Benet is able to create a suspenseful mood through the setting, because the setting is a mixture of vaguely familiar and yet completely foreign. What I like about Benet's setting is that as the reader learns more about it, the setting becomes weirder and weirder. Normally a reader becomes more familiar with time and place as a story moves on, but that isn't the case with "By the Waters of Babylon." That's why the story's setting is able to keep reader interest.
When the story begins, the reader likely believes that the story is taking place in the past. Everything reads like descriptions of Native American lifestyles. There's stuff about Forest People, Dead Places, and locations where the gods live. It sounds like an ancient time and place with ancient superstitions. But then John begins his journey. Along the way he sees buildings "too big to be houses." He sees roads and bridges.
—I saw that once there had been god-roads across it, though now they were broken and fallen like broken vines.
The reader can't quite tell what it is that John is describing, but the reader begins to become suspicious of the setting's time period. Once a reader is suspicious, interest is held strong and fast. Lastly, Benet hits his reader with English writing in the place of the gods.
They said UBTREAS. There was also the shattered image of a man or a god. It had been made of white stone and he wore his hair tied back like a woman's. His name was ASHING, as I read on the cracked half of a stone.
The setting just gets weirder and weirder, and the reader just can't help but be propelled forward to figure out what has happened and why.