Strange Labour

Strange Labour

by Robert Penner
  • diversity
  • from-the-prairies
  • literary
  • sci-fi-fantasy

"With this brilliant debut, Penner thoughtfully upends the tropes of post-apocalyptic fiction... Penner’s hopeful post-apocalyptic vision pushes the sub-genre forward." - Publishers Weekly (starred)

Strange Labour is a powerful meditation on the meaning of humanity in a universe that is indifferent to our extinction, and a provocative re-imagining of many of the tropes and clichés that have shaped the post-apocalyptic novel.

Most people have deserted the cities and towns to work themselves to death in the construction of monumental earthworks. The only adults unaffected by this mysterious obsession are a dwindling population that live in the margins of a new society they cannot understand. Isolated, in an increasingly deserted landscape, living off the material remnants of the old order, trapped in antiquated habits and assumptions, they struggle to construct a meaningful life for themselves. Miranda, a young woman who travels across what had once been the West, meets Dave, who has peculiar theories about the apocalypse.


Robert Penner, author

Robert G. Penner is a Canadian living in western Pennsylvania. He has published short stories in numerous speculative and literary fiction journals under various pseudonyms and is the founder and editor of Big Echo: Critical Science Fiction ( He is on twitter @billsquirrell.


  • This is one of those powerful science fiction novels that is both intensely realistic and strikingly symbolic at one and the same time; a marvelous accomplishment, written so beautifully as to be etched on the eyeballs - Kim Stanley Robinson
  • In Penner’s speculative fiction debut, Miranda is a young woman traveling across the U.S. in the years after a strange disaster has collapsed society: one day, people simply stood up in silence, and left home. No one knows why, and the silent are organized now, digging and operating machines to create grooves and works in the ground. The few people who were spared are not sure if they’re the lucky ones, and as Miranda travels, she encounters a variety of small enclaves. A woman named Esther cares for the elders of her town, scrounging for medication and growing and gathering food for them; the Toledo Citizens Co-operative has strict, elitist rules to maintain order around an intellectual framework; Dave is a wanderer and drug user full of stories who soon becomes a companion. Miranda’s story is a quiet, thoughtful meditation on dystopia, a book that provides few answers but many questions, a study through one woman’s steady narration of what it all means in a universe that may be indifferent to our extinction. - Leah von Essen, BookList Online Link to review
  • With this brilliant debut, Penner thoughtfully upends the tropes of postapocalyptic fiction. Miranda is working as a New York City accountant when all the world’s neurotypical adults are mysteriously compelled to abandon their lives and devote themselves to the creation of massive labyrinthine earthworks called “the diggings.” Only the neurodivergent are immune to the impulse, Miranda among them. Now traveling to Minnesota to find her parents, Miranda and ex-union organizer Dave, who has epilepsy, traverse a dystopian landscape marked not with violence but with frayed human relationships and abandoned children. Along the way, they encounter dementia nurses and educators struggling to adjust to the new world; an affluent, heartless Toledo commune; and the silent diggers themselves. Penner’s exquisite prose illumines a wild landscape, blurring the boundaries of the natural and industrial and finding beauty in the ruins of the world. With its focus on a neurodiverse and disabled cast, probing exploration of caregiving and its tensions, and depiction of the determination to find joy and meaningful work in the aftermath of disaster, Penner’s hopeful postapocalyptic vision pushes the subgenre forward - Publishers Weekly Link to review

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Radiant Press



rights available: World

Additional Information

publication date: 08/06/2020

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book