This is the story which tells us how the end of the world came. The US & the USSR came to fight a nuclear war. We assume most of mankind perished. Certainly, the great cities of men were undone. We are told that technology finally showed it is better suited for war than for peace. Presumably, we are told this in the central installment in the series, not in the beginning or the end, because only now do we confront the fight between good & evil.
Max must lead a village to defend itself against marauders. The former has fuel, being encamped around a refinery; the latter needs it for their bikes & cars. The terrible leader of the marauders promises safety in exchange for surrender. The end of the world is not the end of fear. Instantly, a defeatist appeasement party appears, counseling realism… The man who would inspire his tribe finds that promising a far-removed paradise cannot remove the fear of nearby hell.
The future of mankind may be said to depend on the solution to this problem. Max is able to match means to the visionary ends. This earns him the trust of the tribe, which he did not want, but it also allows them to go on with their way of life. The fear of death in many & the overcoming of it in few, should it happen in times of great crisis & should it lead to success & survival, seems to be the cause of legends about heroes. It ought to be said for legends that they offer an awareness of the greatest men.
Our protagonist, however, requires persuasion, for compulsion is unlikely to work. When the leader finds he cannot promise any great reward – perhaps this is true at the end of the world – he tries to appeal to the common ground of all human beings: Dignity. This is a long way down from promising paradise. Max refuses this as well, unimpressed with the exasperation & resentment he encounters among the people.
In the end, the most charitable understanding of Max, which leads to his immortalization as saving hero of the tribe, though a stranger, is that he was honorable. He did not harm people who did not harm him, but destroyed those who did.
The motive for justice we find here is contract. The tribe-leader & Max make a contract they both respect. Max also contracts with a dying man whose tribe refuse to accept that burden once he dies. The living must take care of the living & there is only so much justice. Without necessity limiting justice, there might be no justice, for the tribe & Max contract for self-interest.
The second installment, even better than the first.