The story is set twenty years after a catastrophe of unknown origin wiped out most of the world's population. The events take place in the Illinois Wastes, a semi-civilized part of the United States believed to be the origin of the catastrophe. It centers around the travels of a wandering entertainer who gains some infamy from the local powers who believe that he has special knowledge of the pre-disaster world.
The story was first serialized on JukePop Serials . It was finished on September 11, 2013.
The year is 2037. In 2017, there was a global catastrophe (simply known as "the disaster" to most people) which destroyed civil infrastructure and caused massive deaths worldwide. The exact nature of the disaster is unknown, though it is believed that it was human-caused, rather than a natural event. Despite the destruction, the surface of the planet remained largely habitable, and as a result some areas have restored a degree of civilization.
One of the regions that re-established order is the Illinois Wastes, an area built up from the ruins of the American state of Illinois and some surrounding areas. The area is composed of a network of small settlements all connected to larger cities that serve as trading hubs. Passage between these settlements is not necessarily safe - the uncivilized areas are home to violent gangs that prey on traders and the far reaches of the region are ruled by warlords who command a more brutal civilization.
Culture in the wastes has changed in many ways. People in the wastes do not have names - they are identified by titles which mark their roles in society. Age has a lot to do with this. Most of the people saved from the disaster were children; as a result, there are few people alive who have clear memories of the pre-disaster world. As the disaster ruined most books and irreperably damaged electronic devices, this means that there is little knowledge of the old world, despite the relatively brief period since the disaster.
Storyteller - The central character. Storyteller (pre-disaster name Samuel Scarbrough) is an itinerant entertainer and artist who roams the wastes in search of new people and experiences. He is an incredible rarity - creative endeavors have all but died out as people struggle for survival, so most people consider him peculiar. He is older than most wastelanders, among the few with vivid memories of the pre-disaster world. Storyteller is an ardent pacifist, and he tends to solve his problems through guile and persuasion rather than force.
Archivist - A young woman who lives in the ruins of an old building known as "Westhigh." She was born after the disaster, so she has no name and no memories of the old world. Archivist views the pre-disaster world with an almost mystical reverence, and is obsessed with learning more about it. In particular, she is attempting to reconstruct a working "computation machine" so that she can study the discs she keeps finding.
Lifebringer - An itinerant doctor who travels from encampment to encampment with his retinue of medics. As trained doctors are uncommon in most places, he draws crowds wherever he goes. Though he is a gifted healer, Lifebringer doesn't have much of a bedside manner - he is cold and pragmatic, with little time for socializing or other things he considers frivolous. As he seldom speaks about himself, his pre-disaster name is unknown.
Pathfinder - A trail scout for the trading groups, it is her job to find safe paths between the various encampments. Although she is quite skilled, Pathfinder disdains her employers and the wasteland society that they try to protect. What she wants more than anything is the freedom to explore the world on her own. Pre-disaster, she was Rebecca Jameson, granddaughter of powerful industrialist Joshua Jameson (though she doesn't really remember him). As she was just a child, her memories of her old life are very dim.
Conqueror - A warlord and the undisputed ruler of the southern wastes. Conqueror (pre-disaster name Leroy Biggins) is a powerful and terrifying figure who carved out his empire in the middle of a great desert. Pinnacle, his capital, is said to be the largest and most advanced city in the wastes; however, the stories of his cruelty and slavery are enough to keep most people away. Conqueror's true passions are art, science and culture, and he is obsessed with chronicling the history of the old world.
- Literally speaking, a "fabulist" is a person who writes fables. It is sometimes used figuratively to refer to a person who tells preposterous lies.