Book review: R.E.Generation, Michael Prewer

A dystopian novel that sees climate change erase mammalian life forms. What now?
Two panels. On left is of a man with dark hair wearing a grey jumper. He is smilling. On the right is cover of a book with the words 'R.E.Generation' set against a forest background.

Michael Prewer’s debut novel, R.E.Generation, attempts to be compelling with visions of a dystopian future, yet it falters under the weight of its ambition. Set 50,000 years in the future, the novel follows protagonist, Sarah, and R.E. Generation volunteers as they awaken from a chemically induced sleep to find a world ravaged by climate change and a reproductive blight, leaving behind a landscape dominated by pine trees, mushrooms and lizards.

The central mission of the characters is to rebuild society and repopulate the Earth (there’s literally a line saying ‘let’s talk about sex, baby’) all while avoiding humanity’s past mistakes. Unfortunately, the execution of this concept feels didactic rather than innovative or insightful. Prewer’s narrative suffers from glaringly predictable tropes that seasoned readers of the genre will find overly familiar, compounded by heavy-handed exposition that results in a meandering narrative that never quite gains momentum.

The novel alternates between Sarah’s perspective and flashbacks of past characters from around the globe, depicting environmental disasters and the perils of technology (video games are bad etc), all of which led to societal collapse. While these historical interludes are intended to enrich the thematic depth of the novel, they instead come across as redundant and predictable, offering very little nuance or mystery to the overarching plot.

Character development is another significant shortcoming. The novel is populated with a plethora of characters, none of whom are particularly memorable, but are distinguished primarily by their assigned jobs or physical attributes. There’s Newton the ‘attractive ginger’, Meaghan with her ‘striking face and a figure to match’ and ‘fitness freak’ Ayesha. Sarah, the protagonist, remains emotionally unaffected – a blank, bland canvas who offers little in the way of introspection or critical thinking. Consequently, we learn very little about her past, desires or motivations.

Prewer’s world-building is lacklustre, with scant sensory details to fully immerse readers in this new world, barring mentions of tall trees and mushrooms, of course. The emphasis on mundane survival tasks, such as the slow construction of huts, democratic voting systems among the survivors and foraging, is overly detailed and protracted, particularly in the novel’s first act. Meanwhile, actual conflict breezes by so quickly that that it’s almost imperceptible.

Prewer’s treatment of technological advancements and climate change is disappointingly shallow. For example, a flashback scene involving a family’s offer to migrate to Mars by a bankrupt NASA’s successor, NAMA, and learning a universal language dubbed “Martian”, is both oversimplified and absurd.

Most disconcerting is Prewer’s handling of sensitive themes such as sexual abuse and rape. These scenes, presumably intended to underscore the darker facets of humanity, are approached with a troubling lack of nuance. The result is an emotionally barren and inelegant portrayal of trauma that renders these important issues with disquieting superficiality.

Read: Book review: The Afterlife Confessional, Bill Edgar

While R.E. Generation has an intriguing premise and the potential to explore hot button themes, it ultimately stumbles in its execution. The novel’s heavy-handed exposition, lack of immersive world-building, underdeveloped characters and mishandling of sensitive subjects result in a reading experience that is more frustrating than fulfilling. Fans of the genre may find themselves yearning for a more engaging exploration of humanity’s future.

R.E.Generation, Michael Prewer
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448pp

Price: $34.99
Publication date: 1 June 2024

Nina Culley is a writer and horror enthusiast based in Naarm. She’s the Studio Manager and Director of Melbourne Young Writers' Studio where she also teaches creative writing. Her works have appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Aniko Press and Eureka Street.