The Ragpicker

By Joel Dane

Meerkat Press (July 23, 2024)

Review by The Horror Zine Staff Reviewer Jon R. Meyers

Buy the book HERE

the ragpicker

Joel Dane’s The Ragpicker is a genre-defying mashup of post-apocalyptic greatness that somehow manages to have a little bit of something for everyone. The book is comprised of one-part post-apocalyptic doomsday with an undertone of darkness for the average everyday horror fan; one-part science fiction with enough emotional edge that hardcore fans of Ursula K. LeGuin will love and adore--as well as a modern touch of traditional cyberpunk that tech-junkies will recognize and appreciate.

At times, Joel Dane even manages to put on a display of creative writing styles, reminiscent to that of the old classic fantasy sagas, as he spins a technologically timeless tale of humanity’s obsession with wanting more than we as humans should have. Dane further goes on to dissect this greedy obsession in comparison to our everyday lives, human desires, humanity, hopes, and dreams as we are forever lost amid a technologically advanced world, so much so that we’re losing touch with the reality of the physical world in which we are currently living.Those interested in the current trending topics of the effects that artificial intelligence has been playing in the writing community--as well as the other various creative arts, media, and technology--will find genuine solace within the message of Dane’s work. I found this novel to be positively reminiscent and very much on par with the works of Jeff VanderMeer, Robert C. Cargill’s Sea of Rust, and one of my personal favorites in the post-apocalyptic subgenre: Brian Allen Carr’s haunting dystopian masterpiece Sip.

Dane’s ability to creatively mashup a handful of different genres while creating such a modern classic for the times is nothing short of admirable. The story takes us as the reader on an emotional roller coaster through adigitally poetic, beautiful, and harrowing adventure of love, madness, and deathin a vast digital wasteland.

The once thriving world that was ever-so-booming with life and love and happiness has been taken over and brought to ruin by society’s overall obsession, boredom, and longing to be forever connected to manufactured technology.Ysmany, our main protagonist, often speaks of the remnants of the world before the great influx of technology. She lives in a village run by what the townspeople refer to as Server.

Ysmany tells us how those in the village are not named until after their ninth birthdays. She tells us how she misses her birth name, previous life, loving and caring interactions with her close friends and family. As we read, we discover several recollections of how many individuals have taken such extreme measures to acquire an eternal connectivity over their lives, so much so that the technology has taken over in such a way that the real world remains desolate and hollow. These extreme measures refer to people known as twitches, or "those that wear a second digital skin" that covers their body. The second skin is a military grade cybernetic suit that is always connected to the cloud, running robotic software advanced enough to produce immediate access to information, as well as holographic representations of past loved ones, friends, and family.

Ultimately, we as the reader can see why Ysmany would need such a companion on her travels as The Ragpicker. The Ragpicker offers her protection in an inclusive quest against technology, especially when trying to do the right thing. The two characters make some important realizations about the effects technology has over their lives before and after the digital apocalypse. It is worth mentioning in relevance to the recurring theme found throughout the story.

Dane writes,“Is love your greatest weakness?” Server asked me. “Or your greatest strength?”

Server said our original sin was that we sacralized human life. She said tragedy is when an animal forgets how to live in her indigenous environment. She said tragedy is when an animal forgets she is her indigenous environment. She said we forgot how to die.”

These sentiments are later strengthened from a much darker perspective with the Ragpicker’s cross-analyzation of the same subject matter when he states,

“We’re living inside a corpse,” I told Luz, as she plunked acorns into a basket. “The cloud is a corpse.”

Although the characters’ stakes are at an all-time high when the destination is clear on the other side of the vast and dangerous wastelands, they persevere.The Ragpicker is a genuinely fantastic book with a little bit of something for everyone. It’s well-written, fresh, evocative, and innovative in all the right ways. A must read, in my opinion, especially for fans of anything post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, horror, science fiction, and fantasy alike. Check it out!