Read 2/03/15 - 2/12/15 4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of post-pandy fiction. This one's unlike any you've read before. Pages: 592 Publisher: EccoRead 2/03/15 - 2/12/15 4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of post-pandy fiction. This one's unlike any you've read before. Pages: 592 Publisher: Ecco Books Releases: March 2015
It's a great time to be a reader if you're into post-pandemic dystopian literature, isn't it? Lately, it seems as though every author out there's devising new ways to bring about the end of the world. And what I find most interesting about this sub-genre -the post-pandy genre- is the fact that these stories aren't actually concerned with the trigger, the thing that brought about the near-end of humanity. Because the trigger is simply a catalyst. The meat of these stories is in the aftermath.
Take Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. She brought about the near-end of the world with a nasty, aggressive Super-Flu. Sure, she has to lay down some groundwork for it, but the bulk of her book focuses on what, and who, remains foremost in the survivors' minds. What are the survivors latching onto? What is keeping them human? What connects them to others? In her case, it's art and theater and culture.
Or we can look at Carola Dibbell's The Only Ones. In a near future, a series of back-to-back viruses and infections plague the country and wipe most humans out. People are still getting sick and dying and this novel's concerned with just one thing... keeping our species from going extinct. So Carola's focus turns towards genetics and cloning and playing god by manufacturing hope for humanity in a petri dish.
True to the post-pandy formula, Sandra Newman infects her world with a strange virus that initially rocked the United States ages ago and which now lingers dormant inside every child, killing them slowly and painfully before they reach the age of twenty. Hers is a world containing only children. Hers is the country of Ice Cream Star and let me tell you.. what a country it is!
The novel is told from the point of view of Ice Cream Star, our fifteen year old protagonist, and is written entirely in a made-up dialect, with no glossary of terms in sight (more on that later). She and her brother Driver are part of the upper echelon of a small nomadic tribe of children who make their home in the woods of Massa(chusetts). Ice Cream's group refer to themselves as "tarry night sorts" (dark skinned) and operate under a hierarchy that is greatly influenced by the disease they call posies.
It is through Ice Cream's narration that we discover the "Nighted" States was once, way before her time, evacuated under the threat of this disease. If her bunch be "tarry night sorts", then where did all of the white people go? She ponders on Europe - a name that appears in the evac notices that still linger here and there in the abandoned homes they raid - as a place more likened to hell and myth than an actual, honest-to-god country people fled to, because of the occasional sleepers they come into contact with - the dead, skeletal bodies of those who died from the initial outbreak.
Their laws and rules are also mostly guided by superstition and fables.
There are other neighboring "tribes", that function under their own set of laws and rules, with whom Ice Cream and her group interact - the Christings, who are godly church-going people; The Lowells, who live in an abandoned mill and act as laborers and merchants; and The Nat Mass Armies, a military-like group of males. And when Ice Cream and her crew unexpectedly stumble across a grown white man hiding out in a sleeper's house during a routine raid, everything they thought they knew about life and the disease that claims them all at such a young age is about to change.
This 'roo' convinces Ice Cream Star that his people have a cure for their posies, and as her brother begins to show signs of the disease, she becomes determined to get her hands on it. What follows is a story of hardship, heartbreak, betrayal, and redemption.
The Country of Ice Cream Star immediately brings to mind Lord of the Flies. In this brave new world of parentless children, and of children having children, new societal norms and agreements have replaced the ones we typically function under. For example, women (or, more correctly, girls) can and do fight in wars but mostly lack social status. The Nat Mass Armies toss their unwanted female-born children to the Christings, kidnap others to keep as sex slaves, and are allowed to "choose" one against their will to become the Queen of the newest Nat Mass Army king. Inter-group pairings were looked upon as necessary strategic moves. Girls, once they hit their teenage years, were strongly urged to reproduce, in order to keep their tribe's numbers up. The Christings men, though claiming to follow the word of God, kept multiple wives. And one particular 'Panish' group with strange Catholic obsessions hand-select a man and woman, usually against their will, to become their Maria and Jesus, while they assigned "apostles" to manage and maintain their city laws.
This book also has strong similarities to Clockwork Orange. In the Country of Ice Cream Star, they all speak in a mish-moshed version of English, where most words lose their first letters (tober, vember, cember for the months of the year; lastic, lectric, larm, magine all have their opening vowels dropped) and others are just plain ole made-up.
Try this on for size:
"Ya, this been feary day, because we find a sleeper house. In houses with these dead we take no loot. It be unlucky wealth. Nor is good taboo to leave the house. Must rid it with clean fire."
Words like "vally", "bone", "bell", and "gratty" are defined only by their intended use within a sentence. And most of the time, you need to see it appear three or four times before you truly grasp its meaning. So, how does one keep track of all of this incredibly ambitious and strangely beautiful dialect? Well, by taking notes!
Honestly, I don't know how I would have made it past the first 50 pages without my notes. Being locked inside a single character's head for ~600 pages is one thing. Being locked inside Ice Cream Star's head, with this trimmed down but highly complicated dialect, was an entirely different animal!
Difficulties with decoding the dialect aside, by the time I read the first paragraph I knew I was in this for the long haul, For all of her flaws and naivety, I found Ice Cream to be incredibly charismatic. I was entirely too curious to follow her around to even consider putting the book down. You wanted to be there as she comforted her dying brother, as she rallied her tribe to stand alongside the roo to fight for the cure, and as she fought, struggled, and escaped whatever perils came their way.
Sandra Newman has crafted a fascinating and frightful alternate future, one that pulls you straight down into its very heart, though it's the unique language of Ice Cream Star that holds you there tightly. It's heady and ballsy and manages to break every dystopian barrier there is with a sophisticated ease. ...more
Read 1/28/15 - 2/2/15 4 Stars - Strongly recommended to fans of unique voices, dystopian pandy's, and unexpected motherhood Pages: 354 Publisher: Two DolRead 1/28/15 - 2/2/15 4 Stars - Strongly recommended to fans of unique voices, dystopian pandy's, and unexpected motherhood Pages: 354 Publisher: Two Dollar Radio Releases: March 2015
In the near future, wave after wave of infections and viruses have greatly reduced the world's population. Many of those who survive are rendered incapable of having children on their own and require the services of "Donors" and "Hosts" - women who allow their eggs to be harvested or agree to become surrogate mothers for money.
Inez, our narrator, is one such woman. Immune to infection, Inez understands her status as a "hardy" makes her a hot commodity and when we are first introduced to her, she's busy selling her blood, eggs, and teeth on the streets of New York to make ends meet. She's amazingly naive and unfazed by danger, treating her body as nothing more than a borrowed shell to loan out to strangers for payment. Her "let's see what happens" attitude eventually finds her in the company of a guy named Rauden. He runs a farm - not an "old MacDonald had a" farm, but one that specializes in experimental "product" trafficking. The baby-making-stuffs. Before she can fully grasp what's happening, Inez participates in a battery of experimental tests and agrees to donate her eggs and skin samples to a wealthy, grieving "client" who is desperate to replace her recently deceased children.
After multiple failed attempts to genetically engineer a baby for hosting purposes, Rauden and his team finally break new ground. They successfully produce the world's first batch of clones from Inez's genetic material. During the tank-gestation period, they lose all but one baby and at the very last minute, the client backs out, leaving a reluctant Inez in charge of the infant she helped to create.
Now forced to forage for two, and on the run from horseback-riding religious vigilantes, Inez must protect the secret of the farm and the truth about her daughter Ani at all costs.
God, did I get lost in Carola Dibbell's vision of dystopian New York City. Coupons replace cash; swipes and spit tests replace photo ID's; phone calls and messages are received on Boards (which are both personal devices and outdoor, ATM-like machines); and public transportation consists of bubble cars, unreliable wind-powered trams and boats, and hovering magnetized trains. Giant domes encapsulate wealthy neighborhoods as a feeble attempt to protect against the threat of death that lives in every breath. It's a stark and gritty world where babies are conceived in basement laboratories and sold as "viables" in the global underground market.
The Only Ones was one of many post-pandemic novels I was itching to get my hands on this year. It hinges itself on more than just surviving the unsurvivable. It tackles more than just rebuilding society. Dibbell's novel sticks its hands into the evolutionary food chain and calls into question the roles of man and god.
It's a story about understanding your worth and overcoming your "heritage". It's about embracing motherhood, even if you don't know what that is, and the near-obsessive desire to give your children a better childhood than you had.
I loved the language of the book. And Carola eases us into it so smoothly, it's like we've been talking her lingo all along.
Inez's apparent ignorance regarding the world around her is both refreshing and grating. With her, what you see is what you get. She is incredibly human, unrepentantly stubborn, and proud of her faults. Yet as her daughter begins to develop her own personality, full of flaws, Inez's certainty in things starts to falter. She worries and fears that Ani is damaged, that these might be signs of anomaly, defects due to Ani's method of creation.
The way Inez reacted to Ani throughout the novel was simultaneously humorous and maddening. The initial pride she took in keeping her alive as a baby was sweet. "Does she breathe? She does breathe. Still alive." The joy she took in the odd things Ani did as a baby was adorable. "The sofa cover got loose ... she took a big bite of the foam! With the big bite in her mouth she hopped one two three to the mirror and spit out the foam. Man! What was she thinking?" But her ever-growing confusion over Ani's wide range of emotions and her obsession over the influence her "environmental factors" might have on Ani became exasperating in that "new mother who always has to tell you about what their kid is doing and saying every single second of the day in very explicit detail" way.
Though ultimately, all of that aside, the change we witness in Inez over the years, from naive reckless young woman to determined and protective mother, the selfless decisions she makes, and the things she is prepared to do as Ani learned how to become her own woman left me breathless more often than I'd like to admit.
The Only Ones is not a novel you read. It's a novel you experience. ...more
Read 2/17/15 - 2/18/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of the Blake Butler and Ben Spivey style literature Pages: 122 Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms RelRead 2/17/15 - 2/18/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of the Blake Butler and Ben Spivey style literature Pages: 122 Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms Releases: March 2015
I should start a "Note Worthy" review series, specifically for the books I've taken notes on as I read. I feel like this is becoming a recent trend. First, for The Country of Ice Cream Star, to keep track of the amazingly beautiful, but initially complicated, invented dialect. And now for This Boring Apocalypse, which is just one of the most bizarrely written lit-fic novels I've read in a long time.
Here we have a woman who attempts to eat, and then begins to dismember, her girlfriend. Like, literally removes her body parts, starting with her legs, which she carries around with her and stores in her closet. What initially appeared to be a tender sexual act suddenly becomes tainted by her fear that her girlfriend is cheating on her, and so next she removes her arms. To keep her captive. And then she wants to reduce her to her smallest functioning parts, so she begins to remove the organs and then her head. So all she is now is just a hollowed out torso. Fucking weird, right? It's almost like she's playing with a doll, or a toy. There's no blood. There's no fighting. There's just this pop and bam! Body parts removed.
And like a kid who grows bored with their toys, our narrator tires of the girlfriend, disposes of her and chases down a man to play with. She wastes no time in removing his arms and legs. Pop. Pop. Off they go.
Then she sulks because she feels her own body is in control of itself and she desires to be in control of IT. While trying to control her body, she injures herself. This injury, which festers rapidly and painfully, ends up re-birthing her girlfriend. What the fuck, right?
As she's nursing her festering wound, she says "it is important to become part of the horror, lest we'll be controlled by it. Then the horror will overwhelm us. But if we are a part of it, we can at least control the part of it we are." And that's basically what the rest of the book amounts to, her need for control, at all costs. Of herself and of others. Whether this stems from a desire for companionship, or a place of intense jealousy, we ultimately find ourselves sucked down into her diseased brain. A mental rabbit hole we cannot claw our way back out of. It's a complete horrorshow.
People are planted in the ground by their feet and become trees, lab rats don white lab coats and perform experiments on infants, people she tires of and lets go return to her in the strangest ways... it's like an apocalypse of her mind.
Told in short, fantastical chapters, This Boring Apocalypse is a fast paced, increasingly bizarre novel filled with the surreal and distorted imagery that is the stuff nightmares are made of....more
Read 1/14/15 - 1/21/15 3 Stars - Recommended to readers who like non-traditional storytelling and eat up satire with a spoon Pages: 280 Publisher: Self PRead 1/14/15 - 1/21/15 3 Stars - Recommended to readers who like non-traditional storytelling and eat up satire with a spoon Pages: 280 Publisher: Self Published Released: 2014
When reading Rude Vile Pigs, there is no pressure to like its characters. They are rude, they are vile, and they are, essentially, quite piggish. Leo X Robertson could not have chosen a better title for this dark satirical look at humanity at its most down-and-out.
In the town of... wait for it... Sadwhitepeopledrinking, we find ourselves in the midst of a middle-aged alcoholic divorcee's mental breakdown. Jim Joy still has the key to his old place - the new owners haven't changed the lock yet - and when the family is out and about, he sneaks into the attic, smokes weed, and sets himself to eavesdropping on (and slightly, innocently, interfering with) them. He's emotionally paralyzed, can't come to terms with his new bachelorhood, and shamelessly hides from reality by invisibly integrating himself into, and falling in love with, the lives of Kate, George, and Kayleigh. Until the day he takes his obsession with them too far and finds himself arrested.
Coming to terms with the fact that he has officially hit rock bottom, Jim decides to stay there awhile and develops a kind of devil-may-care attitude. Shortly after Kate dropped the charges against him, Jim visits her at her place of employment, completely disregarding her insistence of never seeing him again. George finds out and kicks the shit of him. Jim's lack of reaction and jerky continued attempts to contact them begins to rub off. This selfish outlook of his - take whatever you want, do whatever you want, say whatever you want - unexpectedly spawns a new religion, one of embracing your inner asshole. People begin to witness Jim getting what he wants and boy does it look good. Before he knows what's happening, townsfolk are attending his weekly "sermons" to learn how best to develop their newly found fuck-all attitude. He's built an asshole-inner-circle. And being selfish has become infectious.
So what happens to a town where people stop giving a shit about the rules that once guided them? Where everyone is out for themselves and no one's got anyone's back anymore? And what happens when the man who started it all suddenly becomes sick and tired of it?
Rude Vile Pigs is told from the alternating perspectives of Jim, Kate, George, Kayleigh, and Jim's ex-wife Julia. However, before we get to the actual story, Leo spends the first seventeen pages showing us "how we got there" with a mish-mosh of internal dialogue, presenting the events out-of-sequence. If you are patient with yourself, and keep flipping back to the list of characters Leo provides you with, you'll quickly piece together what is taking place. And then, once the pivotal moment has been outed, you'll find yourself relaxing comfortably into the more familiar delivery of sequential chapters.
If you're anything like me, at times you might find Leo's humor to be somewhat forced. Is that common with satirical fiction? I've no shame in admitting that I don't always "get" the point of satire. Maybe that's why I also found Rude Vile Pigs guilty of attempting to take itself a wee bit too seriously? Perhaps I'm just jaded, but the idea of an entire town of people all of a sudden letting go of all social norms and doing whatever the fuck they want just because one dude is doing it and getting away with it is just a bit too out there for me.
It's like the kid who gets caught smoking and is forced to consume an entire pack, one cigarette immediately after the other. He was forced with the assumption that too much of a good thing will quickly becomes a bad thing. Something he'll get sick of before it starts to really take root. But who's to say that wouldn't backfire, and by giving the kid more of what he wants, you've just proved his point, that smoking is cool as shit and he'll be a steady pack-a-day'er for the rest of his life. He may even be able to convince a friend or two that this new lifestyle is perfect for them too, but a whole town of non-smokers? Now imagine that town of non-smokers being forced to smoke cigarette after cigarette, all at the same time... pack them into a room until the smoke has filled it from floor to ceiling, till all they can smell and taste is that cigarette smoke... how long until most of the people break away and run for the doors screaming and choking from the badness of it all?
It's the same idea, really. I'm going to be a jerk to you. I'll step all over you and get what I want. Does that make you idolize me and want to become a jerk so you can do the same thing to someone else? I doubt it. Assholes tend to demonstrate undesirable behaviors. The only one who thinks being an asshole is fun is the asshole. I don't necessarily agree that being an asshole creates more assholes. But why don't you read Rude Vile Pigs and contemplate that for yourself?...more
Read 12/31/14 - 1/6/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of bizarre and bold flash fiction / super short stories Pages: 145 Publisher: FC2 Released: October 2Read 12/31/14 - 1/6/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of bizarre and bold flash fiction / super short stories Pages: 145 Publisher: FC2 Released: October 2014
An effective short story always knows when to end itself. It says what needs to be said, politely ushers the reader through the front door when it's done, and closes it tightly behind us.
Ryan MacDonald's somewhat loosely interconnected stories (hello, Havershamp?) capture deceivingly small slices of life that leave rather large impressions on us. Not unlike quick little slaps to the face, the sting of his language is unexpected and his words linger behind like ghosts, filling up the spaces between what we read and what we feel in the hours that follow.
Through his stories, Ryan offers us a rotation of glimpses, parading snippets of his characters' lives before our eyes. And as we experience these moments with him, we have seconds to decide - do we judge or reserve judgement, do we cringe with concern or smile with camaraderie?
A father stores grotesque animal parts in his family's refrigerator in "A Confluence of Occurances"; a man forgets to feed his finches in "A Small Death"; we experience a husband's grief at the hands of his wife's unpleasantness in "Wakefield". A bored kid plays with a crawdad in "Into the Woods". A little boy finds a mentor in his father's mail-ordered mexican cowboy. Someone finds Richard Gere very grating when in close, confined quarters. A brother and sister secretly revel in the stink of a dead skunk.
Oh yes, reader, beware. Where there be animals, there also be death. Ryan, like so many authors before him, can't seem to have a furry or crustaceous creature in a story without bringing about its death swiftly and (mostly) unnecessarily. Whether we enter the story at the moment of death or are pulled in at the burial scene, these stories struck out at me the strongest because they tended to break my heart the hardest. Well, those and the stories about familial distress (they stuck with me but didn't break my heart). Those mostly elicited snuffs and giggles....more