Review by Terry Kitchen
Author of Next Big Thing
Before we even crack the book, let's talk about the title.
The bible of humorous sci-fi also of course contains the word Guide in it. But whereas Douglas Adams takes on the whole galaxy (repeatedly making the point of how insignificant our own blue planet is in the big picture), Jim Infantino's focus is narrower: the U.S., specifically New England, specifically New New England, in the not-too-distant future, when society is reorganizing after global warming and other catastrophes have undercut our current power structures. And like that other Guide, this one has a book-within-a-book, which the main character Marto composes and shares chapter by chapter during his Candide-like travels (in many ways, the best part of Infantino's novel).
The news is not all bad. Large parts of the surviving population have come together in agrarian-based sustainable communities, where transactions are based on merit rather than money. Merit is accrued via having followers and approval on social media, now internalized by implants, making speech itself obsolete. And technology has advanced so that most of the actual labor is done by tiny dedicated robots, thus avoiding the fatal flaw of past communal experiments, where everybody wants to stay up late and argue philosophy, but no one wants to get up at dawn to plant the corn. This social experiment, though, is under attack - the landed families of the past want their power and status back, and, beyond feuding with each other, want to crush and absorb the interconnected communities as slave labor.
Much of the plot involves these balance-of-power chess moves, with each side spying on the other (and Marto himself discovering his own compromised history along the way), and there's a climactic battle and aftermath as the new world sorts itself out. But, for my money, the reason to read the book is because it poses the question, does our society have to be this way, where every transaction has a dollar value, and, if not, how else could it work? Like the best sci-fi, The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide offers some genuinely new ideas to our ancient and ongoing human conversation.