on his work and the old trope of “providing for his family”, delivering to them the physical trappings absent the emotional connection.
All of a sudden, with Walter in the midst of searching for his lost family, the world goes dark and everything changes. EMPs have blown the planet’s electronics to pieces, causing planes to crash, communications to cease, farming and virtually every other aspect of modern life to fall dead on the spot, along with half the world’s population. Walter soon finds his wife dead, which leaves him with one thing left to fight for: his daughter. As he learns of the new power structures in place in California, Walter also discovers a curious ARCADE; a spot where the death of electronics seems to have passed right on by, and, at first glance, it’s all being used for nothing more than a giant underground gaming room.
As post-apocalyptic worlds go, author MF Thomas’ ARCADE is an odd one. It’s harsh yet at times quite ordered, and has some interesting power dynamics that don’t, at first at least, make total sense. Walter’s interaction with it is exactly as you’d expect from a character who’s something of a ‘hard man’ stereotype. For all the heart that comes with his search for his long-missing daughter (the main plot stretches over a period of over a decade), he’s curiously emotionless, except when it comes to dogs and a self-imposed morality. The effect is fascinating but at times bizarre. It’s hard to discern the motives for some of Walter’s actions beyond extremely dangerous curiosity, and his new role–a more conventional ‘policeman’ in a world where such things are losing relevance–is one that simply plays off his old life a little too comfortably. Walter’s not a loveable character but he is an effective one, and a useful tool for what turns out to be an extremely strange narrative arc. The whole premise of ARCADE is that the world is not at all what it seems, even in its strange, altered new era. It’s something entirely different, with some of its influences coming from wildly surreal corners.
A strong post-apocalyptic thriller with a strange and at times enthralling central premise, MF Thomas’ ARCADE nevertheless falls a little short on portraying the true emotional weight of a disaster that kills half the world’s population.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader