“They're animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”
“They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Gar
“They're animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”
“They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Garraty didn't like to look at them. They were the walking dead.”
How much do I love this book? There are too many ways to count actually, which is why no matter how many re-reads I've done of it (and there have been many over the years), The Long Walk has always left me too intimidated to review it. I managed a brief blurb of something when I listened to the audiobook a few years back, but never a "real review". So heaven help me, here's my real review.
According to King, he wrote The Long Walk while in college in 1966-67 and it became one of those "drawer novels" that got put away to gather dust when he couldn't get it published. King wasn't a household name yet of course. First, he had to publish Carrie in 1974. Then Salem's Lot in 1975. Followed by The Shining in 1976. In three short years King became a household name. So much so that he got the idea to become Richard Bachman.
King decided he would use this pseudonym to resurrect a few of those dusty "drawer novels" and rescue them from obscurity. He believed they were good (for me, two of them are better than good, they are outstanding -- The Long Walk and The Running Man -- according to King written in a 72 hour fugue in 1971). But King wanted to know readers thought the books were good because they were good, not just because his name was on the front cover in giant letters. His publisher at the time also didn't want to flood the market with more King books when he was already churning them out one a year.* Hence, Bachman was born.
*(these were the days before James Patterson decided it was okay to publish 20 books a year and only write one of them yourself).
The Long Walk is easily, hands-down my favorite Bachman book, but it also ranks as one of my favorite King books period. Top 5 without even blinking an eye. It's lean and mean, with a white hot intensity to it. What I love about The Long Walk is what I love about King's early short stories collected in Night Shift: There is a rawness in these stories that reflects the drive and hunger of a young man consumed with his craft. For me The Long Walk has always burned bright as if King wrote it in a fever. There's a purity in these pages, a naked desire to tell the tale that still gives me chills every single time I pick up the damn book and read that opening sentence: "An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run."
Clumsy? Sure. A bit of an awkward simile? Absolutely. But what a hook. And the hook only digs itself in deeper as each page is turned. Until finishing becomes a matter of have to, any choice or free will stripped away. It's one of those books that grabs you by the short hairs and doesn't let go until it's finished with you.
Before the dystopian craze spawned by The Hunger Games trilogy, before the rise of reality TV with shows like Survivor, King imagined an alternate history American landscape where an annual walking competition would become the nation's obsession. One hundred boys between the ages 16-18 start out walking, and continue to walk at 4mph until there's only one remaining -- the winner. Boys falling below speed for any reason get a Warning. Three Warnings get you your Ticket, taking you out of the race. Permanently. It's walk or die. And as someone who's done her fair share of walking, the idea of that much walking without ever stopping makes my feet and back ache just thinking about it.
But King will make you do more than think about it, he will make you walk that road with those boys, to experience every twinge of discomfort, to feel the rising pain and suffocating fear, to suffer with the boys in sweat, and cold, and hunger, and confusion, as they walk towards Death and consider their own mortality. You will hear the sharp cracks of the carbine rifles and your heart will jump and skip beats.
One theme that King has revisited over the years is writing about the human body under brutalizing physical duress, at the body in extremis and what humans are hardwired to do to survive and go on living another day. Excruciating physical peril undeniably comes with a psychological component and no one writes that better than King. We see it in books like Misery, Gerald's Game and the short story "Survivor Type". King uncovers all the nitty-gritty minutia of human physical suffering and asks the question: How far is any one person willing to go to keep on taking his or her next breath? Stephen King knows pretty damn far. Just ask Paul Sheldon or Ray Garraty. Or the castaway in "Survivor Type" -- him most of all. King also knows that the human body has an amazing capacity for trauma. It can withstand a lot -- so much so that the mind often breaks first.
Each chapter heading of The Long Walk quotes a line from a game show host, but the one that really sticks out (and presumably gave King his idea in the first place) is this one by Chuck Barris, creator of the The Gong Show -- "The ultimate game show would be one where the losing contestant would be killed." And isn't that the truth? Certainly, the Romans knew this as they cheered for Gladiators to be mauled to death by wild animals (or other Gladiators). Just ask the French who cheered and jeered as thousands were led to their deaths by guillotine. There is an insatiable blood lust that lingers in humans that I don't think we'll ever shake completely, no matter how "civilized" we think we've become.
Violence as entertainment is part of the norm, so I have no problems believing that under the right (terrifying) conditions, death as entertainment could become just as normalized. Outwit, Oulast, Outplay on Survivor suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.
One of the things I've always loved about this book is how King handles the audience as spectators, complicit in this cold-blooded murder of its young boys. When the novel first starts, the spectators are individuals, with faces and genders and ages. As the story progresses, spectators increase in number to "the crowd", loud and cheering, holding signs. By the novel's climax, spectators filled with blood lust have morphed into a raging body of Crowd (with a capital C). It is an amorphous and frightening entity that moves and seethes with singular purpose obsessed with the spectacle, and baying for blood like a hound on the scent. It's chilling because there's such a ring of truth to all of it. Were it to ever happen, this is how it would happen. When King is writing at his best, the devil is always in the details.
Another aspect of the story that has always engaged me is the boys’ compulsion to join the Walk and be complicit in their own execution. I've always wanted to ask King if he meant this story to be an allegory for young boys signing up to die in Vietnam (considering he wrote it as Vietnam was heating up and on the nightly news). I think naivety and ignorance got a lot of the boys to The Walk, including Garraty. I think young people (especially young men) believe themselves to be invincible, that death is not something that can happen to them no matter the odds or circumstances. I'm sure no boy went to Vietnam thinking he would come home in a body bag, though many of them did.
If it's not obvious by now, I could talk about this book until the sun burns itself out, or the zombies rise up. And I haven't even touched upon its possible links to the Dark Tower! Which I will do now under a spoiler tag. If you haven't yet, read this book. If you have a reluctant teen reader in your life, give them this book. If it's been a long time since you've read this book, don't you think it's time to read it again?
The Long Walk and possible links to the DT Universe: (view spoiler)[It's important to remember that TLW is a VERY early book for King, that pre-dates his beginning to write of a Dark Tower (which in the afterward to The Gunslinger he says was 1970). BUT (and this is a big but), I find it credible to believe that before King ever put pen to paper in regards to Roland and his quest, or to ever imagine a man in black, King had the seeds and themes of these ideas percolating in the back of his writer's brain already.
I didn't always think so until I read The Dark Man: An Illustrated Poem. King wrote this poem in college and it is in essence Randall Flagg's origin story. Which brings us to that dark shadowy figure that's beckoning to Garraty at the end of The Long Walk. It is very "dark man", "man in black", "Walkin' Dude" "Flagg-like". Whether it is or not, we'll never know. If he hasn't by now, I'm sure King has no plans to confirm or deny it.
Something else to consider Constant Readers: TLW flirts with being an "alternate history" because of this passage:
The lights filled the sky with a bubblelike pastel glow that was frightening and apocalyptic, reminding Garraty of the pictures he had seen in the history books of the German air blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II.
The date April 31st is also used. So here's a question -- is this alternate history or do you suppose King had already started experimenting with the idea of "other worlds than these"?
And one more passage that jumped out at me on this re-read that felt very Dark Tower-like:
Garraty had a vivid and scary image of the great god Crowd clawing its way out of the Augusta basin on scarlet spider-legs, and devouring them all alive.
The scarlet spider-legs reminded me of the Crimson King. Stretching, maybe. But it's fun to think about. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Hey look! It's Margaret Atwood does the Stepford Wives! Hilarity and perversity ensues! But with an underbelly of nastiness that will make you examine Hey look! It's Margaret Atwood does the Stepford Wives! Hilarity and perversity ensues! But with an underbelly of nastiness that will make you examine your darkest desires! Your commitment to your significant other(s)! Your notions of free will and (ugh!) what it means to be happy! Happy at last! Smile goddammit!!!
I had a lot of fun reading this one, probably because it's easy to tell while reading it Atwood had a lot of fun writing it. It's the best kind of satire, one that doesn't take itself too seriously, while still having something serious to say. But this is medicine that goes down smooth and delicious, with little burbles of laughter and giggles and snorts along the way. I'd become so used to Atwood as "the serious novelist", the "literary icon", the dabbler of the dark dystopias and sharp feminist critiques. And that Atwood is here, but it's like she got a little drunk and smoked a huge bong and wrote this one with her hair down and shoes off.
This book actually started as an ebook serial project back in 2012, with the first installment I'm Starved For You. I jumped on it back then because I thought it looked interesting and read the first three installments before it fell off my radar. I'm really glad Atwood decided to finish the project and release the entire thing as a full length novel.
There's probably some filler here -- Atwood might have gotten away with shaping this into a tighter leaner novella -- but I enjoyed the world-building aspects of Consilience and Positron (the Stepford, 1950s-themed too good to be true community and its accompanying experimental prison). The devil is in the details and what seems so delightfully absurd on the surface, reveals some heavy, sinister truths when that first layer of paint is scratched away.
Surrendering your freedom of choice for the greater good always seems like the right thing to do, but somehow such social experiments are always destined to go off the rails eventually. I love the nasty implications of such social experiments gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It seems it's not in our nature to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. We'll always find ways to act out and act up. I am not an animal! I am an individual! What's more, getting rid of "the man" in this scenario also seems impossible. Somehow, someway, things must be monetized. Someone has to be shown the money. And lots of it.
Atwood has a lot to say here about human sexuality too, and the nature of love -- both of the romantic variety, and the more lustful. As others have mentioned in their reviews, this is at heart a cautionary tale -- a be careful what you wish for narrative. It shows us at our most selfish and self-indulgent, revealing our perpetual hunger for assurances we are in the right place, doing the right thing, sleeping with the right person. That we are happy. Self doubt is a bitch. But wherever we are right now, whatever we're doing, whoever we're doing it to, it's by choice. We've chosen it today. We might choose it again tomorrow. The nagging doubts might be a pain, but they're our doubts. Replacing personal, individual uncertainty with a cold manufactured certainty imposed from without should never become more appealing. ...more
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.October Country 2015 #1
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.
HUSK (which every time I see that title I'm overcome with the urge to shout "Tusk!") is not horror per se, but it is a thrilling, page-turning nightmare vision of the near future. Reading this I couldn't help be reminded of King's early Bachman books, especially The Running Man. Both are set in a bleak future where people are struggling to eat and live, so much so that it is driving them to do desperate, dangerous things for money.
In HUSK's case, people are being driven to "rent out" their bodies to the very, very rich -- the 1% of the 1% -- to inhabit and do with as they please for periods of up to 72 hours. I don't even like to lend someone my jacket or use my bathroom. Imagining someone taking over my body and using it up in any porny, germy, physically punishing way they can think of gives me the heebie jeebies. Unclean! Unclean!
As if all the drug-fueled orgies and exposure to all kinds of STD's isn't bad enough, not to mention the cuts and bruises and dehydration and sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep (talk about being rode hard and put away wet), our protagonist Rhodes begins to suspect his body is being used for more sinister and nefarious purposes. ::cue ominous music::
It's especially worrisome when other Husks begin to show up dead or missing.
All the elements are present and accounted for here to make for a gripping read. Messum -- author of the unputdownable BAIT -- has a keen sense of where the pressure points of tension live in his story and how to exploit them. This isn't as fast or burning a read as BAIT -- it takes its time a bit more with world-building and character development and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story, but these are all good things.
It wasn't surprising for me to read then that HUSK's been optioned by a UK company to adapt into a television series. The tone and themes are very similar to another show I adore and can't wait to get more of -- Black Mirror. That HUSK would make a great Black Mirror episode is probably the highest praise I can give it.
***The author was gracious enough to provide me with a free copy for review....more
I don't know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter's upcoming release The Acolyte -- but I've found myse I don't know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter's upcoming release The Acolyte -- but I've found myself in a similar state of speechlessness with other titles released by the incomparable ChiZine Publications. Their motto is Embrace the Odd and embrace it they do with abandon. ChiZine's book covers alone are enough to send this bibliophile into paroxysms of delight. Here are a few of my favorites:
ChiZine has also recently gotten into the graphic novel game and I adore this cover too:
Let me wrap up the fangirling over cover art to conclude that ChiZine is a wickedly weird and dangerous publishing house ruthlessly seeking out unique voices in speculative fiction. There is nothing safe or sanitized or boring about them. And while I'm not always in the mood to enter into the wacky landscapes they pimp, I'm very grateful that they exist, and very proud that they are Canadian.
Fans of either or both of those books should not expect the same kind of story in The Acolyte. I'm not surprised it was ChiZine who published it for him because it is an odd, intense mixture of horror, police procedural, dystopia, and noir. It is violent, contemplative, thematic, and disturbing. It's not a book you 'enjoy' or 'savor': it is one you endure and survive.
And that's all I'm going to say about it. Read the plot summary if you want, but it's not going to help prepare you for what lies in wait in its pages. If you are feeling adventurous and brave, and want a taste of something not so mainstream that will take you off the beaten path into a darker part of the forest, then by all means take The Acolyte home with you.
An advanced reading copy was provided by the publisher for review....more
Bees are exceptional creatures. Their hive characterized by drama and high stakes, intelligence and a sophisticated organization that is a marvel to s Bees are exceptional creatures. Their hive characterized by drama and high stakes, intelligence and a sophisticated organization that is a marvel to study and behold. For all its beauty and the tantalizing production of golden, luxurious honey, the bee life comes at a high price -- an existence propped up by slavery and the hive mind. There shall be only one Queen and no original thought. Accept. Obey. Serve. It's Orwell's 1984 in the flesh, Thought police and Big Brother included. Deformity means death and is ruthlessly stamped out in a strive for purity that rivals Hitler's attempts at Eugenics in the creation of a genetically homogenous Aryan Master race.
I was excited to read this book. I needed no convincing that bees could be the stars of their own literary masterpiece in much the same way rabbits became legend in Watership Down. Growing up one of my favorite movies was The Secret of NIMH, a movie I love to this day. I bring it up now because it did what The Bees does not, and that made all the difference for me in my level of involvement and enjoyment of this novel.
NIMH (based on this classic children's book) is an animal fantasy that anthropomorphizes rats and mice to tell a harrowing adventure tale. For me as a child, and even now as an adult, the movie strikes a perfect balance between "humanizing" the animals enough so that the drama soars, yet still allowing their animal natures and the laws of the natural world around them to shine through.
While The Bees is a beautifully written book, with scenes that are quite lovely in their composition, I felt the author lacked conviction and an overall commitment to just what kind of story she was telling. At times, the bees are very humanized. At other times, they feel alien and unknowable. This back and forth and hesitation ultimately prevented me from ever truly bonding with any of the characters. I was emotionally shut out of the story even when my reader brain was fascinated by some of the details contained therein. For that reason, the story dragged in many places.
If you have a personal curiosity of bees, the detailed portrait the author offers here of hive life may indeed appeal to you. She has done her research, and there is definitely poetry contained in some of the pages of this book and in scenes that deal with the harsh realities of the natural world and the strict laws of bee existence.
This is a book you read with your brain, not your heart. ...more
No please, I insist: allow me to put myself out of my own damn misery.
#repetitive, #infodumps, #shallow world-bu Oh my aching, bloodydamn, gory balls!!
No please, I insist: allow me to put myself out of my own damn misery.
#repetitive, #infodumps, #shallow world-building, #repetitive, #show don't tell, #horrible characters, #repetitive, #stupid lingo, #boring, #made me want to hurt myself, #made me want to hurt somebody else #and this won an award? #you suck but not as much as this book, #when good ideas go very bad, #maybe i'm just bitter #am i drunk? #i wish i was drunk...more
This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark hum This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark humor mixed with delicious hints of dystopia dangers. I'm thoroughly enjoying the pacing and the when and the how Atwood is choosing to reveal things. I'm being pretty conservative with my star ratings so far, but that's only because I know the story is only barely getting warmed up. Don't let my three stars keep you from picking this up. Three stars in this case is not a reflection of "meh mediocrity" but rather "hmmmm...interesting. I want more please."
I love the nasty implications of "social experiments" gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It is not in our nature it seems to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. Both Stan and Charmaine are great examples of this as they persist in their debauched extra-curricular activities.
(view spoiler)[Charmaine is fascinating to me as she continues to have her lurid affair with "Max" while she plays happy housewife with Stan yet still finds the time to take pride in her day job. Even though her day job is killing people by lethal injection, Charmaine finds the romance in it. She believes she has a "talent" -- and has even added her own personal touches -- the kiss on the forehead -- to a very ritualized procedure. It's amazing what can become "normal" under the right, twisted circumstances.
Stan is an ass, but I have to think much of his dysfunction and outright more unlikeable qualities are a result of Consilience than his natural character. He certainly paid for his pervy, lustful obsession with a woman who turned out to only exist in his imagination. Jocelyn is quite the bird too. A dominatrix flair with a Black Widow sting, and I found myself laughing helplessly at Stan's fate when he unwittingly falls into her spider trap and particular brand of torture.
The 'big reveal' offers a satisfying cliffhanger -- organ trafficking? Sweet. What will happen to Stan? Will Charmaine "kill him"? What will he do if he makes it outside the walls of Consilience? Does Stan even have it in him to be a hero? Is that even what Jocelyn and Phil really want or are they setting him up for something else? (hide spoiler)]
Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it wa Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it was not meant to be. But here we are. At last you've given me a tantalizing premise that I just can't walk away from. A dark future? Yes please. A sinister dystopian landscape dressed in idealistic utopian clothing? Tell me more!
While this first installment is short and sweet and only begins to hint at sinister shenanigans, I'm hooked already and will be sticking around for the duration. What I love about any well-constructed dystopia, is its construction. The devil is in the details. I love a slow reveal. I want a bit of foreplay. But then you had better be able to deliver on what you're promising!
I figure at this point in her writing career, I'm in good hands with Atwood and this crazy vision for the future she's concocted. I'm ready to go along for the ride anyway. I respect her tremendously as an author despite some painful misses, and The Handmaid's Tale has a permanent spot on my all-star team of favorites. Dystopias are my crystal meth, and Atwood's classic tale about reproductive rights is 'the blue stuff' -- Heisenberg grade if you kennit.
So far we have a kinky story going on that seems more lustful than outright unnerving and paranoid. But already I'm getting Stepford vibes that something is rotten in the the state of Consilience. Oh my my, Ms. Atwood, what do you have up your sleeve?...more
Short story collections and anthologies are always a mixed bag for me. Not only do I struggle with my own personal hang-ups when it comes to the short Short story collections and anthologies are always a mixed bag for me. Not only do I struggle with my own personal hang-ups when it comes to the short story format itself, you pretty much know going in to any anthology there will be hits and there will be misses. If you're lucky, a few will emerge as outstanding pieces of awesomeness, and I'm thankful to report I experienced that here.
Two things attracted me to this collection: 1) Ellen Datlow (editor extraordinaire) and 2) you had me at dystopia. I'm addicted to tales of dark and dangerous futures comprised of post-apocalyptic landscapes, where human survival is not a given, and the long and suffocating reach of a rigidly controlled society is profoundly felt.
I admit that these days we've gotten pretty footloose and fancy-free when it comes to our definition of dystopia. I'm not a purist by any means, but there are elements I expect to see (or not as it were) if I'm going to consider a story full-on dystopian. Much of it has to do with how well the society and its rules are conceived. Dystopia (just like the devil) is in the details. But we are talking about a spectrum. And there are an infinite number of spaces on that spectrum where a story can fall. The joy comes with the discovery of just how much variety and interpretation can be applied to a genre, how much can any one writer push the boundaries past what we've come to know and expect.
For whatever the reasons (and pundits and academics will argue the causes til they run out of oxygen), YA publishing is in the throes of a passionate obsession with dystopian tales and end-of-the-world scenarios. Readers are responding in kind, feeding the monster. And I couldn't be happier about that. The more authors, new and established, are encouraged to play around in the dystopia sandbox, the better off the genre will be. Push it to its limits, see what it can do, uncover all it has to teach us and the infinite number of ways it has to thrill and chill.
The short stories comprising this anthology (like every other anthology I've ever read) are not equally strong. There are definite misses where either the idea is confused or fumbled altogether, the characters underdeveloped, the prose weak. But I don't want to focus on the negative here, because there are also some outstanding pieces of writing not to be missed.
After the Cure, Carrie Ryan: You may already know Ryan from her Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy (which I highly recommend checking out). Here, Ryan tells the story of a young girl who is a recovering blood-sucking predator of humankind. In a new post-apocalyptic world of survivors, she has been cured. But it has left her lonely and longing for something more. No longer quite human, but no longer able to run with her pack, she seeks out the company of a young man with a tragic past. The writing here is beautiful, the mood melancholy.
The Great Game at the End of the World, Matthew Kressel: This one has such a weird and dreamlike quality to it, with an unsettling underbelly vibe that I can't quite call sinister, but feels like something Lovecraft could have written. A brother and his younger sister are the sole survivors of a mysterious, unknowable, cataclysmic "event". The siblings are forced to adapt to their new environment. All I can say is that it's a strange and wonderful piece.
Reunion, Susan Beth Pfeffer: Pfeffer is a prolific and bestselling YA author. This story is dark and damaged in so many ways, with a nice twist at the end. There aren't a lot of details about the society, but what we do get is reminiscent of Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. A mother and daughter proceed to interview young girls in the hope of finding their child / sister who was stolen from them years before. They recount their ordeal to her, how they had to submit themselves to the murderous whims of savage soldiers in order to find out her fate. This one is so tightly plotted, it had me sitting on the edge of my seat.
Rust With Wings, Steven Gould: I loved this one because it is such good ol' fashioned, high octane fun of action and peril. It has its roots firmly planted in the 1950's sci-fi tradition of "bugs gone wild".
The Marker, Cecil Castellucci: Interesting idea satisfyingly realized. Trust me, that's all you need to know.
Before I wrap this up, I do want to mention "Faint Heart" by Sarah Rees Brennan because it is the only one that reads like the beginning of a novel, rather than a short story. The cliffhanger ending left me screaming "Nooooo!" because I desperately wanted to know what was going to happen next. It is a "deadly games" premise where certain males are forced to compete to the death in The Trials. The sole survivor wins the hand of the "queen" - a genetically cloned model of perfection. I was just really getting into the story and warming up to the characters when it was over. This aggravated me more than pleased me.
This anthology is a rich grab bag, so don't be shy about diving in because you're sure to find something to suit your tastes. Just for the sheer variety of the stories -- I never knew what to expect next -- and the overall quality of the writing, I am highly recommending you check it out! ...more
Short and sweet. Interesting to get things from Four's pov, though I found the voice to be a little less than mysterious and a bit whiny. How Tris perShort and sweet. Interesting to get things from Four's pov, though I found the voice to be a little less than mysterious and a bit whiny. How Tris perceives him, and how she must unravel his personality for herself worked extremely well for me in Divergent; this felt more like an enjoyable writing exercise on Roth's part, but lacked any real depth or substance. ...more
WOOL began its life as a self-published short novella in July of 2011. That's hard to believe. I feel like I've been hearing about this th Outstanding!
WOOL began its life as a self-published short novella in July of 2011. That's hard to believe. I feel like I've been hearing about this thing for ages and ages.
So I'm late to the party, but not that late. Due to excited reader response over WOOL 1, author Hugh Howey quickly released the next four parts in the series. Then came along this Omnibus which collects Parts 1-5. There is now a 2013 edition with a great new cover that features a blurb by none other than Justin Cronin, author of The Passage.
In a few short years, Howey has given all struggling writers out there toiling away at their craft in obscurity real hope. Word of mouth among bloggers and enthusiastic readers on sites like Amazon and Goodreads has the potential to lift the curse of invisibility from self-published works so that they may find their way to audiences who will love them. Never before have the barriers between author and reader been so few, the access so direct. No longer are authors strictly dependent on big publishing houses to discover them and deem their work important enough to go to market accompanied by a sexy publicity campaign. Authors and readers are doing it for themselves, and I for one think it's a beautiful thing.
I love everything about this story -- I love the details of the world-building, I love the characters, I love the shifting points of view, I love the slow burn when you're not sure what is going on. When it became clear to me exactly what was going on I love that I wasn't disappointed. For a post-apocalyptic story trodding very familiar science fiction territory, it still feels fresh. The author definitely gives it his own spin.
I love that the stakes are so high. I love that the author is patient and in control of his narrative. That he doesn't reveal too much too soon. That he understands the relationship between tension and release. All of that to say, I love that the writing is so strong and capable (I've read too much self-published stuff where the prose is inexcusably sloppy). Howey's writing is the exact opposite of sloppy. It's polished. Its engine hums. The shoes are shiny and it's wearing a tie. It's ready to take home to mom.
Finally, I love Juliette. She's Ellen Ripley, Katniss Everdeen, and Dana Scully all rolled up into one. She's got brains and courage and heart and a will made of iron.
There's a lot of under-developed, underwhelming dystopian fiction kicking around out there these days. WOOL leaves those attempts in its dust. It's worth your time. Trust me.
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment buildi
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
This is one instance where I'm painfully aware of the inadequacy of a star-rating system for books. To give Ballard's High-Rise three stars does very little to capture its strengths, but more importantly, its ultimate failure as a novel. I'm going to try and do that in my review here, but just in case my rambling goes right off the rails, check out Jeffrey's spot-on assessment here.
What brought me to this book is an endless fascination with "group in peril" stories that look at how quickly our civilized veneer can be stripped down to our lizard brain impulses. Great writers have shown us that human beings as a species seem to be hard-wired to regress to a primitive state when confronted with the total absence of social rules and obligations.
In Blindness, Saramago's characters revert to their most primal and baser urges when forced to confront the fallout of a plague of blindness. William Golding manages to show this very same regression to a primitive state in Lord of the Flies when there is a profound absence of law and order and other recognizable earmarks of "civilization" in place. Using the example of a bunch of British school boys stranded on a deserted island, Golding shows us it doesn't take long for humans to throw off the shackles of civilized conduct and resort to a more brutal "survival of the fittest" approach.
Blindness and Lord of the Flies are two great novels that ruthlessly give us a nightmare portrait of human regression that is frightening because of its very realism and believability. And this is where Ballard fails in his attempt because there is no realism or believability in his tale. It is strictly an exercise in description. Create a sprawling high-rise edifice, make it a contained society with all the luxuries of a modern city, populate it with 2,000 tenants, and then, with no tangible reason whatsoever have these people begin to transmogrify into a bunch of cannibalistic savages within the course of a few months. As Jeffrey points out in his review: "the outside world is perfectly normal. Civilization is existing just fine. There is no cataclysmic event that has ruptured the natural order of things. To return to the world of order is as simple as leaving the building."
So yes, the zombies haven't risen up, the aliens have not landed. There is no pandemic flu or super volcano eruption. Beyond the concrete walls of the high-rise, people are going to work, shopping for groceries, putting their kids to bed. Yet within the concrete walls, what you have is a total post-apocalyptic decline into delusion and depravity and for what? This is just too cheap and easy for me to respect. If you're going to make humans go there, I want a reason. Show me how it could really happen.
Alright, no question the novel fails that litmus test. Do I give Ballard the benefit of the doubt here anyway? So he doesn't trouble himself with a realistic scenario, but maybe that was never the point. Published in 1976, maybe Ballard was going more for an allegorical vibe on the dehumanization of modern city living. Maybe this novel is his statement on the rise of urban disconnect -- as we cram more and more people into their self-contained units, living elbow to chin, something fundamental to our higher-brain humanity is being eroded away. This is a book that also has characters who start out very class conscious. When the breakdown begins, fractures open and tribes form along class lines. Yet, strip civilization away, and we all go feral in the same way no matter how much money is in our bank account. Succumbing to our lizard brain seems to be the true great equalizer.
If you so choose as a reader, you could go all LIT 101 on this sucker, but at the end of the day, I can't really be bothered. I'm reminded of the frustrated actor who cries out: "but where's my motivation?" Yes, where is the motivation in this story? What exactly is motivating the characters to behave in such a depraved way? Without that motivation, the other "elements" of the story that may or may not be there are lost on me. I do not care to engage.
So why three stars? Ballard's writing is very good. The execution of this novel may have failed for me, but I still recognized his prose as effective. He put me in that high-rise where I could smell the stink of putrid garbage and human waste. I felt a little on edge at all times, like the fillings in my teeth were vibrating. There are several well-described scenes that chilled me to the bone (view spoiler)[especially the last one of the abandoned wives on the roof as they circle around Wilder to make a meal out of him as the children play with a pile of bones. (hide spoiler)] Just a lukewarm recommendation this time for fans of classic dystopian literature and science fiction of the 60s and 70s. I can say this however -- High-Rise won't be my last Ballard. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm really conflicted on this one. For a solid two-thirds of the book there was a lot about this sequel that just wasn't working for me. I was more th I'm really conflicted on this one. For a solid two-thirds of the book there was a lot about this sequel that just wasn't working for me. I was more than a bit lost in the beginning (after forgetting so many salient plot points from Pure). I just wanted to remember dammit, and feel all the feelsI felt reading the first book. So I spent way too much time in the beginning wishing I had done a re-read of Pure before tackling Fuse (which I highly recommend you do).
It's my own fault. Baggott has written a pretty complex dystopian world, rich in detail and rules and creatures and complicated characters. To think I was going to pick up the sequel more than a year later and hit the ground running with it was pure (pun intended) assholery and hubris on my part. Baggott does her best to "refresh" where she can, but she doesn't waste a lot of time recapping and re-exploring territory she's already covered. She's got way more story to tell and it's obvious she can't be handholding the dumbbells like me.
Also, there was a lot more emotional/romantic angst in this one. These books aren't YA (though TONS of people have the series shelved as such), but there were times reading Fuse when it reminded me way too much of the high-octane melodrama that afflicts most YA novels these days. The tension between Bradwell and Pressia felt forced and unnecessarily complicated. With everything else going on around them, the stakes so apocalyptically high, I just wanted to shake the two of them and tell them to get over it already.
But I soldiered along because I LOVE this post-Detonations world Baggott has created. And then something began to happen once I passed the half-way mark -- I began to have a really good time. El Capitan and Helmud are fantastic characters who by the end just about stole the entire show for me. I just love them. I was starting to lose patience with the Lyda/Partridge storyline and then all of a sudden, my eyes could not tear themselves away from the page. I needed to know everything. I was desperate for their safety. (view spoiler)[Lyda pregnant and now trapped in the Dome again? Partridge's confrontation with his father stopped my heart. Kissing him and blowing the deadly pill to the back of Willux's throat? I gasped aloud. No, seriously, I really did. (hide spoiler)]
Bradwell and Pressia began to read like the heroes they are: kick-ass, smart, flawed and complicated. I began to love how they were talking to each other, their bond felt real and earned.
And Fignan?? What an adorable, outright fun contribution to the story. With his flashing lights and vast reserves of vital information, he would make R2D2 proud.
The last 100 pages of this novel is where it really begins to rip and roar, shimmy and jive. (view spoiler)[I mean, there's even an airship adventure and creepy choking vines that seem prescient. And WHAT THE HELL has Pressia done to Bradwell by using the vial contents on him? Those wings sound HUGE. What is this going to do to him, emotionally and physically? And will he hate her for it? (hide spoiler)]
So many questions, so much excitement, and now I have to wait another goddamn year for book 3!!! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book is dark. It is disturbing. It is ruthless in places and feels dangerous in others. Despite the fact that Pure has been released by its publiThis book is dark. It is disturbing. It is ruthless in places and feels dangerous in others. Despite the fact that Pure has been released by its publisher as Adult fiction, it has been quickly embraced as YA. Though I feel as such, it should maybe come with some sort of disclaimer. Fans of popularized YA dystopias choosing Pure for the same satisfying adrenaline injection packaged in a safe, sanitized story with a sweet romantic subplot are likely going to be put off (even repulsed) over what they encounter here. Furthermore, the conscientious detail in the world-building will seem heavy-handed to readers seeking a fast-moving thrill ride. Pure does not give up its secrets easily or all at once. Not all loose ends are tied up, not all questions are answered. There’s enough juiciness and potential left over for the sequel. At least this is my hope – because I’m hooked now and want to know everything.
There is such heartrending beauty in Baggott’s vivid descriptions of Earth’s utter destruction and the devastating deformities of the survivors. I will never think of the word “fusion” the same way again. At the height of the Cold War, an entire generation of people lived with the mind-numbing fear of nuclear annihilation. It’s a fear that’s largely left us now, though I’m hard pressed to think why; the weapons still exist and there are still enough crazy mofos out there, in charge or gone rogue, to make use of them if they so choose. Even the most cursory research into the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will chill the blood and horrify the mind. This is what we are capable of doing to one another. To think that it can’t or won’t ever happen again is wishful thinking I figure of the most deluded kind. But I am grateful we've stopped crouching under desks and building bomb shelters in our spare time. That shit just ain't healthy, you know?
Pressia is a survivor of the Detonations – a global nuclear holocaust that has left her and every other survivor with a diversity of glaring malformations and “fusions”. When the blasts came, they were so strong, the light so bright, humans fused with whatever material closest to them at the time of the explosion, whether it be inanimate, human or animal. Pressia, a child at the time, held her favorite doll and now carries the mark of that day in her doll’s head hand. Such external deformities are a physical manifestation of the pain and loss carried by all survivors, whose souls have surely been burned and scarred just as severely as their bodies.
There are other survivors of the Detonations however – Pures – who have been safely harbored in the Dome. These are the select privileged, protected, their skin perfect. But the Dome has its secrets too, and while the wretches outside the Dome have been busy surviving, those inside the Dome have been watching, and waiting, with a plan of their own.
This was a convincing world to me that left me wanting to know more about everything. The characters are strong and there without coming across as overly sentimental. It takes a while to get to know them, and it takes even longer to warm up to them and start to care. I really enjoyed that slow build. In no way could Pure be labeled a shocking or controversial novel; however, there were several scenes that jolted me, and if you can surprise me in that way where I flinch or my mouth gapes open, I figure you are doing something right. This book has been called "cinematic" and it is a very visual novel (I'm also not surprised to find out that Hollywood has already come a-courting). Parts of the Dustlands and Meltlands even reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower landscape (and that is high praise indeed).
What more can I say? If you are looking for a meatier dystopian read with teeth then this is the book for you....more
Which came first, the mind or the idea of the mind? Have you never wondered? They arrived together. The mind is an idea. ~Genesis
In the end, living is
Which came first, the mind or the idea of the mind? Have you never wondered? They arrived together. The mind is an idea. ~Genesis
In the end, living is defined by dying~Genesis
Wow, wow and more wow! I have been swept away and truly humbled by this little book that's filled with such big ideas. The blurb on my edition calls it "sinewy" and "cerebral" and for me, that hits it just right.
I want to start by first giving a shout out to Stephen; his unbridled enthusiasm for this book is what brought it to my attention. I didn't even know this book existed until I read Stephen's wonderful review, so thank you Stephen! I also want to bring attention to Lyndsey's review here as well because she does such a phenomenal job describing what makes this book so special and unique. Trust me, go read those reviews and you will absolutely have to read this book like I did, and you will be the happier for having done so.
I've become so accepting of the watered-down, popcorn-esque dystopias that have invaded mainstream YA of late, that I forgot just how satisfying a carefully constructed and believable dystopian landscape can be. I feel like it's an itch I haven't had scratched in a looooong time. Pardon me while I exhale a sigh of bliss. If I were a cat I would be purring my head off right now.
In less than 200 pages, the author is able to create not only a convincing post-apocalyptic scenario where a society isolates itself behind a huge sea wall, but gives the reader three memorable characters who aren't in the business of making you cry or clutch your chest, but they will make you think -- they will make you think about the nature of fear, the ethics and possible outcomes of technology, and most of all, what it means to be human. What makes us who we are? What we are? Which differences matter and can change the course of everything?
This book is OVERFLOWING with thinky thoughts. The language is precise and careful, taking the reader on a philosophical journey that asks the hardest questions. At first, the answers may seem easy, but they won't by the end. And that ending!!! That made me clutch my chest. There is an undeniable tension that threads through the whole story. As a reader you sense this is all headed towards climax and epiphany and let me tell you, getting there is so rewarding.
The narrative device works brilliantly here -- young Anax facing her three Examiners in an oral interview that will last five hours. It is mostly through her eyes we come to know this world and all the events that have led up to this point in history. But we are also privy to transcripts that give voice to Adam and Art, man and machine. It is their words that give the book its resonance and meaning. What do they learn from each other? What do we learn from each of them?
My only critique: I wish it could have been longer! I was so swept up in the narrative I could have gone on for hundreds of pages more. The real wonder is that the author did not need those extra pages to weave his tale. This novel's brevity is also what gives it its power.
I will be thinking about this book for a long time; I will remember it forever.
Damn, this book is cold. Like, really, really, C-O-L-D. The language is magnificent; there is no doubt Whitehead can write, but he writes with no heatDamn, this book is cold. Like, really, really, C-O-L-D. The language is magnificent; there is no doubt Whitehead can write, but he writes with no heat. His writing here is like a perfect, shiny new Cadillac (but with no engine). Without the engine, what’s the point? You can sit and look pretty all the live long day, but you’re not gonna get anywhere worth talking about (or remembering).
Whitehead’s problem here seems to be that he gets so caught up in delivering the goods on literary stylistics and gymnastics that the story (what little there is) limps anemically along side by side with underdeveloped, emotionless characters. While there may indeed be a method to his madness, I’m not biting, because for me story trumps EVERYTHING. If you ain’t got a story to tell, what the hell are you doing writing a novel?
Not once did Zone One grab me by the throat and make me sit up and pay attention. I felt like a detached spectator, ambivalent, witnessing unfolding events in a clinical matter like the scientist who examines a bug under the microscope.
Whitehead gets too cerebral -- mining his material for metaphor and symbols, layering his post-apocalyptic landscapes with foreshadowing and poetic images. Beautiful yes, but nevertheless soulless and unsatisfying. Which brings me back to my original point -- cold.
I hate “big” ideas (insert jazz hands here) that don’t come wrapped in a gripping story that’s going to smack me in the face. Story. Comes. First. Always. You may be brilliant and have awesome insights into the human condition, but unless you can weave a tale that’s going to put me on my ass I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not helping you along by faking it When Harry Met Sally style pretending you wrote a great novel because I’m keen to wax poetic on how the world is shit and then we die.
But that's just me.
If you want a literary zombie novel that will put you on your ass, read The Reapers Are the Angels. That book is everything this book is not.
"Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn't ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before."
**spoiler alert** Wowzers. Great premise, but it definitely lost its way somewhere around the middle. I felt myself getting frustrated and rolling my**spoiler alert** Wowzers. Great premise, but it definitely lost its way somewhere around the middle. I felt myself getting frustrated and rolling my eyes at some of the overwrought, earnest narration where too many things are told (repeatedly) rather than shown (or as I like to say, earned). A lot of what pained and disappointed me here is what let me down with Lauren Oliver's Delirium.
Juliette begins this novel as an intriguing character. She's almost feral, having suffered enforced isolation for 264 days. There is a touch of the autistic about her, the way she consistently breaks down her surroundings as a series of lists: 1 window, 4 walls, 144 square feet of space, 14 cracks, a thousand shades of gray. This is obviously meant to be a coping mechanism (but as a narrative device it did begin to irritate me).
While Juliette and Adam share great chemistry, it feels squandered in the second half of the novel. Their initial meeting and reaction to one another draws the reader in. There is mystery and we can sympathize with Juliette's overpowering reaction to Adam's physical presence.
For a young woman who is starved for a physical connection with another human being, Adam becomes her oasis in the desert, her oxygen in an air-tight chamber. She wants to touch him and keep on touching him. After years of neglect and the absence of touch on her own body, to now have someone touch and hold her is almost a religious experience for Juliette, at the very least a sexual awakening she never thought she would be permitted.
Once the pair escape, this tender exchange starts to feel like nothing more than two horny teenagers groping each other at the local drive-in. The finesse disappears. The context of what brought these two together in the first place forgotten. Suddenly, Juliette starts behaving like a "normal" teenage girl with a crush, worrying about her clothes and what she looks like and how others are perceiving her. I don't buy that. After everything this girl has survived (her way less than normal, abusive childhood), such superficial, vain behaviours would be beyond her I figure. That they're not, and on display here, disappoints.
The dystopian landscape is meh (which equals weak and derivative). And the whole X-Men rip-off? Where are you even going to go with this plot development now that the cat is out of the bag? I'm sorry, that skintight superhero uniform Juliette dawns made me gag a little, and when she punches through concrete and steel all I can think of is a Hulked out Lou Ferrigno.
Finally, even though all the characters spend a good deal of time in grave danger, I didn't find myself worrying about any of them. Not really. I didn't get emotional. I didn't feel myself tearing up. When that doesn't happen for me, something is fundamentally missing. Despite Mafi's florid, sometimes gorgeous, mostly purple prose, the reader is left with more style than substance.
I knew there was a reason the cover reminded me of Project Runway or America's Next Top Model!