REVIEW: Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky

Last Updated on February 11, 2024

Daniel Polansky’s Tomorrow’s Children is as if Gangs of New York was taken from the screen and re-written into a post apocalyptic fantasy world Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie but ghost written by Joe Abercrombie if he’d mainlined a bag of double strength coffee and had a three-week deadline. Tomorrow’s Children, is a hundred kilometres an hour thrill ride through a post apocalyptic future fantasy with a cast of characters so large I think George Martin would tip his glass to it.

In Tomorrow’s Children, the leaders of one of the premier gangs on the cut-off island of Manhattan are assassinated by a small crew of killers led by the Kid. The owners of the remaining largest gangs, lords of city block fiefdoms, come together and hire Gillian to find out who did it. And as the island goes to blood around them, the funk—a toxic pall of mist that cuts off the sky and escape from the island—is navigated by a tourist in for the first time in centuries.

The story makes me think of a Guy Ritchie gangster movie, with plenty of gangs plying for different things, characters gunning for each other as much bigger things happen around them in their blind spots, plenty of banter and randomness, and amongst the grit a good swathe of dark humour.

Tomorrow’s Children jumps from scene to scene with frenetic pace, using a range of very cool, and sometimes confusing approaches to make that happen. Chapters are broken down into subheading scenes, and often, in faster parts of the book, those scenes have little to no setting and just a few lines of dialogue between unnamed characters. Images replace names of places and things in some places. Seventy-something footnotes attached to character names help you try to understand who is who. The voice is thick with far future devolved English slang that you’re dropped into up to the elbows with little to no time to work it out. Manhattan Island references and locations that I feel would only make sense to locals are peppered throughout. And these things, collectively, actually makes the book really quite hard to get in to at the start. Also, for this reader at least, this meant that if I took a couple of days break from reading it, or read it when I was tired or even a little distracted, I became quickly lost and had to back track. This is definitely a book I recommend reading in big, sustained chunks when you are mentally switched on and paying attention, and not looking for a sleepy-eyed comfort read. Fortunately, when you can do that, it pays off.

That very large cast of characters has Polansky dropping really cool hints and insights all over the page. Within this cast are all the traits and betrayals and slivers of hope and moral greyness grimdark fans love. My favourites were Maryland Slim, who could force your body to do what your mind didn’t want to; Nelly, the spy who saw the island through the eyes of a network of cats; Swan the ageing best killer on the island who doesn’t really like killing and Ael the second best killer (and his hypebird, a hilarious addition to his character) who wants to kill Swan to become the best killer on the island. The Kid and Gillian also make a good pair of characters to build the story around, providing a foundation for the wild and varied cast to play around.

Tomorrow’s Children by Daniel Polansky is a story that rewards both your ability to push through its first quarter’s incredibly steep learning curve and your ability to read with hyper-attention for long periods of time. While the voice and size of cast can be confusing at times–and I think will mean a section of its readership may give up early on the read–there is a story worth sticking around for. Full of Polansky’s trademark snark and character bitterness and snappy dialogue, with excellent twists and turns and imagination in spades, Tomorrow’s Children is well worth the read.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.