Although Frank M. Robinson’s apocalyptic novel Waiting. . . is set in present-day California, the story also draws from events thirty-five thousand years earlier. Both times are turning points for humanity. The present holds ecological doom from overpopulation and environmental degradation. The prehistoric event was, according to Robinson, the sudden emergence of sophisticated language and tool-making among Homo sapiens that enabled the species to crowd out other hominids and cover the Earth.
But what if another branch of hominids managed to survive disguised as Homo sapiens, waiting for a chance to wrest control of the world from them? This is Robinson’s underlying premise. As the story begins, the hidden species is making its move. A doctor dies under seemingly impossible circumstances just as he is set to deliver a lecture to a circle of old friends, “The Suicide Club.” One member, television producer Arthur Banks, sets out to uncover the killer. As other members of the Club are also killed, he learns that the doctor had compiled evidence of the hidden species, the Old People, and was killed to suppress it. Banks discovers the Old People have deadly telepathic powers, an uncanny knack for disappearing, contempt for humans, and odd weaknesses. He encounters them where he least expects them and finds, finally, that the Old People are about to triumph.
Blending science fiction, noir detective story, and horror, Waiting. . . is a satisfying thriller. But as a monitory tale, it may disappoint readers. The frequent allusions to environmental catastrophe, for instance, are vague. So is the central theme: At one point, one of the Old People asks, “What would you [Homo sapiens] would do with us, Banks?” An intriguing question, but Waiting. . . leaves it hanging.