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The Future, Second by Second, by Meridel Newton

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also I know the author through this here internets.

Some of the fiction that gets labeled post-apocalyptic is actually during-apocalyptic. This is actually post-: the settlement in question, the town of Osto, has achieved a pretty stable state, farming and making clothes and trying to figure out how the people in the before times managed their weird materials and lives. They’re not perfect–there’s infighting and nastiness and domestic violence and disrespect. But they’re managing.

Until the infamous band of Esteben’s raiders come to Osto, intent on stripping the town of all that makes it an oasis and leaving desolation in their wake. Vasha, an old woman who has led Osto for years, tries to strike a bargain: if their leader can lead the town for a day and win its people’s support in a fair election, she’ll give him power freely. That day…hour by hour, second by second…determines the future of Osto.

There’s not a lot that’s earthshaking in the science fiction concepts here, but that’s not what Newton is aiming for. She’s focusing instead on character relationships–how understanding human relationships can be exactly the science that can save a way of life, a little at a time. How giving people their free choice is better than forcing them–no matter what the people holding the guns at your village keep would like you to think. This is a novella full of ideals (though not of sweetness and light), and this is a time when you might very well need some of that.

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