Bugs in the Arroyo by Steven Gould (author of Jumper) has an interesting premise where self-replicating bugs have decimated civilization in New Mexico and Arizona—all because they thrive on metal and radio waves. The only thing that prevents them from spreading out across the United States is their dislike for water.
This story takes place in the desert where a modern day wagon train has come to a halt because one of the children, Thayet, has been cut off from the group by a river of bugs. A wagon wheel ran over a buried bug, causing a swarm, and trapped a feeding horse on the other side of the arroyo.
Thayet couldn’t abandon the horse and attempted a rescue. She succeeded, but found herself trapped on a rock surrounded by the bugs who were now inert, but could swarm again if threatened. When the main character, Kimball, came on the scene, Thayet—daughter of a Buddhist monk—was meditating in the lotus position, conserving energy in the hot, desert sun.
The story is a short slice-of-life moment of a group of humans escaping the ravaged area of the Southwest. Kimball arrives, rescues Thayet, and their lives move on, a teaser of sorts for 7th Sigma. I haven’t read that book yet, but I felt this short story stood on its own, largely due to the grounded, realistic characters and convincing sense of peril that Gould imbued into the tale. Gould is a New Mexico resident, so the description of the arid land had a strong sense of presence and solidity from somebody who had walked through it.
There was also enjoyable banter between Kimball and Thayet, showing a relationship that existed beyond the boundaries of the story. They may or may not be characters in 7th Sigma, but I felt their unspoken history added weight to their realism.
If you are looking for a light read and want a taste of an author you may not have read before, Bugs in the Arroyo is well worth the 99¢ you’ll pay for it.
Release Date: April 17, 2009 (USA)
Publisher: Tor Books
Language: 2 (some mild language)
Violence: 1 (implied, a girl’s leg gets eaten by bugs)