Author and playwright Gary Morgenstein is back for the seventh-inning stretch – his acclaimed first novel in “The Dark Depths” trilogy, A Mound Over Hell, introduced us to the bleak world at the end of the 21st century, after a war against an extremist Islamic regime resulted in the defeat of the western world, clawing itself out from the ruins under the auspices of The Family, the de-facto government of what was the United States, where pretty much everything enjoyable is illegal, and baseball struggles to remain relevant. The devastating events at the end of the story appear to renew the interest in baseball – and the patriotism it invokes.
Now in his second installment, A Fastball for Freedom, we are taken to a wider view of the status of the world. Former baseball historian Puppy Nedick is on the run after he and his friends are branded as traitors, and he escapes with his ex-wife Annette to what is now the Caliphate of England to try and prevent another devastating war but are taken prisoner. The British people, referred to as Crusaders, seems accepting of their subservience to the Grand Mufti, but are looking to latch on to something, anything, to cheer about again, while the Grand Mufti and the Imams are convinced by military leader Colonel Ali Basa to use Puppy to demonstrate the dominance of their regime over the Crusaders. And baseball might fit within both Puppy’s and Basa’s agendas.
Meanwhile Zelda Jones escapes and finds herself, with newborn Diego Jr. in tow, in and around Boston, even at one point in the shadow of the new construction of Fenway Park.
The Family, reeling from the death of Grandma and under the control of former Fist Cousin and now Grandpa Albert, has pushed forward with the rebuilding of baseball stadiums and bringing back baseball, mostly under the direction of Third Cousin Elias Kenuda. Elias is also working to adopt his orphan ward Clary – but behind Clary are dark secrets that could rip the Family apart.
Morgenstein continues his vivid worldbuilding established in the first novel. Throughout the story we get more ideas of what life is like under the Family, the encouragement to find love, commit to your work, etc. – with failure likely resulting in being sent to a Disappointment Village. Even with the presence of a government, there are still areas of anarchy. And we start to see more about the robots – how they think of themselves, their role in society, and how the Facebots – the previously banned robots who most resemble and are almost indistinguishable from humans – may figure into the future of the story.
Interestingly, baseball takes mostly a back seat until later in the story. We get a glimpse of the nearly complete new Fenway Park and the remnants of Red Sox Nation, and how the Family is working to rebuild the stadiums, but the game itself comes later. Baseball still represents the hope of the American people, and the spark that might ignite all of Europe.
Instead, we are seeing the bigger picture and its push forward in the ultimate story, avoiding the “middle of the trilogy” problem of just being a bridge between the beginning and end.
And throughout, there is a constant fear about what might become of our protagonists, existing in a world where you can be executed at any time simply because you are who you are. And it feels like that could happen at any time.
It also forms a precautionary tale, like a good post-apocalyptic tale should…we see a world where extremism in either direction can present as a dominant power, even when it is not necessarily the majority view of those it supposedly represents.
A Fastball for Freedom comes out this Thursday, March 25th, from BHC Press. Interested in Gary Morgenstein’s other works? Tomorrow his eight-episode scripted series Joyland, co-created and co-written with Russell Friedman, will debut on YouTube, set in the tumultuous 1960s when former New York Knicks player Marty Dent brings a basketball team to Brooklyn as part of the new American Basketball Association to help bolster the city. And later this year his latest play will premiere, A Black and White Cookie, a humorous look at racial harmony when a gruff African American man is forced to close his East Village business of 30 years and retire to Florida when he is hit with a rent increase but is instead convinced to fight his landlord by a 1960s eccentric Jewish radical. He is also the author of the stage dramas Saving Stan, A Tomato Can’t Grow in the Bronx, and the off-Broadway sci-fi rock musical The Anthem.