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"Second Childhood" juxtaposes the idyllic with the post-apocalyptic in a thriller set on Cortes Island, BC

When people think of Cortes Island, they usually associate it with the Hollyhock Centre, summer getaways,  a laid-back lifestyle, or stunning views of Desolation Sound. They probably don’t think of it in connection with post-apocalyptic gang wars, genetically modified child prostitutes or hulking psychically scarred killers.

But that’s the Cortes Island that science fiction writer Donna McMahon has evoked in her new novel, Second Childhood (Drowned City Press, 2010). A sequel to 2002’s Dance of Knives, the book is set mostly on Cortes Island and nearby Campbell River in the year 2109, years after the West Coast has been battered by climate change, sea level rise, global ecological and economic collapse, and a major earthquake.

The story revolves around the struggle to heal Simon Lau, a central character in the earlier book, in the tranquillity of Cortes. The task is not an easy one because of Simon’s own state, the problems of his therapist and figures from his past who come in search of him, for vengeance or other reasons.

McMahon, who lives on the Sunshine Coast, has written a gripping thriller set in a well realized, believable near future. She fluidly juxtaposes and contrasts the seemingly idyllic Cortes with the post-apocalyptic chaos of the rest of the world. And there are flashes of humour in the reactions of Simon’s city-bred therapist to the scampering squirrels, pre-dawn bird choruses, leaky roofs and dampness she experiences on what she refers to as “this miserable island.”

It’s not necessary to have read Dance of Knives to enjoy Second Childhood, though a synopsis of the earlier book would have been helpful to set the scene and allow both new and old readers to more easily settle into the new book, especially since the first book was published eight years ago. (You can brush up on the background at the publisher's website though --

Second Childhood with its references to drugs and sex, and its occasional scenes of violence, will not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s well written, and gripping with a finely realized climax. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers or near-future science fiction. Even those who generally avoid or ignore science fiction may find the references to British Columbia history, geography and culture and the depictions of post-apocalypse Vancouver and Cortes make the book worth a read.

Both Second Childhood and Dance of Knives can be ordered directly from Drowned City Press. They can also be found on or ordered through your local independent bookstore.

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