The last century, when the Cold War dominated politics and the fear of nuclear holocaust overshadowed daily life, gave rise to many sf tales imagining the aftermath of such an atrocity. Each treat the catastrophe in different ways, but all imagine that humanity struggles on. Ranging from the grim to the bizarre, they can approach the subject with a dour realism or as an excuse to introduce outlandish circumstances as the background for an thrilling tale. Sterling E. Lanier's 1973 novel, Heiro's Journey, is characteristic of the latter type.
Set thousands of years after modern civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war, or "The Death" as it is known, it paints a picture of a transformed world. The American Great Lakes have merged into a great Inland Sea that is dotted with the ruins of a bygone age. The Deserts of The Death, "patches of atomic blight", blot the landscape. Global warming has heated the northern latitudes to sub-tropical temperatures, helping spawn strange lifeforms. Giant animals, like the Snappers (snapping turtles), giant brown gulls, morse (moose), and others roam the countryside. Some of animals have even achieved a human level of intelligence. Humanity itself has been reduced to a medieval existance, but many of its members have gained the power of telepathy.
This is the world of Per Hiero Desteen, Secondary Priest-Exorcist, primary Rover and Senior Killman. Sporting an ancient M-1909 Bolo knife and riding his truty intelligent, telepathic morse, Klootz, he is a citizen of the Metz Republic, a theocratic Christian state ruled over by the Abbeys. But there is evil afoot. The Unclean, sinister telepaths and hideous mutants bent on universal conquest are a growing threat. Hiero has been tasked by the Most Reverend Kulase Demero to journey southward to the ruins of the ancient world to recovered a computer which will allow the Abbey's scholars to better search their archives for a method to defeat the Unclean.
As Hiero undertakes his odyssey he encounters Gorm, an intelligent telepathic bear, and the two become fast friends. Soon he rescues the beautiful Luchare, a runaway princess from the D'alwah Kingdom, and the two fall deeply in love. He also finds a ally in the mysterious Brother Aldo, a member of the secretive Brotherhood of the Eleventh Commandment ("Thou shalt not destroy the Earth nor the life thereon."). They must strive against the evil Unclean adept, S'duna, and his hordes of Leemutes, malicious mutations like the Hairy Howlers, and the Man-Rats.
Hiero's Journey is an entertaining but garden variety novel. The plot sticks to the well-worn trail of standard heroic fantasy. The prose is competent but occasionally gets bogged down in exposition. The characters in the book have an adequate amount of individuality, but play rather cliched parts. The reliance on giant versions of regular animals to furnish this future world is somewhat unimaginative, although there are a few colorful mutants encountered along the way. Lanier was a great admirer of J. R. R. Tolkien, and echoes of The Lord of the Rings can be heard throughout, most obviously in the novel's central tension involving a Manichean struggle between the forces of Good an Evil. But Lanier's book lacks the fine detail and sense of tragedy that distinguish Tolkien's magnum opus. The result is an entertaining but ultimately superficial quest through the ruins of the future.