Matt’s Reviews: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Book Cover: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn


  • Publisher:           John Joseph Adams Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 07/11/2017
  • Pages:                 288
  • ISBN:                  9780544947306
  • Author:               Carrie Vaughn

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn is a post apocalyptic science fiction murder mystery and winner of the  Philip K. Dick Award in 2017.  About a century after the downfall of modern civilization, a new society has grown up along “the Coast Road”.  Pandemics, economic collapse and environmental disasters have led to the destruction of modern society.  In its place, cooperative communities have grown up on and around the Coast Road on West Coast of what used to be the United States.   

These communities have strict rules for birth and population control, resource management, etc.  The goal of the communities is to make sure they keep a  maintainable level of production and population.  Only when a household has proven that they have a sustainable level and amount of resources are they awarded a ‘banner’ which allows them to remove their implanted birth control and have a child.  They recognize that runaway capitalist growth at all cost is what led to the crash of the old society and are determined to prevent similar philosophies from taking hold here.  “Investigators” enforce the rules of the society and investigate any violations to try to ensure a fair and sustainable future for everyone.

Enid is one of the investigators, relatively new to the job, who has been assigned to investigate a suspicious death in the neighboring town of Pasadan.  The book bounces back and forth between this investigation and Enid’s time spent on the road about a decade or so before with her traveling musician lover (Dak). Vaughn does a great job at showing us the lengths a young love-struck girl might go to for love, and also how those experiences helped shape the Investigator trying to solve a mystery later in life. 

Vaughn creates a universe that you can almost believe is in the future of America, or the American west. Some of the specifics of the technologies that remain versus those that were lost seem doubtful, and the level of destruction of the infrastructure and technology does not seem possible in a little less than a century.   I would have set the novel farther into the future than just several decades, but perhaps the huge storms that she posits would be sufficient to cause that level of destruction.   Regardless, it is an acceptable level of suspension of disbelief, and the rest of the story more than makes up for my nit-picking on durability of modern buildings and roads, etc. 

The story of the wanderings of the young Enid and Dak exposes us to the Coast Road communities and how they operate.  It fills us in on the cooperation and potential issues with the society while introducing us to Enid and Dak.  We get to see how they grow together and apart and how different communities along the road contribute to the overall society.   The story of the investigation of the death in Pasadan is more of a straight forward mystery story.  Was the death an accident?  If not, why was he killed?  What are the citizens trying to cover up? etc.

Vaughn keeps you guessing as to what the real story is, and supplies satisfying twists and turns along the way.  You wonder what will happen with the mysterious death and what problems and adventures the two young lovers will encounter.  This is a satisfying post-apocalyptic thriller with great universe building, and a fun mystery ‘who-dun-it’. I heartily recommend this one.


For another fun science fiction story about the perils of technology run amok:

Plastivore by Matt Truxaw

Book Cover: Plastivore by Matt Truxaw





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