Mutability blooms in the Florida Keys after the Red War and the genie boxes. King Pelicans with the brains of scientists and a single human hand in place of one webbed foot rule the ruins of half-drowned Miami. Slavers roam the deep waters offshore, taking captives to feed the voracious Kudzu Army and the human aqueduct bearing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. On the last stretch of the Overseas Highway still standing, an albino seeress slowly becomes her name: White Flamingo. ''You,'' she says. ''You will reach for the sun while staying rooted to the ground. But I fear your shadow will be much too long.''After the Red Wars are over and scientists used their genie boxes, what is left of earth's inhabitants have mutated in different and unexpected ways. In a sliver of sand in the middle of the ocean by what was once known as the Florida Keys, a boy of undetermined age lies on a sandy beach as his emerald color skin soaks the run rays that give him life. Nanny died long ago and Leaf's only companion is his friend Skate, a two-dimensional sting-ray-like boy who dwells in the sea. He is Leaf's only friend until Scallop arrives on the island and thereafter visits him daily.
Transformed by his father's genie box in the late days of the Red War, Leaf has lived for decades or centuries alone in a collapsing Victorian house on a desolate sandy key, misunderstanding time, feeding on sunlight and dew. When at last he meets a boy like--but so unlike!--himself, Leaf understands he has met destiny and sets out on a long, strange journey. A post-apocalyptic, psychoactive, polymorphous-perverse pastorale, Green Thumb will startle you with its utter strangeness and break your heart with its fragile beauty.
When Scallop's father is taken by slaver ships to forcibly join the Kudzu Army, Scallop is determined to save him and Leaf joins him on his adventure. Their journey will take them through overcrowded islands where Leaf will encounter what is left of humanity and the surviving culture for the first time. He'll meet Hardy, a strong, hard skinned green boy, the Albino White Flamingo, a seeress who will foretell his future, and along the way the boys will encounter hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, love and their ultimate destiny.
Cardamone is slow to reveal details of his world while initially focusing on Leaf and the immediate world around him, taking the reader on a journey of discovery and adventure by slow increments as he reveals the wider world and the full scope of his world building.
His characters balance each other out. Leaf is the main character and it is through his perspective that the story is narrated. There is a certain sense of detachment from the world about Leaf, yet he very much wants to be of the world and particularly yearns for Scallop. Leaf is both knowledgeable and naïve. His introspection gives his narrative voice an almost lulling quality that contrasts heavily with the progressively desperate and violent scenes in the story making those moments pop and linger.
Scallop is very much a part of the world and brings life and energy to Leaf's life and to the story, but Scallop gives only a small part of himself and seeks the impossible. Skate, the constant in Leaf's life, represents the unreachable. And then there's Hardy, who entrenched and thriving in the world of dive boys, becomes a teacher of pleasures, guide, enforcer, and bodyguard for Leaf and Scallop as their adventure takes them closer to slaver ships, the Kudsu Army, the ruined shores of what was once Miami and the world ruled by Pelican Kings.
This is speculative fiction, so the story takes some unexpected twists and turns from what initially seems like a boys' adventure into a progressively darker, complex world and into the weird. I particularly liked that Cardamone's characters are not set in stone and that they are not just mutants, but mutable. The queer themes in the story are part of the overall story arc with some dark, grand scenes, and also part of the lovely and intimate connection that Cardamone creates between his main characters.
In his post-apocalyptic novella Green Thumb, Tom Cardamone explores the darker side of humanity, as well as the environment, through a delicate character filled with beauty and a dense world building with heavy narrative and introspection. Cardamone's imagination and talent for the unusual are in full display as he combines incredibly tender moments, raw desperation, and violence with a delicate touch that at times become breathtaking. With an excellent story, memorable characters, and an ending that lingered with me for a quite while, this creative novella is most definitely highly recommended.
Category: LGBT - Queer Speculative Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: BrazenHead/August 2, 2012
Source: eARC Lethe Press
Visit Tom Cardamone here.
About the Author: Tom Cardamone writes queer speculative fiction. His short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He is the editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, and author of the erotic fantasy novel, The Werewolves of Central Park.