“The whole world is driven by visions and dreams. We imagine them, we give them life, and they carry the world where they will. They are no longer our dreams. They are our world.” 

Spoken by Sereta, a disfigured Malian refugee with a gift of prophecy, these words deliver an ominous message in Brian Littlefair’s Desert Burial (Dunn Books), where such visions and dreams are more like nightmares.

Geologist Ty Campbell is a contractor for USAID, surveying subterranean Saharan aquifers in a region of Mali bounded by warlords and unstable governments. He relishes his self-imposed solitude far from any village or town, and farther still from the jungle where his wife was murdered. He has become as self-sufficient as possible in a place that offers few resources for survival.

Ty is torn from his ascetic existence when he discovers a refugee camp and its aid-worker guardian have migrated into the area in desperate need of water from his well. Upon witnessing the suffering of the camp and its population, and he is begrudgingly drawn into the service of their survival. “The world is a snare with each soul knotted to all the others,” he says ruefully. “Touch one and you are caught in their net.”

Ty’s involvement becomes more entangled when he discovers that the camp isn’t his only new neighbor; Timbuktu Earthwealth is constructing a demonstration site in a bid to win the business of burying the world’s nuclear waste under the Saharan strata. And its program manager, Bud van Sickle, will stop at nothing to make it happen, including bankrolling aid to the refugees in exchange for Ty’s services — both inside and outside of his areas of scientific expertise.

Ty begins intensive and secretive training to become a corporate plant on an expert panel that will determine the project’s bid winner, but he soon learns that the scheme he is involved with is on a much bigger, more consequential scale than mere industrial intrigue — it is an effort to shape the world to the advantage of elite powers. Ty must now balance the demands of his new “job” with the welfare of the refugee camp and Africa itself.

Littlefair’s geopolitical thriller has much to recommend, and for several kinds of readers. There is the political aspect — the intricate ties between government, business, rebel alliances, proxy warfare. There’s a scientific aspect — from applied geology to theoretical physics and mathematics. Then there is a human dimension of terror, suffering, loss, but also the will to survive. All of this is deftly woven into a story with bursts of action-adventure adrenaline told with the narrative texture and introspection of a prose poem.

In a world where data is configured and reconfigured into models of not only the future but the behavior of any person residing in it; where ethnic warfare and government instability drive refugees to the ends of the earth; where environmental catastrophe looms ever closer; Littlefair’s debut novel feels as relevant today as it did when it was originally published in 2002. That the book has re-emerged in reprint now is a sign that we should watch more attentively for the dust kicking up on the horizon. In the words of Sereta, the refugee prophetess, “Sometimes I fear we’re running toward a cliff.”

Desert Burial is now available for purchase. Learn more about Littlefair on his BookTrib author profile page.

About Brian Littlefair:

Brian Littlefair is a consultant specializing in foreign direct investment who has worked with and advised foreign joint ventures, international financial institutions, and the federal government. He’s worked pro bono with aid agencies, CSOs, and NGOs in economic development, food security, and human rights. For more information, visit https: //dissidentvoice.org/author/brianlittlefair.