http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Know what I liked about The Third? There are no right answers. In Abel Keogh's novel of the near future, the...morehttp://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Know what I liked about The Third? There are no right answers. In Abel Keogh's novel of the near future, the world has responded to the threat of global warming by instituting strict population limits and rationing resources. I was very hesitant to read the novel because the global warming issue has become so politicized in recent years that I fear any novel built around the concept will demagogue for one side or the other. I shouldn't have worried.
The story centers on Ransom Lawe - a recycler whose job entails leaving the confines of the walled city and stripping abandoned buildings for resources. Lawe, already questioning the rightness of a society that demeans a woman's right to have children, finds himself in dire circumstances when his wife, Teya, becomes pregnant with their third child. Two children are frowned upon, but a third is illegal.
Throughout the novel Keogh asks all the right questions. Is global warming the threat the government claims it is? If it is, does that threat justify denying humanity's natural rights? The Third shows both points of view through two distinct characters - Mona, Teya's sister and Director of Population at the Census Bureau and Esperanza, a prominent leader in the resistance. Mona believes so strongly in the necessity to protect the earth and humanity's survival as a species that she will not help her own sister give birth. In contrast, Esperanza espouses an almost Ayn Randian vision of self determination as she tries to free the Lawe family.
After finishing I can honestly say I'm not sure what Keogh believes. For me though, that is the point. He seems to say there is no perfect solution. Is the earth getting warmer? Absolutely, the data is irrefutable. That said there's not yet a consensus on what's causing it. And even if there were, what cost is society willing to pay to turn back the thermometer? Beyond the issue of global warming, Keogh also delves into the idea of social change. Using Mona and Esperanza again he sets up an almost Malcolm X/Martin Luther King Jr. paradigm. Can change be best accomplished within the system or can things only truly change through revolution? It's a provocative discussion and only hinted at, eschewing the frank discussions that get someone pigeonholed as a political mouthpiece.
The one downside for me was in how Teya was written. Keogh portrays her as incapable of dealing with the situation. She's often reduced to a simpering layabout waiting for her husband or sister to solve her problems. Even when she makes a decision she bungles it only complicating the already herculean task she's put before her husband. It seemed to me that Keogh played into many of the emotional stereotypes surrounding women (and in case my wife is reading this - they're all crap!). Perhaps he makes up for this in Esperanza and Mona who are both far stronger female characters. I still feel like the novel could have had the same impact without her being characterized this way.
Unlike many books that deals with large social issues, The Third is current. While in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World, Keogh discusses themes that are far more relevant to today's young people making it a great option for high school reading lists. I definitely recommend The Third and I’ll be interested to see what Abel Keogh writes in the future. (less)
My name is Justin and I write a speculative fiction review blog. I recently finished your Hugo nominated novel, Feed. First off, congratulations on your success. Before I go any further I want you to know that I enjoyed your novel very much and I look forward to future installments. It was emotionally charged, suspenseful, and perhaps most importantly authentic. Still, I am compelled to ask, why on God's green earth did you write about zombies?
Don't get me wrong, who doesn't love a little zombie killing from to time? Like the Twilight series or a Dean Koontz novel, zombie killing is a time honored guilty pleasure that deserves to be explored every so often. Unfortunately, of late the publishing industry seems inclined to publish zombie killing about as often as John Grisham writes about snot nosed lawyers in over their heads. If zombies was the price you had to pay Ms. Grant, I say I understand, but I also must say this novel is better than zombies. You're better than zombies.
I read your afterward and the brief interview you gave at the end of the eBook. You obviously have a deeply rooted passion of epidemology and virology. This passion is one of the reasons Feed is so good. It comes through in your writing. You have obviously spent countless hours researching how to construct an outbreak. But in the end you wrote about an outbreak the public has read a hundred times over. Zombies eat people, bites bad, head shots good. You did it better than anyone else I've read. I feel more than comfortable calling Feed the quintessential must-read zombie book. But why, oh why, in all your research and passion did you choose such a tired idea?
I think what frustrates me most of all is that the book isn't even about zombies - not really. It's about people (the non-shambling, non-flesh eating variety) and how they communicate. It's about how humanity is developing digitally and how things will change whether we want them to or not. You didn't need the zombies. Your outbreak could have been syphilis on PCP or airborne HIV or some new disease you invented all yourself. All the zombies did is take a really brilliant novel and made it feel like a cookie cutter bestseller.
And that what worries me, Ms. Grant. I have a sneaking suspicion that zombies gained you more readers than it lost. How many people bought what they thought would be a nice airplane ride zombie book and got a lot more? Quite a few I bet. But how many never picked it up because they were just sick of zombies? We'll never know, but I can tell you I was one. I read Feed's blurb months ago and shrugged - just another zombie book I said. If not for your Hugo nomination I would never have picked it up. Feed deserves better than that.
Last year I read The Passage by Justin Cronin. It was pretty good. Before that I read The Strain and before that World War Z. I'm worried that these successes have prompted a rash of clones that will continue to flood the market. Just looking at release schedules in the months to come, zombie novels are on the rise and not slowing down. I hope that Feed won't find itself someday in the future lost among the pile of genre flotsam. I hope we look back on it and remember the glimpse it gave us into the future of human communication. I'll also hope that when you're done with the Newsflesh series you write stuff without zombies and I hope I haven't amplified too far to read it.
The moment I saw the cover for Simon Morden's Equations of Life I was intrigued. In a genre known for covers like S.M. Stirling's Rising(google it, right now), the art put together by Orbit Books screamed unique. I have to give them credit for giving a new author something that differentiates him on the shelf. Throw in a blurb that has Armageddon, jihads, and complex math and there was little doubt I was pumped to get my hands on it.
Morden's novel features a fairly standard protagonist named Samuil Petrovich - he's begrudgingly heroic and decidedly irreverent in the face of danger. He's also an advanced theoretical mathematician who suffers from a degenerative heart condition. On his way to the university, Petrovich witnesses an attempted kidnapping of a young girl. Despite his best interests he intervenes, saving her from abduction.
Along the way he gets a hand from Maddy, a gun toting amazonian nun, who helps him return the rescued girl to her father - who just so happens to be the head of the Oshicora crime family (read Yazuka). Caught between the Russian mob, the Oshicoras, the police, a couple of street gangs, and a mysterious entity calling itself the New Machine Jihad, Petrovich finds himself in a high stakes tug and pull for Metrozone's future.
Equations wasn't what I expected - at all. The title, the cover art, the blurb all pointed in my mind to something a lot more akin to the film A Beautiful Mind. Usually when my preconceived notions are blown apart I tend to be disappointed. With Equations that wasn't the case at all. While mathematics only lurked on the periphery of the story and Petrovich turned out to be far more Chow Yun Fat than Rick Moranis, the book whipped by at such a pace that I never had a moment to lament what it wasn't. Rather, I focused on what is was - a first rate cyberpunk thriller filled with witty dialog and outstanding wizbangs.
Petrovich is the novels primary focus. He's an onion-y character that reveals himself slowly and almost always accompanied by Russian epithets. Who he really is and why he got involved are questions that permeate the early parts and drives things when the action slows down. Unfortunately, the breadth of the story and the pace Morden chose to tell it left little time to explore the novels secondary characters or elaborate on the setting. In particular Petrovich's nun companion, Maddy gets short shrift despite significant page time.
Additionally, there seems to be a bit of a trend developing to start series with narrower plots before expanding into a more epic struggle in the subsequent installments (Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk is a recent one that comes mind immediately). I'd love to talk to someone on the decision making side of the industry at some point to see whether this is a conscious decision. Telling more self contained stories precludes the need for information dumps, but also removes some of the wonder that's the lifeblood of the genre. Equations walks a fine line of hinting at the larger world yet staying unencumbered. It's largely successful, but I found myself very much wanting to know more about what's going on outside Merry ol' England.
In all, Equations of Life was an excellent first installment in Simon Morden's Metrozone Series. While I found the lack of academia disappointing, the fantastic pace and action more than made up for it. I'm sure I'll be diving into Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom soon. And if the ending to Equations holds up there is sure to be a bigger dose of theoretical math ahead.(less)
How awesome are superheroes? Uh, super awesome. How awesome are zombies? Uh, not as much. Of course, anyone who has read my blog in the past is aware that I'm not exactly pro-zombie. Why am I reading more zombie fiction then? It's simple - I love post-apocalypse fiction and in this day and age that's pretty much synonymous with zombies. So, here I am reading Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Turns out another tired zombie novel can be really entertaining and not so tired as I might have imagined.
A year ago society collapsed when a virus struck, turning its victims in unthinking, shambling, and voracious zombies. It fell to the Mighty Dragon, Stealth, and their other hero companions to protect the thousands of survivors in their film studio-turned-fortress. But, zombies hordes are not the only threat left in the world, and the people of the Mount are not the only survivors left in Los Angeles. Across the city, another group is coming and they have "heroes" of their own.
Ex-Heroes at its heart is a straight forward zombie novel. Zombies roam the streets. Humanity keeps them at bay, but barely. What sets Clines' novel apart from the shambling hordes is how he uses his superheroes as catalysts. Where most focus on human stories to juxtapose the gruesome inhumanity of zombies, Clines tells of super-humans, possessing powers ranging from super-strength, to vampiric gaze, to a couple tons of exoskeleton badassery. It's unfortunate that in using characters that are nigh invulnerable he loses something of the novels empathy. This leaves the emotional content of the novel to rely solely on the disassociation of reality (horror of zombies) and the equally bereft superhero guilt (Why can't I save everyone?!).
In place of the emotional content that might be found in zombie novels like Feed or World War Z is a smorgasbord of comic book action. Clines' superhero characters pop off the page and by novels end are nearly as iconic as the Justice League or the Avengers (ok, not quite that iconic). Each chapter reads like a standalone book as though it were meant to be released as a serial. He divides the narrative into a Then and Now structure where several chapters in a row focus on the novels overall plot punctuated by "flashbacks" to before the apocalypse. These lookbacks provide functional prequels to each of the heroes and ex-heroes headlining the novel.
For the most part Clines prose is adequate, but occasionally repetitive. I can't begin to count the number of times the sound of zombies was likened to "clacking". Yet every time the heroes lurched into action the descriptions were terrific. One of the "prequel" chapter was of particular note when a magician dons a medallion to become a crime fighting demon. The entire chapter is written as a one sided conversation where the reader is only privy to the narrator's responses but none of the questions. It's a brilliantly written chapter that really displays Clines comedic chops and talent as a writer.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the deft use of cultural references throughout Ex-Heroes. It is rare to find something in the speculative fiction genre that makes a genuine attempt to connect with popular culture. Clines uses internet memes and television phenomenons that put me inside the story and made it all the more real. This was my world that had been torn asunder not some second world fantasy constructed by an author for his own devices.
In all, I very much enjoyed Ex-Heroes. It's a fun post-apocalypse romp that refuses to get bogged down in the standard zombie woe-is-me malaise. Instead it focuses on being cool. For comic fans, the novel would be an excellent transition to more long form novels and for anyone who's read Deadpool the use of pop culture and humor will be familiar.(less)
I had a feeling when I finished Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline that my review was going to be a personal one. This can happen when the protagonist has a painful resemblance to my teenage self. It's common for me to connect with a book on an emotional level or an intellectual one, but personal? That's pretty rare. Cline's novel really hit home with me and I don't know how to talk about without talking about myself - weird that.
Ready Player One is all about a teenager named Wade, although to everyone he knows he's Parzival, a level 3 warrior in OASIS. OASIS is something akin to World of Warcraft meets Second Life meets Windows. It's equal parts game, alternate reality, and operating system. As far as Wade is concerned it's his entire world.
Set in a dystopian Earth some thirty years in the future, OASIS has become the primary means by which the population interacts with one another. When not working or consuming food, nearly everyone puts on their gloves and goggles to disappear into a virtual world that outshines the slowly dying world around them.
When OASIS founder James Halliday dies, he initiates a contest to determine the heir to his fortune and ownership of OASIS. The contest, to find an Easter Egg within the game, will require an intimate knowledge of Halliday and his passions - the 1980's and 8-bit video games. Parzival is a gunter (egg hunter) and might be the preeminent expert on 80's culture. For the last five years he's done nothing but study hoping to uncover the meaning of the Halliday's first clue:
Three hidden keys open three secret gates Wherein the errant will be tested for Worthy traits And those with the skill to survive these traits Will reach The End where the prize awaits.
Now he's decoded it and the race is on to find the egg with the future of OASIS at stake.
Ready Player One is Wade's coming of age story, a frequent and not unexpected character arc. He is a social pariah - poor, unattractive, out of shape - and an orphan with little to no prospects of future employment. His only escape from this miserable existence is OASIS which he accesses through a scavenged laptop and his school issued gloves and goggles. In OASIS, Wade is Parzival and all the things that make him awkward in the real world allow him to stand out in OASIS.
Given today's obsession with World of Warcraft in the U.S. and China, Everquest in Korea, and the soon to be release Star Wars: The Old Republic there isn't a great deal of imagination required to make the leap to what Cline portrays in Ready Player One. What's special about the novel is his treatment of Parzival/Wade. Written in the first person, Cline takes us inside the head of a young man suffering from a host of disorders - social anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, and paranoia (not all at once of course, poor kid isn't certifiable!). This introspective look connected with me in a way I never expected. I saw myself in Wade, identified with him, and wanted for him the same conclusions that I came to myself as I grew up.
By the end of the novel, I had relived my teenage years and admittedly a few years there in my early 20's. I suppose this is something every young person goes through to some extent as they try to find a niche. Like Wade I turned to the internet although in my day AOL Wheel of Time message boards, MUDs, and Air Warrior On-line weren't quite as sexy as OASIS.
I never wanted to be someone else, not really. Rather I was trying to show the parts of me that I was proud of and stick the rest of them in a box that didn't have a modem. The fact that I was overweight, awkward, and painfully shy around girls was completely inconsequential on-line. I could be witty and smart. I could place at the top of the leader boards for kills or run a MUD and ban people that pissed me off. And more importantly, for a 16 year old boy, I could talk to girls and be charming (they were girls, ok?)
As I moved from high school to college I started to notice there would be some of my peers who wouldn't leave this phase. On-line without the judgement of the "real world" was too easy. They made a choice. Most of them didn't finish college or never got there in the first place, and who knows where they are now? I found my escape (from my escape, oh the irony) in fitness. Much like a smoker gives up cigarettes only to transfer their addiction to food, I channeled my energy into a new endeavor and soon reality was easier (and c'mon, like I gave up geeking out?).
In Ready Player One, Wade/Parzival has to make that same choice albeit his impetus to do so is significantly more robust than my own. That's really what the book's all about. He, and his friends, come to a point where to win they have to break down the barriers they walled themselves inside. It's touching and given the heart underlying all of it I can only imagine that Cline himself has some experience (according to his website he too once wore "husky" jeans). Through his characters he leads us to recognize that the excuses we use to hold us back - weight, skin color, gender, unfortunately placed birthmarks, acne, questionable hygiene (ok, maybe not that one) - are just that, excuses. Sure living in a fake reality is easy, but nothing good should be that easy.
So in all that crap, I may have made Cline's novel sound a little sappy. It's not. That's entirely my own filter. What Ready Player One has going for it is gobs and gobs of fun. To anyone alive in the 80's or who's spent some time in syndicated television, this novel is a pneumatic piston of awesome. It reminds us of Family Ties, Back to the Future, Pac-Man, text based adventure games, and Duran Duran (curiously Super Mario Bros. is conspicuously absent, copyright issue?). Even to a younger generation the adventure aspect of the story is equally as appealing. The film rights have already been purchased by Warner Brothers and that's not surprising. The whole thing reads like some amazing concoction of The Wizard, Tron, and Stand By Me. Puzzle solving, giant robot battles, exploding trailers, and indentured servitude as a customer service representative, it has everything someone could want from their friendly neighborhood best-selling adventure novel.
To be fair, I have a sneaking suspicion that Ernest Cline's novel had a larger impact on me as an individual than it may have on the general reading populace (especially the high school bullies, assholes, like any of them read anyway). Still, I would bet that among video gamers and the Science Fiction community at large there are more than a few who had similar paths to adulthood. To those I say - read Ready Player One, you won't be sorry. For everyone else, if you don't want to read it (you still should), buy it for your kids. There's a lot to learn here and who knows? Maybe they'll start asking questions about the 80's. Safety Dance is looking for the next generation of fans.(less)
The tagline for The End Specialist by Drew Magary is, "Who wants to live forever?" My immediate answer is, well, I do. Who would turn that down, right...moreThe tagline for The End Specialist by Drew Magary is, "Who wants to live forever?" My immediate answer is, well, I do. Who would turn that down, right? My review copy from Voyager differed slightly with the words, "Immortality Will Kill Us All (Except for me)." Interesting how a few words could make me reevaluate my answer to the first question. That's exactly what Magary's book is all about. What would happen if we had the cure for aging? Is it really a good thing or something we should even be pursuing? End Specialist is a long form response to those questions, very much in the tradition of Marvel's What If? comics.
A cure for aging is discovered and, after much political and ethical wrangling, made available worldwide. Of course, all the cure does is halt aging doing nothing to prevent all the other fun and gruesome ways to die (think heart attack, cancer, torture, etc.). And surprise surprise, not everyone wants the cure leading to extremist groups and zany religious cults. Everything quickly descends into a downward spiral.
Told through the first person blog entries of John Farrell, the novel follows the cure's progression from lab tests, to illegal experimentation, to full-blown saturation of the population before then documenting the fallout and hinting at eventual recovery. If that reads a bit like the plot line for a story about an outbreak of black plague then I may have painted the appropriate picture for how Magary's novel treats the cure for death. Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters that include asides to the main story. These windows into the world outside Farrell's view are vital bits of world building that provide haunting, and occasionally hilarious, examples of how the cure for death is failing.
I think haunting is the right word to use to describe End Specialist because it's a novel that going to stick with you for a bit. I'm not sure how the general public reacts to death, but for me, I find it a generally distasteful line of thinking. Whether one possesses religious conviction or not, the thought of losing the "now-ness" (boy, that was articulate) of life is frightening. Magary taps into that fear capturing not only the raw desire for immortality, but the depths to which humanity is willing to sink.
Wrapped up in the novel is something that resembles a love story, albeit not exactly boy meets girl, marries girl, has kid with girl variety. There is some of that, but more often than not it's about falling in love with the moment, and the realization of how stagnant such things are. It's also about vanity, selfishness, and pride as tragic stories tend to be.
There will be parts of the novel that drag a bit as most of the first half is spent in the moderately mundane life of John Farrell the newly immortal. In fact, the end specialist bit promised on the back cover doesn't really get going until about the two-thirds mark. That's not a knock, as the pages flew by, but I was frequently asking myself when Farrell was going to be become a licensed U.S. government end specialist (which in my mind conjured up James Bond with a hypodermic needle). Things pick up significantly in that last third and provide a satisfactory ending to a tremendous setup.
I have a feeling that most of the people who read End Specialist (especially in the UK) aren't going to have a clue who Drew Magary is. The cross-over from U.S. sports humor blogger to international science fiction author isn't commonplace. For the last six or seven years Magary has written at Deadspinand Kissing Suzy Kolber, two blogs that somewhat resemble TMZ or io9 for sports enthusiasts.
Having read these sites off and on over the years I've been pretty exposed to Magary's writing. I have no idea how he went from thisto science fiction, but I'm sure glad he did. The End Specialist is a top-notch novel that should have a great deal of appeal to a wide swathe of readers. I've already ordered a copy for my mom.
The End Specialist is available in eBook now from Amazon.uk and in hard copy September 29, 2011.
In the U.S., Magary's novel is being published by Penguin under the title The Postmortal. It's should be available today in all formats.
The author will be at Politics & Prose in Washington D.C. tomorrow for a reading and I presume signing. I may attend to learn more about immortal strippers.
Read this post from Magary today on Kissing Suzy Kolber. It's a detailed list of things you can expect in the novel. Funny, and informative.(less)
My self imposed hiatus on Night Shade Books failed miserably this past weekend when I couldn't resist their latest novel, Seed by Rob Ziegler. I was going to try to take a few weeks away from Night Shade to get at some of my rapidly overwhelming back catalog. While I did finish Diving Into the Wreck and started Midnight Riot and Shadow Prowler, they all fell to the side once I dug into Seed. Zeigler's novel is as haunting as it is believable.
Much like Night Shade flag bearer The Wind-Up Girl (Bacigalupi), Seed is a near term science fiction novel that centers around the impacts of climate change and over population on the world's environment. The Hugo Award winning Wind-Up Girl focused on Thailand, but hinted at the problems ongoing in America. In many ways Seed could be that story of America. That's not to say it's derivative of Bacigalupi, but there's certainly similarities in tone and texture to the world playing to the current fears that Earth is reaching 'critical mass'.
Seed is set at dawn of the 22nd century, the world has fallen apart and a new corporate power has emerged: Satori. More than just a corporation, Satori is an intelligent, living city in America's heartland. She manufactures climate-resistant seed to feed humanity, and bio-engineers her own perfected castes of post-humans. What remains of the United States government now exists solely to distribute Satori product.
When a Satori Designer goes rogue, Agent Sienna Doss is tasked with bringing her in to break Satori's stranglehold on seed production. In a race against genetically honed assassins, Doss's best chance at success lies in an unlikely alliance with a gang of thugs and Brood - orphan, scavenger and small-time thief scraping by on the fringes of the wasteland - whose young brother may be the key to everything.
What struck me most about Seed is the poignancy. Right away Ziegler jumps into Brood's nomadic life as he migrates from Mexico to the Mid-West with the imminent arrival of summer temperatures. With his special-needs brother, Brood lives just on the edge of survival. His imperative to protect crackles with emotion and his willingness to do anything to survive is heartbreaking. These threads continue into other parts of the story from the Satori lamenting the loss of their defective sibling to Agent Doss remembering her crippling childhood. Beyond the characters the world itself is bleak and desolate. Ziegler capably takes the small kindness of a drink of water and makes it a seminal moment of compassion.
Despite this being an 'American' novel Ziegler does a great job of integrating Hispanic culture into the pastoral fiber of the country. A pretty good amount of the dialogue is in Spanish often laced with Mexican slang. Elements of Hispanic culture are prevalent in the migrants and in many ways makes Seed not only a glimpse into the future of climate change and overpopulation, but a glimpse at the integration of culture on America's horizon. Juxtaposing this is the Satori which is so disturbingly self-interested and antiseptic as to be reminiscent of William Gibson's cyberpunk corporations.
My only real complaint stems from the lack of scientific underpinning to Satori. For a post-apocalyptic novel the science fiction felt very magical (not in the Arthur C. Clarke sense) in large part because Ziegler never takes the time to ground any of it in science. While he introduces the brains behind it all, they're never given the opportunity to expound upon how or why it all works. In that sense the novel 'reads' more like a fantasy than science fiction, something I believe is becoming a trend in the post-apocalypse sub-genre. Instead, Seed never lets up in its pace, keeping a constant tension throughout that eschews any need for exposition.
As a narrative, Seed is a multi-view point third person novel that I believe stands alone and should continue to do so. Interestingly, I realized none of what I liked about it had much do with the actual prose. I didn't find myself highlighting passages or even taking note of particularly nice turns of phrase. This isn't a negative. Rather than flowery descriptions or particularly evocative metaphors, Seed compelled me forward with... wait for it... a great story. And a great story told well.
Seed is Rob Ziegler's debut novel and another very good one from Night Shade's 2011 crop of new authors. Reading this review it might seem that this is a slow and morose novel. It's not at all. Woven in between scenes of migration and self-reflection is tons of action that culminates in a conclusion that's both explosive and cathartic. This is one you don't want to miss.
I get e-mails from time to time offering me electronic copies of self-published or small press titles for review. I usually say yes, with the caveat t...moreI get e-mails from time to time offering me electronic copies of self-published or small press titles for review. I usually say yes, with the caveat that I may never actually read it or get past the first chapter. Most of them are not very good. Once in a while though there's a real home run. After the Apocalypse, a collection of short stories by Maureen F. McHugh, is a home run.
I'd never heard of McHugh prior to receiving an e-mail about her collection. It turns out she's published four novels and over twenty short stories. Her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. In 1996 she won a Hugo Award for her short story The Lincoln Train. After reading this collection, none of that surprises me. Many of the stories in this collection are "award worthy" - especially the three new ones that are published here for the first time.
As the title implies, all of the stories in this collection deal with what comes after the apocalypse. Notice that's a lower case apocalypse. While some of the stories delve into the aftermath of the "big-one", some are more about a personal cataclysm. All of them are told from a very tight point of view in a consistently haunting prose. McHugh's characters are all real people, with real problems, who lived before she opened the window into their story and will continue to live after it's closed. It's rare that I enjoy short fiction this much. It's even more rare when I'd put a 200 page short story collection against any novel I've read this year.
Below are a quick taste of each of the stories:
The Naturalist (Subterranean Online, spring 2010)
After the zombie plague is over the remaining walking stiffs are sealed into wild preserves. To cut costs, America has started sending their criminals into the preserves fend for themselves. This is a gruesome story of humanity's ability to adapt and need to survive.
Special Economics (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, May 2008)
This is an odd story about a hip-hop dancing Chinese woman who's come to ShenZhen to find a job. She ends up with New Life, a bio-engineering company that designs green technologies for America. New Life though is a "company town" and owns its employees. While not a classic apocalypse story the character arc is very much one of overcoming adversity and refusing to lie down when that's the easiest thing to do.
Useless Things (Eclipse Three: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, October 2009)
Definitely a global warming gone wrong story, Useless Things follows an artist in New Mexico struggling to carve out an existence. All the comforts of today are still available, but resources are scarce. As a woman living alone the threats of the world at large are real, and not something she's prepared to deal with.
The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large (Eclipse One, October 2007)
The only story where the narrator isn't the primary character, it tells the story of a young man and his family who survive a series of dirty bombs in Baltimore. He's afflicted with a mental disorder that's resulted in him becoming someone else. While this is the least evocative of all the stories in the collection, there's a certain beauty to the way McHugh constructs it, reading something like an article in Time Magazine.
The Kingdom of the Blind (Plugged In, May 2008)
A standard setup for a science fiction story, McHugh dabbles in the birth of artificial intelligence. She takes a unique look at it though discussing the never used truth that a computer intelligence has no way to perceive the outside world and no concept of what it wants. Extremely intriguing story that reads more like a pre-apocalypse than a post.
Going to France (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 22, June 2008)
This one had a very interesting premise - people suddenly feel compelled to go to France. Some fly, gliding across the Atlantic (people can fly), others race to the closest airport. This one was a bit too esoteric for me. I admit I'm probably just not smart enough to get it.
Honeymoon (new to this collection)
An overweight and broke young woman has her marriage fall apart seconds after it starts. Her apocalypse happens when her marriage ends, and she has to soldier on. Picking up the pieces she moves to Cleveland where to make extra money she puts herself into drug trials - one of which goes wrong. This is a fairly inspirational story about a girl taking charge of her life and finding her own place in the world - really connected to this story.
The Effect of Centrifugal Forces (new to this collection)
I don't understand the title of this story really, again I'm not that bright, but the story itself is poignant. Irene is a teenage girl living with her mom, and her mom's new partner, Alice. Her other mom, has a boyfriend now who's always strung out. Irene's mom has ADP (think Alzheimer's meets MS) and she dying. Having lived through two family members die of slow diseases, the hurt and loneliness that Irene feels was particularly meaningful for me. Worth the price of admission on it's own.
After the Apocalypse (new to this collection)
This story made me want to throw up from the first paragraph. I saw what was coming and knew it was inevitable. The parent in me rebelled to no avail. Haunting doesn't begin to describe this story of mother and daughter trying to survive when society falls apart. I appreciate the stupendous execution, but I'm allowed to hate it too right? Almost a horror story to the right reader and done so well.