The society of Waknuk has survived a nuclear war. The people have, however, only a dim memory
of that period and refer to it as Tribulation, a time during which mankind had to pay for its sins. Although the war happened
a long time ago, radiation still contaminates the living world outside the small community. Whenever any evidence of contamination
is found within Waknuk, the inhabitants immediately eliminate the offending plant, animal, or...... person.
The story centres around the narrator, David Strorm, his small group of friends who all possess
E.S.P., or extrasensory perception, and David's sternly religious family.
As a child, David has learned the strict morality of his society: "Watch Thou for the Mutant,"
"The Norm is the Will of God," and "The Devil is the Father of Deviation." This all meant that any living things - plant,
animal, or man - had to be destroyed soon as it was discovered to be deviant. David's father, Joseph Strorm, was considered
by the inhabitants of Waknuk to be a leader in the vigorous pursuit of deviations from the norm.
Waknuk, though, was relatively fortunate, because it was situated in Labrador, far away from
the major centres of nuclear war - the Badlands - further to the south. Since God had sent Tribulation down upon the Old People,
mankind had been struggling to return to the level of civilization that the Old People had enjoyed. Because the past generations
of Waknuk had been very careful, the community was now fairly free of deviations that were the result of Tribulation. Any
that did appear were destroyed or, in the case of deviant humans, banished to the Fringes country that lay towards the south,
south-east, and south-west of the district.
At the beginning of the story David meets Sophie Wender and discovers that she is a physical
deviant with six toes on each foot. Both she and her family are forced to flee. They are captured and banished to the Fringes.
David finds it difficult to reconcile the laws of his society with his own conscience. This problem is intensified when he
sees his aunt driven to suicide because she has given birth to a deviant baby.
David is concerned for his own personal safety when he realizes that he and his group of E.S.P.
friends are also deviants, because their ability to communicate with each other in thought forms or by mental telepathy is
not compatible with Waknuk's idea of the "true image."
Although they manage to disguise their deviation, the birth of David's little sister, Petra,
causes innumerable problems. Because she is still an infant, she is unable to control her powers. An incident occurs in which
she, David and his sweetheart, Rosalind, are found out. They are declared deviates and outlaws, and are forced to flee to
the Fringes, where they are pursued by the people of Waknuk, including David's own father. In the Fringes they are captured
by the deviate inhabitants there.
All this time, Petra has kept, through her awesome telepathic powers, in touch with a distant
civilization in New Zealand (Sealand). These people, who are all telepathic, rescue the fugitives right in the middle of a
battle between the Waknuk and Fringes people. David, Petra, and Rosalind escape per helicopter to New Zealand.