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In science-fiction stories, the future is often far from happy and filled with dystopian cities. James Howard Kunstler’s new novel, World Made By Hand, isn’t exactly sci-fi, but it’s of a piece with the post-apocalyptic speculative genre, vividly imagining a world destroyed by terrorism and global warming. Here, society has devolved to a pre-19th-century level: There are no cars because there’s no gasoline, roads are in disrepair, trains don’t run, and planes don’t fly. A place like Union Grove, the upstate New York country town where the novel is set, is unusually fortunate just for having running water. World Made by Hand’s scenario sometimes feels like a fictionalization of Kunstler’s 2005 book, The Long Emergency, which discussed the looming catastrophic oil shortage, but the novel fleshes out the previous book’s abstractions: Hungry people eat dogs, everybody farms, minor illnesses are dreaded because there are no antibiotics, and dentistry is performed with foot-pedaled drills and rudimentary anesthetics of opium and marijuana. (“Nobody looked forward to a session with Larry, but we were lucky to have a dentist,” writes the narrator, Robert Earle.) Small fiefdoms arise, as do gangs that recall the thuggery of The Road Warrior. Kunstler makes only a cursory allusion to the disasters that led to this fate—the end of oil imports, a terrorist bomb that destroyed Los Angeles, which instantly sent the economy in the tank, followed by one that obliterated Washington D.C., thus shattering the government. (The seat of national government keeps switching from Chicago to Minneapolis, but no one is sure which—the radio only comes on for 20 minutes a day and then mainly to broadcast the rantings of preachers proclaiming Armageddon.) Add severe global ­warming—temperatures are in the 90s from May through October in the Northeast—and you have a frightened, fragmented populace, desperate to escape collapsing cities and doing so with much violence and mayhem. To make this story succeed, Kunstler employs a half-dozen strong characters, led by Earle, who’s brokenhearted over the disappearance of his son and charged with managing Union Grove’s lawlessness, even while traveling through ravaged countryside to the lawless precincts of Albany. World Made by Hand is not a simple survivalist tale so much as it is a study of despair. Kunstler explores the realization that things are not going to change for the better and that there is no way, no telephone, e-mail, or postal system, to communicate with lost loved ones. But the odd character here and there finds a way to make life bearable, and some come to prefer their new world to the magic of the old one. How and why they do so is the core of this novel, and Kunstler’s emotional understanding places the book well outside the confines of genre fiction; it’s a story about the end of the world, but Kunstler understands that losing a child can be harder to endure than losing an entire civilization.