Category Archives: post-apocalypse fiction

The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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Sansa Stark Issues a Dire Warning

rickon towelListen up, people. I am Sansa Stark, and my family and I have been treated most vilely. We came to this foster home believing they would be good to us, and at first I admit they were. Wet food, soft beds, a climbing tree, and we got lots of cuddles and shoulder rides. robb

Yes, thank you, but that doesn’t make up for what came next. One morning bright and early with no warning, that sweet-voiced lady who’s always cooing and carrying us around picked us up and deposited us without ceremony into a box. And closed us in there, and carried us off, despite our protests.

Next thing we know, we’re in this big bright space and dogs are barking and people are petting us and saying things like, “Bath time, babies!”

Bath? What is this thing you speak of? We like petting, and their hands were nice so we didn’t think anything about it until…..

rickonWATER! WATER EVERYWHERE! I watched in horror as someone picked up my baby brother Rickon and set him under a little waterfall. He yelled for help, but there was nothing we could do except watch as they cruelly applied a foul blue gel that foamed and bubbled like a witch’s spell, and then thrust him back under the waterfall, again and again.

Truth be told, I had thought Rickon was black and brown. I didn’t expect him to be so white.

Anyway, no sooner had his cries subsided when they reached for me….

I will be avenged. Do you hear me? I will wreak such havoc as has never been known in this kingdom or the next…..

sansaWe would like to be adopted now, please. Obviously this is not a place we can trust. I will reward handsomely the first person to rescue any of us. Me first, of course.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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The Monday Book: THE LAST MORTAL MAN by Syne Mitchell

deathlessSo I’m not the world’s biggest SF fan these days, but when THE LAST MORTAL MAN came into our shop, I was in a mood and needed a book in a hurry. I packed it in my bag and raced for my plane, train, or car pool, whatever it was.

Ironically, I soon discovered that I had picked up a novel that was one long futuristic chase scene. This book never stops, people running hither thither and yon getting disintegrated despite being immortal (which hardly seems fair) and willing their no-longer-human flesh into weapons and dropping buildings on each other while operating a mind-melding Facebook equivalent called Gaia-Net.

It is HBO’s animated wet dream, this book.

THE LAST MORTAL MAN is driven by violence and nano-science rather than characters. That said, Mitchell has a great imagination. (Well, hey, she’s a weaver. You can check our her fiber art stuff by googling her name.) She can find ways to kill people who have made themselves immortal and create landscapes with their brain. Also, underneath the VERY fast-paced killing and tech-willing, you find pieces of humanity-and-social-justice-oriented plot that could have been something special had they been developed. (Her series was cancelled after the first book. Which might explain why so many things obviously being set up were left unfinished; she expected to have more time later.)

The premise of the book is that the world is so full of tech, when you create tech that destroys tech, the only people left will be little kids and the Amish. Yep, there are Amish people in this book, and – wait for it – one of the girls is the love interest. Yeah, I about died laughing. All those Christian Amish romances, and it comes to this?

That sounds like I’m making fun of Mitchell’s work. No, just that it had a lot of potential that seemed to fall apart in the urge to write ever-faster hard-rock chase scenes where Immortal Girl in black rubber body suit wills her arm into a blade and defends little kids from big bad assassins sent by the Deathless Cartel because they’re mad at the Godfather of Immortality – whose henchman came up with the tech that kills tech.

It all runs faster from there, mostly downhill.

I wanted to like this book, and finished reading it because it was so…. silly. All plot and no people. No one you wanted to root for, and when it comes down to the finale the world is saved or doomed by a Siamese kitten and her girl, who are paired to be the perfect killers/saviors by releasing tech each of them holds half of. I like Siamese cats. I really do. But….

Normally I don’t review books I didn’t like, so you’re wondering why I did this one? Well, truth is, I did like it. It was so bizarre it amused me. Like every once in awhile, instead of getting chocolate cake, you choose Jello, just because.

This book is Jello. Flavorful, rainbow jello with sprinkles. And killer kittens.

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The Monday Book: SOME GIRLS SOME HATS AND HITLER by Trudi Kanter

This first-person memoir came into our bookstore and I thought the title was intriguing, so took it on holiday with me. It turns out to be a self-published book from the 1950s that went out of print. Someone who worked for a publisher bought it in a second-hand bookstore, and the rest is reprint history.

Girls Hats Hitler is fascinating, because it’s pretty much the first person memories of a woman who expected to have a very normal life–and a fairly vapid one at that. Velvets and dances and moonlight, oh my – but she was Jewish and her husband was Jewish, and in 1930 Austria that changed everything.

What’s so interesting about the book is its sense of play by play, the feeling of wondering “What would I have done” as Trudi has the opportunity to stay in Paris and be safe, then to get out but not take anyone with her, and then to decide how to get out. She isn’t equipped for this kind of decision making, but she learns fast. Being rich helped, too, but more than that, she took seriously what was happening around her. Many of her friends and extended family didn’t.

Perhaps the most devastating part of the book is she’ll recall what happened at a particular party or event, the gestures and looks and petty jealousies, and then she’ll say “He died in Auschwitz. She took poison.” That kind of thing.

The book is frustrating, because there are some parts where she only says “And then we got visas,” not how they got them, who they bribed, what it took, etc. Sometimes, when you think the story is about to get deep, it just stops. She self-published this, and I can kind of see why an editor didn’t want to work with her. On the other hand, when she does let go and tell what happened, you see so clearly what it was like to be just one person caught up in and trying to survive one of the worst things in living memory.

Including the moment when as a Jewish emigree, her husband is interred as a German enemy combatant in London. It’s just plain crazy sometimes, the world in which they lived.

I highly recommend the book, but be prepared to be in parts frustrated, in parts confused, and in parts laughing at how someone in danger of imminent death can be jealous because her husband is flirting with the person who can save their lives. It’s a very honest book when it’s telling the whole story.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE RETURNED by Jason Mott

 

the returnedMy friend Susan and I were tooling through a yarn crawl in Asheville, North Carolina, and came across a library book sale.

ZIP – I was in the doors almost as fast as Susan. They had a cart of free books you could just take, and on it sat Mott’s The Returned. I watched a French television series about Revenants a couple of years ago during a crocheting jag, and sort of liked it. It was half intellectual “what if,” half horror. I’m not a big fan of horror, but those what ifs will hook me every time.

I wondered if it were the one from which the series was made, and in fact the author blurb in back said it was being made into a series. So I took it to compare the French (and later a really crappy American series) to the book.

Would it surprise you to know the book is much better? Also, that the French series was based on a novel of the same name, much more horror-esque, by Seth Patrick. Stephen King once said about really good fantasy writing, “You don’t have to answer all the questions. You have to tell the story.” More or less. And that’s why I like Mott’s book better. He’s not trying to scare you or shock you. He just wonders, what if?

What if your dead loved ones, or unloved ones, returned, not flesh eating or hell bringing, just walked back in and sat down to dinner and said, “Why is everyone else older? Where have I been?”

It’s an interesting book because it follows one family whose little boy drowned, but intersperses it with one-chapter vignettes of other Returneds. Like The Grapes of Wrath with the Joads and the rest.

The book is really slow getting started. About 1/3 is set-up, 1/3 is build-up and then 1/3 takes the action back down. Slowly. For a “thriller” it’s gentle.

I loved it. The writing is very poetic, casual, calm. The subject matter is weird. The conclusions are startling. And it hooks you right from the first page.

Who could ask for more from a ghost story that is pretty much literature?

 

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