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The idea behind this blog is to share my opinions about Post-Apocalyptic Literature, Films and Ephemera as well as my random nattering on a regular basis.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Catching up ... the quick and dirty version

Two things first. (Three maybe?) School has started once again in more than one way. I am firmly ensconced in the last real class of my master's degree (All I have left is a practicum and the thesis). Also all the kiddies have trotted off to be edumacated. That means that some poor unfortunate soul has to step in when their regular teacher can't stand them any longer or is sick (right teachers become immune to everything!) So between the two my reading and typing time has been restricted (who am I kidding? I read just as much but don't do the typing.) Lastly I am a homebrewer ... don't know if I've mentioned that before. Believe me when I say it, me having the brewing setup I have is like giving a kid a candy making machine. I have been spending an enormous amount of time in this endeavor. The latest batch is an homage to Russian River's Pliney the Elder. My professor friend at school, Gavin Keulks, has accused me more than once of brewing the beer from Waterland that takes you through all the stages of inebriation. My homage to Pliney is in fact that brew. Unlike anything I've had before. I know I am a true beer snob -- to satisfy my craving I have to brew it myself. The upshot here is that between schools and brewing and drinking what I brew, I haven't read as much as I did over the long and glorious summer. So looking back at the peacefulness that was my summer I have a lot of books to speak about.

Now to the 'Catching up' part of our program.

Dark December by Alfred Coppel

Fantastic vintage novel. What made it especially good is that it is set in the same part of the world as me. This book is mainly about the journey. The bulk of this novel deals when a Major attempting to find his family in the aftermath of a prolonged nuclear war the United Stated eventually won. I had a problem with the Major walking through the bomb craters and commenting about how his boots crunched over the glass the earth had been turned into. Could that happen? Could you walk through that and live? I don't know. I do know that its a great book with a bittersweet ending. I'm glad that Mr Coppel chose to have a sort of a downer ending. Good for him.

Cataclysm by Don Pendleton

When I was but a wee slip of a lad - just eight or nine years old, I wasn' t the best reader. In fact when I was a fifth grader I was having my reading lessons with the first graders. I hated that. I remember it being unbelievably stupid. Stories about living mustard and ketchup bottles and being surrounded by little kids. (yes I know a fifth grader is still a little kid but c'mon!?! Me with first graders?) It was over the summer of my fourth grade year when I discovered my dad's books (And no I don't mean his Playboys; I didn't find those till the next year). He had the whole run of the Executioner books by Don Pendleton starring Mack Bolan. So I just started in with the first one War Against the Mafia and continued reading until I either ran out of books or got bored. What ever it was I eventually stopped reading them. However, not before I had written a story for my fifth grade teacher about my hero called simply enough 'My Hero Mack Bolan'.

Quite a bit back I was looking through the sci-fi section of one of my local book stores 'Paperback Exchange'. In my possecion was more than a hundred dollars in store credit so I was willing to take a risk with free books. That's when I saw Cataclysm written by who else? My old friend Don Pendelton. I wish I had read it sooner. It was unputdownable. The plot was the same as The Hab Theory but lacked all the strange forbidden archeology tidbits like the weird metal disks and books. Also The Hab Theory ended at the end. Like the last sentence is ' Then the lights went out all over the world. Forever.' or some such. Cataclysm deals with the same sort of deal too. The world has been destroyed before and is about to be destroyed again. But the keeps going and doesn't just stop with that. If you haven't read either The Hab Theory or Cataclysm it would be pretty righteous to read Hab and then read Cataclysm. Had I but known that's what I'd've done.

The Outer Limits: The Vanished by John Peel

Ummmm .... I know this is a kid's book and all and it's very short. Also it's an 'Outer Limits' book so I should have expected some wacky twist. But it was listed on in the 'Last Man' section so I was expecting something other than what I got. Short version ... this wasn't apocalyptic. Don't waste your time or money with it. Since I got it from I only lost the time I spent reading it. So good news/bad news: free book but it only took me about an hour to read.

What Niall Saw by Brian Cullen

This book is one of the bleakest (most bleak?) books I've read in a good long time. It's offered as the journal of boy who is seven years and seven days old as the book starts. He gets right into the meat of the story as well. The whole family is under the stairs with their dog (a wolfhound my personal favorite dog breed) because the bombs have fallen. Over the course of the story there are more bomb detonations which Niall describes as 'shakes'. Little by little his situation worsens. They deal with hunger (them and the dog), cabin fever from being sequestered in the closet under the stairs for weeks on end, and roaming scavengers looking for food. About 3/4 of the way into the book they make their escape. The ending stayed with me a very long time. It ranks with When the Wind Blows, Level 7, and On the Beach in terms of downer endings. If you haven't read it yet find it and do so.

Why Do Birds by Damon Knight

This book is apocalyptic but ... I still recommend you avoid it. Avoid it if you're looking for a PA read that is. Sure the world ends. It is an 'end at the end' type book. That wasn't why I don't recommend it. I just hated that Mr. Knight wrote a bunch of I guess mysteries (for lack of a better phrase) that he never solved for the readers. Foreshadowings that were just left hanging. Big ones too. What was the ring? Who was visiting him at night? Where did he come from, the past or somewhere else? How did the aliens overcome the phase shift problem with suspended animation? What did the aliens do with all the people who were in suspended animation? The aliens defiantly swooped in and carted the majority of humans away but were they taken to another planet like in Knowing or did they meet an end like that of the humans from the classic Twilight Zone episode also written by Damon Knight? More questions raised than were answered. Yup ... this is an irritating book I recommend you avoid. Or perhaps I just missed it … who knows?

Why Do Birds was a book that I wished I hadn't finished. I have never stopped in mid-book and tossed it the trash but with this book if I could somehow go back in time and somehow spirit it away, that's what I'd do. The only other book I felt this way about is Blood of the Children by Alan Rodgers. When I think of horror I don't think Stephen King I think Alan Rodgers. Blood of the Children is the most vile book I've read (three times). But if you really feel you must read Why Do Birds, I'm posting it at and you can have it for free. Help yourself.

The Plague Trilogy by Jean Ure

These three books are: Plague 99, Come Lucky April, and Watchers at the Shrine. I loved the first one. As it starts out, Plague 99 has two friends, Fran and Harry (short for Harriet), going on a camping trip for a month. They are to have no contact with the outside world whatsoever. Harry is the outgoing one and forces Fran, who is very introverted, to go with them. At the last second Harry breaks her leg and Fran after a bit of convincing goes on without her. When Fran gets back she finds London empty, wild parties going on and that Harry has gone bat-shit-crazy. Also follows the adventures of a young man called Shahid. And of course Shahid eventually meets up with Harry and Fran just before Harry disappears.

Come Lucky April is not nearly as good as Plague 99 but it does have the extra bonus of answering the questions left at the end of the first book. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of London in ruins. Ure does a pretty fantastic job with this. The only thing I don't understand is where did all the man-hating come from? Seriously. Also I never could figure out how they sustain any population under the societal structure. I mean what the hell?

The last book Watchers at the Shrine Follows April's son as he escapes the society a decade or so after the events of Come Lucky April. It was good as well. But only because it ended the trilogy I guess. After the events of the second book I would have figured that she might lay off the whole 'men are terrible' bit just on the choice that April makes at the end of it. But no, she goes even further with how men left uncivilized are horrid creatures.

Final analysis. Plague 99 is definitely worth the price and time to read. Come Lucky April is a mixed bag at best but worth it if for no other reason than to wrap up the loose ends from the end of Plague 99. I can say with no doubt that Watchers at the Shrine can be skipped (unless you are like me and insist on completion).

The Postman by David Brin.

I can't praise this book enough. I would have read it much sooner but I am a Johnny Come Lately to the glory that is The Postman. I have only thought of it as the Kevin Costner pile of crap. I had read that he had butchered the book but I thought it has to pretty close to the book right? And it wasn't too far of a stretch for the postman to be the hero who defeats the villain in a stunning display of strength. After all that is how A Meeting at Corvallis and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe ended. I really had no idea just how great it is. I'd say The Postman is easily in my top twenty. I was almost ashamed of myself for letting it sit on The Bookself of Doom for the three years I allowed it to. To be fair I have the copy the Kevin on the front and I'd seen the movie and part of Waterworld. If you are a fan of PA fiction and haven't read this yet it's almost as big a crime as not yet reading The Stand, seriously. Yes, it's that good.

Twilight World by Poul Anderson

This is a nuclear bomb destroys the world type book with a twist. The twist is that inexplicably the weird/crazy/super power type mutations happen in the first generation. No one apparently gets cancer - they all turn into mutants some with powers. About half way through the mutants who are powerful and also smart leave the planet and colonize Mars. They figure that if they stay on Earth the mutations will just get worse so they get while the gettins good. It's a good book if you can suspend your disbelief and the thin nature of the science. I don't expect much from my book other than they be fun to read and not laden with spelling and or grammatical errors.

Year Zero by Jeff Long

I avoided this book for awhile. I knew it was out there and had seen it listed with other PA books. I even saw at a book store and read the inside flap. I was still sorta leery because of the Christian themes. I tend to avoid these type of novels that all seem to be a variation of the whole 'Left Behind' series. And to that I say 'no thanks'. All of that was true until I went into the local Goodwill. I can't resist looking at the books there any more than I can resist looking in used book stores as I pass. It was there I found Year Zero for a measly $4.99. A pretty sweet deal. I was still not sure about it though so I tucked it away on the Bookshelves of Doom and promptly forgot about it. It sat there for I don't know how long really, awhile. I picked it up and started reading couple weeks ago. Once I got into it I couldn't stop reading.

The general premise is that a very nasty, super contagious, and uniformly fatal plague is unleashed. It spreads from the tiny island of Corfu in Greece and eventually spreads all across the globe and the last bastion for humanity turns out to be Los Alamos. It starts because Niko, the collector, liked to find artifacts and the best of these in his opinion were sealed vials. He broke them open a give the ol' sniffer sniff to the rarified air of millennia past. But inside of a very intricate puzzle lies four vials filled with a nasty virus. It is invisible and as it kills you it erases you; both you and your memories.

This turned out to be an absolutely fantastic book. Like every other book that is this good and has been left to languish on my shelf. I regret not getting to it much sooner and wonder what other books have been similarly avoided for no good reason. I figure I'll get to them all in good time. I am after all nearly out of books to find and must be content to wait for them to come to me.

The book this most reminded me of was The Dying by Leslie Horvitz. Mainly just the relentless onslaught of the virus and descriptions of deserted cities. I haven't read The Dying in a good long time but as I read it I kept thinking about how it reminded me of that book.

Thus ends the update. I guess it wasn't so quick. But it least I'm caught up and was able to separate two pieces of chafe from the wheat.

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