Riddley Walker most obviously belongs to the rich vein of science fiction known as the post-holocaust novel, along with such works as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), Harlan Ellison’s famous novella A Boy and His Dog (1969), and many others, focusing as it does on a world still trying after thousands of years to recover from the effects of a nuclear war. Russell Hoban employs other strains of science fiction as well, enriching his novel and helping to explain why Riddley Walker was one of the most highly praised science-fiction novels of the 1980’s. It is a considerable achievement for a man previously known primarily as a writer of children’s literature.

As well as being a post-holocaust novel, Riddley Walker also is a dystopian novel, with a central character living in a world of government-induced fear and repression. Moreover, in a less obvious but extremely important way, Riddley Walker is a technocratic novel. Riddley’s post-holocaust England is not a technocracy to the extent of the society of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), but government officials very much desire that it become one and are willing to be as brutal as necessary to achieve that end. Finally, although Riddley Walker clearly is set in England, the novel has a flavor of an alternate world, especially in the author’s creation of a “new” language, reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’s...

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