I thought I was tired of apocalypse fiction, and kind of felt that way for about the first 200 pages of The 5th Wave. Though the writing is excel...more4.5/5
I thought I was tired of apocalypse fiction, and kind of felt that way for about the first 200 pages of The 5th Wave. Though the writing is excellent, I just wasn't seeing anything particularly new in the story itself: "plucky young heroes coming of age while fighting totalitarianism/supernatural apocalypse/alien invasion/etc." has kind of become the go-to plot in YA fiction.
But then Rick Yancey proved me wrong, with the kind of plot twist you really don't see coming, and the remainder of the novel kicked into overdrive. Intricate plotting, and maybe most importantly, vivid, descriptive writing that carries the reader along for every excruciating inch of the ride -- The 5th Wave kept me riveted far too late into the night.
Personally, I prefer Yancey's Monstrumologist series, but then I'm a whore for period gore. But so far, anything he writes is a welcome addition to my shelves. The 5th Wave series will have a reserved space. (less)
This book started out as a 2.5 and performed the unusual feat of raising itself to a 3.5 by the time I finished it. 99 Brief Scenes From The End Of Th...moreThis book started out as a 2.5 and performed the unusual feat of raising itself to a 3.5 by the time I finished it. 99 Brief Scenes From The End Of The World was stealthy, sneak-up-on-you-good, despite some important flaws, and I'm glad I stuck with it.
The bad news first: Right out of the box I was irritated that the structure of the book was not as implied by the title. I expected something more like David Eagleman's strange and wonderful Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, only with splatterrific zombie gore. So, when characters and locales began to make repeat appearances, I had to revise my expectation (99 unique pieces of flash-fiction), to reading what is better described as a novel with 99 chapters. These are not always "brief scenes," and some are really filler-y, not strictly necessary to the story as a whole. It seems to me that a final round of edits could have pulled this all together into a tight, suspenseful novel not reliant on the random titular number for its structure.
The good news: Grim's book does have a number of things going for it, and despite my irritation I found it impossible to put down. First and foremost, Grim -- a talented, descriptive writer -- does good character work. Once I finally got to know the core survivors, I cared about their fate(s), and admired the way his craft allows their singular stories eventually dovetail. Some of the global-picture characters (the foaming-at-the mouth US President, or the morality-challenged leaders of a Japanese science/weapons lab) certainly might have been excised or toned down. Though I suppose they serve to give us a window into the global situation, I found that the struggle for survival (and sanity) of the everyday citizens was more tethered in realism, and gave me more to sink my teeth into.
Speaking of which . . . absolutely key to this particular genre is the splatter, and Grim pours forth an endless stream of surprisingly innovative mayhem. The man knows his gore, and and has a million ways to spill it. in fact, a couple of unbelievably disgusting scenes really worked their way under my skin -- and I eat dinner while watching "The Walking Dead," so do the math. Grim also conceives an unusual twist on the now-standard zombie/rage virus trope (tiny spoiler: it's neither one!) whichmight allow a continuance of the story . . . something challenging to achieve when writing about an extinction-level event.
Because the unexpected twist piqued my interest, and because it takes a lot to actually gross me out, I not only upgraded this book to "liked a lot" status; I'll happily read any follow-up work Grim gets out there. (less)
Wow. Intricate world-building and the kind of writing that elevates genre to literary. Possibly longer than necessary, but even the parts with little...moreWow. Intricate world-building and the kind of writing that elevates genre to literary. Possibly longer than necessary, but even the parts with little narrative thrust sparkle with detail both beautiful and terrible. That's one hell of a first novel.(less)
After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -...moreAfter the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -- and yet it's also quite perfect. Because, like Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, Maureen F. McHugh's thoughtful collection of stories is really about how we, just us normal people, get up and get on with it after the unthinkable has occurred.
At heart, these are intimate tales about people and their strange new lives: keeping family safe, finding work, finding food, losing their homes, their minds and their innocence. While some common genre tropes appear (a government "zombie reserve" that doubles as a fight-or-die penal colony; an unstoppable strain of avian flu that takes its sweet, relentless time to turn a human brain to mush; disparate strangers inexplicably drawn to converge in a particular place), the apocalypses -- yes, the plural form is required -- in these stories are equally the result of problems already on our doorsteps: natural disasters; overburdened and failing urban infrastructures; economic meltdowns; and machines that might just be smarter than we are.
With clean, evocative prose, a killer eye for detail, and a sympathetic, humorous (but never indulgent) view into the human condition, McHugh has crafted a work of speculative fiction about what humanity might stand to lose -- or just maybe gain -- when we are faced with the burdens of the end times already rearing their ugly heads. Her characters are not always kind, not always moral. But they are astute, funny and absolutely believable. (And as a bonus, one wears the coolest t-shirt ever: "If You're Really a Goth, Where Were You When We Sacked Rome?")(less)
The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I h...more The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I had never heard of it, I'm very glad I did, because this strangely charming and incredibly eerie book -- part horror story, part eco-parable, all magically weird -- got under my skin with its vivid imagery and unusual setting.
Formerly a rich fishing ground, the tiny Newfoundland village of Bareneed's maritime industry has collapsed from overfishing, and the town and its inhabitants are slipping into a depression both economic and existential. But something strange is afoot in Bareneed: when several locals fall ill with an unrecognizable breathing disorder (viral? hysterical? fatal?), and perfectly-preserved dead bodies start washing up on the rocky shore, that's only the tip of the iceberg that eventually draws ghosts, sea monsters and military intervention into one -- mostly quite effective -- tall tale.
Harvey constructs TTTFHTB around a rotating set of POV characters, among them a local doctor and a police officer, both capable but out of their depth; a beatific little old lady who knows more than she's letting on; a man-child whose painted apocalyptic visions are coming to pass; and a "townie" fisheries officer with roots in Bareneed, who takes a summer-rental with his eight-year-old daughter. It's a large cast of characters for a small town, but Harvey gives them each a unique voice and perspective on the mysteries unfolding around them.
Only one of the many narrative threads falls short of its initial promise, which left me wondering if it might have been better left out -- but that same thread also offers up some of the most chilling and atmospheric scenes in the novel, so I'll let that shortcoming slide. I see the reviews here on Goodreads are very mixed -- I expect you either like this sort of fiction, or you don't. I'm giving TTTFHTB four enthusiastic stars, and would probably go 4.5 if GR would let me. If Stephen King's creepy, insular Maine towns appeal, if you loved the myth and magic of "The X-Files," if you enjoy a dank whiff of Lovecraftian horror, or if you've ever dreamed of seeing a mermaid, this book should be right in your wheelhouse. (less)
I'm not sure I loved this book, but I certainly feel warmly towards it. Clever, funny and thoroughly geeky, Ready Player One is a cornucopia of pop an...moreI'm not sure I loved this book, but I certainly feel warmly towards it. Clever, funny and thoroughly geeky, Ready Player One is a cornucopia of pop and gamer culture, with easter eggs for just about every kind of nerd on Earth scattered throughout. If you were a teen in the 80s; if you ever haunted video arcades with pockets full of quarters; were a Dungeonmaster; love John Hughes or William Gibson or Joss Whedon; got strung out on an MMORPG; or invested any time studying "The Hero's Journey" and its effect on popular culture -- then there's something in here to make you chuckle. (I wonder if anyone has compiled a geeky reference concordance for this book yet? That would be a fun project!)
Its flaws? Ready Player One is maybe a little too long, and potentially bewildering, at times, to those without a gamer's points of reference. On the other hand, the dialogue is quippy, the plot twisty-turny, and the characters quite likeable, though a tiny bit stereotypical, in the "I'm hiding behind an online identity because I'm fill-in-the-blank different" kind of way. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and I'd run a dungeon with Ernest Cline anytime. (less)
Likely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as y...moreLikely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as you might expect, and even more so. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: the town of Chester's Mill, Maine has become cut off from the world by a mysterious transparent "dome" which appears out of nowhere on a crisp fall day. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The town is on its own.
Less a traditional "horror" story (though there's plenty of gruesome moments), and more a hostage situation on a grand scale, UtD is most effective when showcasing the evil men (and all the other inhabitants of beleaguered Chester's Mill) can do when traditional moral structures collapse around them, when the world shrinks and becomes alien and full of menace, when any idea of a sympathetic, or even rational, god has gone the way of fresh supplies . . . and fresh air.
Along the way the reader meets a cast of characters roughly the size of a small Maine town; chief among them the corrupt Selectman who views the crisis as a golden opportunity; the adolescent whiz-kids intent on helping to solve it; the Revelations-spewing meth addict who runs the town's Christian (and only) radio station; the overtaxed PA who becomes the town's de-facto doctor; and leading the cast, a former soldier on the drift, who manages to just miss his opportunity to get out while the getting is good.
With strongly delineated heroes -- flawed though they may be -- to root for, and plenty of despicable self-proclaimed "good guys" to hiss at (small-town cops and elected officials take rather a drubbing, as do unchristian Christians), UtD takes an inexplicable disaster and puts a human face on the toll it exacts. I won't say any more than this -- when I was halfway through the book, I couldn't imagine any way things could get worse for Chester's Mill. Fortunately, good old Uncle Steve's imagination is a long way from running dry.