This is a story about the human difficulties facing civilization. Human beings are driven into each other’s society at least by their neediness. They prefer facing other humans to dying; & there is no way to protect oneself in the wilderness. But they also prefer slavery to death. A mockery of ancient commercial cities emerges, called Bartertown. Fighting to the death settles most serious claims to justice; lesser matters are solved by the ruling faction, ruthlessly.
Beyond this city, where brutality is enhanced, not diminished, by whatever technology remains, Max survives the desert & finds an oasis populated by a tribe of children, barely able to speak. The children are hunter-gatherers, led by a young man. Max finds that they survived a plane crash. They believe Max is the plane’s pilot, that he can fly, & that he will bring them to the city, which they think is a fact of the future.
Mankind was mostly wiped out. We suspected it was a recent event, for we saw the breakdown of law & order in the first story & a tribe of grown men who had some experience & memory of civilized cities in the second story. These children prove the nuclear war must have been barely a few years in the past. The chilling realization of how fragile civilization is raises an awful question: Will mankind retain humanity when the generation that remembers civilization dies?
Our protagonist almost destroys Bartertown & then has to make his escape. Eventually, he sacrifices his life to save the children, who have some hope of the future. Places like Bartertown do not have any chance of recreating civilization because they cannot tame barbarians. They do not understand the technology they employ. They kill in anger those few do have knowledge. None of the barbarians accumulates enough power or can live long enough to pacify the rest. They are anyway semi-nomadic.
Max learns the rules of this dying city. They are little jingles that people chant obsessively. The woman who rules the city, Aunt Entity, made them up. She understands mob psychology. She is not a mother: The city is not her child. An entity is something that is; but understanding requires essences: Gods.
The motive for justice is family love, finally. The city of Bartertown is bereft of children. It is led by a woman who loves power. The tribe of children is bereft of adults. It has survived the chaos & slaughter by accident, in a bountiful valley, protected by a desert. They live like a tribe. They lack the understanding of nature that made the civilization they have survived. Max replaces the plane’s pilot as the hero who saved them.
The third, final installment of the series. Still worth seeing.