That was an absolute dog's breakfast. I'm sorry, but there's just no other way to describe it. I'm not saying there aren't great ideas in there, possiThat was an absolute dog's breakfast. I'm sorry, but there's just no other way to describe it. I'm not saying there aren't great ideas in there, possibly even the beginnings of a great fantasy/sci-fi novel, but as a collection of short stories, it was just such a mess structurally. It starts off well enough - if you ignore the way-too-many gushing blurbs at the front followed by a lengthy introduction, which can best be described as a-writer-nobodys-ever-heard-of-gushing-about-another-writer-nobodys-ever-heard-of. The first actual story, "There Is Something So Quiet and Empty Inside of You That It Must Be Precious" is a really well crafted story, in which the sub-headings form part of plot. As a stand-alone story, this is a winner. Then things start to go bad..
The next story is the first of a series of stories that form about 2/3 of the book, in which Peek takes famous Americans and imagines them at various times in history. To what end? Well that is the question. As far as I can see, these stories don't contain any great insights or ideas, they're more like daydreams. The first of these centres on Mark Twain and his visit to Australia in the early 1890s. This actually happened, as did his support for the Indigenous people here, and their shocking treatment by the Europeans. This is really important, really deeply horrific subject matter. And the story did nothing to help the cause. It didn't give away any new insights, any new information, any alternative ways of seeing the situation - it just reads as an idle...what if.....? My view on this is that if you're going to write about this subject matter, you need to make it count and don't treat it lightly. I found the story verging on disrespect in that sense. The other "Dead Americans" stories didn't seem any meatier, unfortunately.
Then there's the rest of the book - a series of fantasy/sci-fi stories set in different parts of the same imagined world. Dark, beautiful, fascinating, original - all the things you'd like to see in a full-length novel, not shoved part-way inside a book of mediocre stories about the imagined doings of American celebrities.
To add insult to injury, the spelling and English grammar weren't the best. I don't think these were typos either, but a genuine lack of understanding. For example, throughout the book Peek uses the word, "bought" instead of "brought", and "too" instead of "to", then "antichamber"..... just shoot me. This went alongside a slightly clunky sentence structure throughout - words on the wrong sides of commas, slightly disordered sentences etc. I do have to wonder what the editor was thinking.
So this is what I mean when I say the book is a dog's breakfast: messy, careless, wasteful and ever so slightly distasteful.
Full Disclosure *I received an ARC copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. *I read to 70% of the way through before skimming to the end. I do genuinely make every effort to read ARCs through properly, however this is not the only book on my review pile, and I do think I saw enough to have an informed opinion. ...more
**spoiler alert** Let me start by telling you this: This is a cut well above the vast majority of zombie apocalypse books out there. The blurb on the**spoiler alert** Let me start by telling you this: This is a cut well above the vast majority of zombie apocalypse books out there. The blurb on the back that calls this book a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro and The Walking Dead is spot-on. I'll tell you why in a minute, but first let's talk about the premise..
Remember Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis? The parasitic zombie fungus that affects ants in the Amazonian rainforests? The one that takes control of the ant's brain and forces it to climb to the highest point it can find? Whereupon it eats the ant from the inside, finally growing through the ant's head in a huge white skull-fucking stalk, which then bursts releasing millions of tiny spores into the wind? No? Maybe David Attenborough can explain it better: Attack of the Killer Fungi Yeah. THAT Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis.
So imagine that the fungus jumps species, affecting humans. This would be The Walking Dead reference.
Meanwhile, a ten year old girl has spent her whole life in a research facility. Not a nice hospital-type facility either, but one where she is kept chained, manacled, muzzled, fed with live grubs and sprayed with chemicals. She does like the bit were she gets to go to school every day though, and has developed quite a girly-crush on her teacher. She doesn't know that what she thinks of as "school" is really psychological testing. After all, she IS a genius, and she has been here as long as she can remember. This is her "normal". What she knows of the outside world comes from theories extrapolated from pre-apocalypse school books and whatever conversations she happens to overhear about the "hungries" outside. Can you imagine what her view of the world must be like? M.R. Carey can. This would be the Kazuo Ishiguro reference.
The cover is a perfect representation of the story - Is the little girl throwing her arms up in joy at all her "gifts"? Is she throwing them wide to unleash the forces within? Is she holding her arms out to be be picked up and held? Is this the shadow we read about later in the book, where a person has been vapourised in a rain of chemical fire, their shadow, hands thrown up in horror, scorched upon the nearby wall forever?
I loved this book. It's atmospheric, action-packed, thought-provoking... it has zombies - all the things I look for in a book are here. Any minor quibbles I had with the slightly cartoonish "evil-scientist" character were resolved by the end, and there's an ending that I didn't see coming.
Okay. Now that I've had some time to process, I'm going to try and review this thinThinking..
Okay. Now that I've had some time to process, I'm going to try and review this thing. The way I see it, there are two kinds of people who are going to be reading this.
For People Who Are New To Tony Burgess This book is probably not for you, at least not just yet. Start with Pontypool Changes Everything, fall in love with Burgess, read a couple of his other books maybe, THEN approach this book. Otherwise, I think you run the risk of assuming that he is writing straight shock-value bizarro here. You may miss Burgess' trademark "your-brain-after-a-stroke" descriptions, and dismiss them as pure stream-of-consciousness babble, rather than the incredible pieces of psychological and neurological insight that they are. Come back when you can fully appreciate this book.
Possible exceptions might include people who particularly enjoyed Scorch Atlas, Zone One and the works of J.G. Ballard. And people with a neurological condition or who have had a stroke. I myself have a neuropathic pain condition, centred on the nerves in my face. I've babbled to myself while hallucinating from pain and sleep-deprivation in hospital waiting rooms and I've been unable to communicate the experience. Because it doesn't make sense by any logical standard. How do you describe synaesthesia? How do you repeat what a broken brain is trying to say? Burgess says it like this: Stroke. I don't know much. Strokes do damage. I press in and try to hold on. The pain pushes down. I can't swallow. There is one line, jagged and falling like a graph, a charted downturn. It's black with a red ghost line. This is the dominant. It denies contiguity. The world above it is charged with pain and light. It is a stylus. Below the world is cold. Pain free. I am not in this half. I have to be..
For People Who Are Familiar With Tony Burgess If you're familiar with Burgess' writing, I hardly need to sell you on it. It'll be like slipping into a nice warm tub of regurgitated chicken soup, or something equally as comforting and icky at the same time. All the major elements are there: *Unique Premise - Human beings are on the verge of wiping themselves out. Firstly there are all the living dead people orbiting earth and clogging up the atmosphere. Secondly, there's all the dead people on the streets, wriggling about & generally making a mess. Thirdly, there's "syndrome" - a sped-up version of the recent increases in cancers and other modern-age ailments & cures. In five minutes time, you could have terminal thyroid cancer, for example. *Wonderful Writing - Burgess is still finding new literary tricks, and without giving any spoilers, the last few pages will take your breath away. *Bizarre and Disgusting Scenes - Again, without spoiling anything, just be warned that this book is not for the faint of stomach. The villain of the piece, for example, likes to kill people en masse in ever-more spectacular ways, "playing with" the living dead folk he creates afterward - and nothing is off-limits.
If I had one complaint, and I really don't, it would be that this is perhaps more of a "pulp fiction" piece than Burgess' other novels. The main character is a bounty hunter, hired to kill the aforementioned villain. For the first half of the book at least, the plot revolves around the chase as a race-against-time while the main character's own body rebels against him. If you're not paying close attention the gore can seem gratuitous, overshadowing some of the more subtle literary devices, as well as some of the more interesting parts of the backstory. As a bit of a sci-fi nerd, I think I'd have liked Burgess to explore the idea of "syndrome" in particular, a bit more thoroughly. These are fairly minor quibbles though, and the last chapter banished any concerns I may have had about the trashiness of this novel. ...more
Okay, now I'm deeply annoyed. I understand that any book written by an American about Australia and its culture is going to be a little.... off. I wasOkay, now I'm deeply annoyed. I understand that any book written by an American about Australia and its culture is going to be a little.... off. I was able to put my cultural outrage aside for the most part, but for what? For a book that just stops? With no story arc? No conclusion? No resolution? And straight into an ad for her new series? WHY? Dear Gods... WHHHYYYYYY?!
I was going to give this two stars, because there is still a little part of me that feels like reading anything set in the Newsflesh universe is a bit like being home, despite the disrespect this author shows to her readership, despite the previous disappointments.... but at the end of the day, I just truly don't see the point of this book. It doesn't tell us anything. It doesn't lead us anywhere. It's obviously just a set-up to some future commercial venture. What a complete waste of time.
******************  By the way, THIS is Adelaide International Airport.
Available free as a FB app. I'm squeeing all over the place here. Now when I get done with the rest of the novellas, and I'm jonesing for more NewsfleAvailable free as a FB app. I'm squeeing all over the place here. Now when I get done with the rest of the novellas, and I'm jonesing for more Newsflesh..... there's this just a click away. ...more
Meh. More of the same from the Newsflesh universe. Much as I love the novels, there was nothing new in this. All the faults of the longer stories - thMeh. More of the same from the Newsflesh universe. Much as I love the novels, there was nothing new in this. All the faults of the longer stories - the overblown rhetoric and formulaic approach in particular - are emphasised in this short story format. Countdown has the advantage of a fascinating origin story for the virus itself, whereas this novella really isn't adding anything to the mythos. It was entertaining enough, and it's always nice to sink back into a familiar fictional universe, but there really isn't much to get excited about.
Oh. And I do hope she doesn't plan on (view spoiler)[killing a dog (hide spoiler)] in every Newsflesh story from now on. As a general rule, that storyline only works the first time you do it.["br"]>["br"]>...more
[Cut to the next day....] Okay, I've recovered my senses enough to put together a review now. I'm going to go outHoly. Fucking. WOW. Review to come...
[Cut to the next day....] Okay, I've recovered my senses enough to put together a review now. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the pinnacle of post-apocalyptic zombie fiction. I didn't think it was going to be - I was more than 60pages into the book before I realised what I was reading was pretty special - but in all the PA fiction I've read, I can't think of a more nuanced, realistic, humorous, cynical, horrific and poignant approach to the apocalypse. This man can WRITE.
Zone One neatly sidesteps the cliched apocalypse scenarios (bandits, cults, the usual moral dilemmas) in a wonderful way - by calling them out, poking a bit of fun at them and moving on. Take this section for example (not an actual spoiler - just compacted a bit for formatting): (view spoiler)[In practice, something always went wrong. The Carolinas, for example. Someone snuck back to the mainland for penicillin or scotch, or a boatful of aspirants rowed ashore bearing a stricken member of their party they refused to leave behind, sad orange life vests encircling their heaving chests. The new micro-societies inevitably imploded, on the island getaways, in reclaimed prisons, at the mountaintop ski lodge accessible only by sabotaged funicular, in the underground survivalist hideouts finally summoned to utility. The rules broke down. The leaders exposed mental deficits through a series of misguided edicts and whims. "To be totally fair to both parties, we should cut this baby in half", the chief declared, clad in insipid homemade regalia, and then it actually happened, the henchman cut the baby in half. Sex, the new codes of fucking left them confused. Miscreants pilfered a bean or two above their allotted five beans when no one was looking and the sentence at the trial left everyone more than a tad disillusioned. Bad luck came to call in the guise of a river of the dead or human raiders rumbling up the lone access road despite the strategically arranged camouflage brush. He'd seen this firsthand during the long months. People are people.(hide spoiler)]
Cliches done and dusted, now on to the interesting bit - what happens next? How does society actually rebuild on a large scale? I've read the great New Yorker article Whitehead wrote on the subject of his beloved B-movies shortly before I came to the part of the book where his character, Mark Spitz, discusses them. In Mark Spitz's view (and surely Whitehead's own), what springs to mind when watching these old sci-fi and horror films is - But what happens after the monster has been slain? Who has to mop up all that monster blood, and explain it to the authorities? Who foots the bill for all those trampled skyscrapers? How can this ever be FIXED? This line from the book sums it up nicely: By his sights, the real movie started where the first one ended, in the impossible return to things before.
I've recently been reading about JG Ballard, and his views about societal breakdown. His belief was that people are very quick to revert to an animalistic state in the face of disaster. In his books, like High-Rise and The Atrocity Exhibition, humanity's basest urges come to the fore when society begins to break down. In Whitehead's apocalypse however, cynical marketing reigns supreme. Here he invents a detailed survivors' lexicon which centres around the branding of society's reconstruction. It's brilliantly believable - of course the US government would market the reconstructive efforts with a jingle, logo and catchphrase (We Make Tomorrow!). You only have to look at the US news networks' coverage of 9/11 to see that in action. The master stroke is the branding of survivor's trauma as PASD (Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder), pronounced "past".
The flashbacks did throw me a bit, I'll admit. Like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the narrative jumps around between various points in time, but unlike SH5 the jumps are almost all post-event, and sometimes only a few days or hours apart, making it harder to keep track of the story. Where Vonnegut's time jumps are dramatic, Whitehead's are more subtle and complicated: flashbacks-within-flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Where Vonnegut draws an obvious link between the time jumps and the mental state of the character, it wasn't clear to me whether Whitehead's time jumps were post-traumatic symptoms or just the day-to-day musings and daydreams we all indulge in from time to time. This is the hallmark of Zone One though - you could easily read this as a straight zombie story, missing a lot of the depth of meaning, and still be well satisfied.
For readers like me that want some depth to their apocalypse though, this book has it all: humour, nostalgia, horror (both the gory and the chilling kind) and an exploration of human nature in the face of epic diversity. I couldn't ask for anything more. Five stars with zero hesitation. [image error]
PS - The wonderful 1959 Harry Belafonte film, "The World, The Flesh & The Devil" contains some amazing scenes of post-apocalyptic New York. This is what provided the backdrop in my head for much of the book.. The World, The Flesh & The Devil
There's a lot to like about this book, particularly for those interested in linguistics, semiotics, communication and culture. Anyone who's read UrsulThere's a lot to like about this book, particularly for those interested in linguistics, semiotics, communication and culture. Anyone who's read Ursula LeGuin will see some obvious similarities, in particular the cross-cultural focus. What also excited me no end is that the book fits my gradually expanding "Language-As-A-Virus" bookshelf...... but that's all I'll say on that point.
What makes this book difficult to enjoy is the writing style. I know, right? "But it's Mieville!" I hear you cry. But it's true - the style is a little awkward and contrived. I'll give the man the benefit of the doubt and assume that Mieville does this deliberately to emphasise that this is the voice of a woman from a different culture to the reader's own, but that doesn't make it any easier to get into. I also found the way he drew attention to his own writing devices to be really.......... clunky. If you're going to abandon the dual-timeline structure you've been using so far in favour of something more linear, there's probably no need to point that out to the reader.
It was interesting to see Mieville leaving out any vivid descriptions of the aliens and other various creatures. In this book he only points to various features of each, giving you a general sense of what's there, but leaving it up to the reader to piece them together. I quite liked this aspect of the book, though I couldn't say why. Afterwards, I googled fan-pics of the Ariekes, and found that the couple of pics people have posted are quite similar to what I imagined, but with a few variations from my own warped mind, which rather appeals to me..!
I read part of this book while on an Aboriginal-controlled community, where a lot of non-Indigenous people (like myself) fly-in-fly-out to deliver services, many without ever really understanding the local culture. So the complex and fascinating ideas about cross-cultural understanding were particularly poignant for me. I just wished Mieville had made them more accessible. I would love to think that millions of people around the world were reading this book and understanding more about how different cultures can make sense of the same universe in utterly different ways, and how this affects all of our communication.......... but I can see that the key messages have been largely obscured by aspects such as the writing style and overly complex plot. And that is hugely disappointing to me. It is so rare to come across a writer with such an amazing grasp of how these things work.
Have had to put this on hold for a bit. I couldn't take the extra weight in my suitcase! I'll have to wait until the rest of my stuff arrives from CanHave had to put this on hold for a bit. I couldn't take the extra weight in my suitcase! I'll have to wait until the rest of my stuff arrives from Canberra now......more
This is quite possibly the darkest novel I have ever, or will ever, read. Yup. It's THAT dark. What makes it so incredibly dark is the complete absencThis is quite possibly the darkest novel I have ever, or will ever, read. Yup. It's THAT dark. What makes it so incredibly dark is the complete absence of light. Seriously. There is nothing light-hearted or hopeful. The apocalypse has happened, death is inevitable, and all there is left to do is wait. All is festering, foul, futile, bogged down in a slow, tortuous process of degradation, madness and utter despair. Sigh. It really is DARK.
Scorch Atlas is a series of short stories and snippets chronicling the end of the world through some catastrophic disaster or another which is never in any way explained. Houses and cities are bombarded by earth, water, electricity, ash, glass, ink, human skin cells, even glitter, all while the inabitants ever so slowly starve, go insane and die. You would be surprised what people will eat when they're starving and insane. I won't be surprised..... ever again.
I'll admit, it was the striking book design that prompted me to hunt down a hardcopy. Every page is the very image of decay in one way or another, each page different, and themed for the story written on it. As it turns out, the writing is also beautiful, if self-indulgent. Read this book, but do it with a bottle of Prozac handy. And hide the shotgun.
UPDATED: Screw it. I'm upgrading this to 5 stars on the basis that I really did LOVE this story. But I still have rage. So much rage.... --------------UPDATED: Screw it. I'm upgrading this to 5 stars on the basis that I really did LOVE this story. But I still have rage. So much rage.... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I would have given this a five star review if it had been a complete novel. I'm not a fan of serialised fiction - I would rather just pick a book up, immerse myself in it for a while and finish it. No pissing about trying to hunt down the next instalment and getting distracted by something shinier, then going back to the story having forgotten half of what happened previously. I just want to pick up a book and read it. To read a story as promising as this, only to have it randomly chopped off with no resolution sucks. To find out that the next instalment is not available sucks more. To find out that the author will be releasing the rest of the instalments ad hoc, starting in "Later this Spring" might be a deal breaker. If the author wants to sell his fiction internationally, he should probably be aware that seasons differ in different parts of the world for starters.... Can you sense my bitterness?
Believe it or not, I really loved this story. The writing was fantastic and the world building absolutely flawless. The prologue was so beautifully written, I was envisaging a huge tracking shot in a James Cameron movie. It was actually awe inspiring. I was invested in the characters (to the extent that I'd actually rather like to BE Zippy when I grow up) and I was intrigued as to where the plot was going. But that's the problem. I STILL don't know where it's going. Because the author seems to want to release this like a comic book!
GOOD writer! BAD publisher! GOOD writer! BAD publisher! GOOD writer! BAD publisher!
This was great.....but....... there was something missing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but somewhere between John Dies at the End and here, somThis was great.....but....... there was something missing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but somewhere between John Dies at the End and here, something got lost. The first book had an element of surrealism that completely took me by surprise and had me laughing out loud. This book just didn't have it. I feel like this is what so often happens when a lesser known internet comedy writer suddenly goes to "published author with a movie deal" (because this happens all the time of course). All the indefinable fun stuff gets polished away. I'm not being fair here, because it really is a good book. It's not a million miles away from the quality of the first one, hence my four star rating. I'm just a little disappointed I couldn't give it five....more
THE SHORT VERSION This is an absolute fucking masterpiece and I loved every single page of it.
THE LONG VERSION This book is gloriously written and increTHE SHORT VERSION This is an absolute fucking masterpiece and I loved every single page of it.
THE LONG VERSION This book is gloriously written and incredibly dark - think Saramago's Blindness without the endless sentences, or Pontypool Changes Everything with a more linear narrative. The apocalyptic story elements alone would have made for a fulfilling novel, but here Marcus also explores issues of religion and religious persecution, family relationships, self-image, personal inaction, guilt and hope. And of course there's the theme of language, what it is and whether we can exist as people without it.
I found the character of Esther utterly compelling and believable - the sullen, self-absorbed, know-it-all daughter, driven to exercise her intellectual power and perceived moral superiority over others. I would love to have heard this story also told from Esther's perspective (oh please let there be some kind of follow-up project, oh please, oh please).
This is a story that stands up to lengthy and complex analysis, and I would like to think I will make the time to re-read this a few more times to really get my head around the issues. At the very least, I feel the need to talk it through with other people that have read it. It would make an ideal group read. As it is, knowing that I have yet to fully understand everything that I've read, I am still perfectly satisfied with the beautiful language and desolate imagery.
The following is an excerpt I've copied as a great example of what you can expect if you read this book. It's not a spoiler (it's from only a couple of pages in), but I'll use the spoiler feature to fold it up. I'm a sucker for good formatting.
(view spoiler)[The day my wife and I drove away, the electric should have failed. The phone should have died. The water should have thickened in our pipes.
When the Esther toxicity was in high f lower, when it was no longer viable to endure proximity to our daughter, given the retching, the speech fever, the yellow tide beneath my wife’s skin, to say nothing of the bruising around my mouth, that day should have been darker, altogether blackened by fire.
That day should have been visibly stained at the deepest levels of air, broken open, sucking people into oblivion. The neighborhood should have been vacuum-sealed, with people reduced to crawling figures, wheezing on their hands and knees, expiring in heaps.
A seizure of cold brown smoke should have spilled over the house.
What are the operative motifs from mythology when parents take leave of a child? Is there not some standard departure imagery offered by the fables?
The day we finally left, birds should have frozen midflight in the winter air as they cruised the neighborhood. Birds locked up with ice, their wings too heavy to hold them aloft. Birds fallen to the ground and piled at our feet, eyes staring up at the sky.
In the street, cars should have quit and rolled to a stop and the road should have buckled, with gases leaking forth, with water foaming out, with perhaps an unclothed man clawing his way from under the asphalt to stalk the neighborhood.
The yard where we played and sometimes picnicked, where Esther and I once staged father-daughter pretend fights, with fake angry faces, to confuse the passing motorists—Is that a man fistfighting his young daughter?— or where we argued in earnest, with calm faces that belied our true feelings, Esther asserting, no doubt correctly, that there was something I didn’t understand—this yard might have functioned as a massive sinkhole. The yard, a throbbing pit in its center, should have exerted a steady pull on anyone in range.
From above, through the brown smoke, you should have seen people and dogs and the smaller trees getting dragged into the collapsing grass.
The day we left there should have been mourners in the street, a parade of weeping parents walking from their homes. Or not weeping. Past that. Devoid of all signs of feeling in the face. Just walking with calm expressions because their faces had finally failed to signal what they felt.
There should have been music pouring from a loudspeaker on the roof of an emergency vehicle. Or perhaps no music, no sound whatsoever. Instead, an emergency vehicle broadcasting a heavy coating of white noise so that even the leaves rustled silently. A plague of deafness, as if an unseen bunting smothered everything, drinking noise, so we could hear nothing.
Making mimes out of all of us. So that we couldn’t hear ourselves breathe. So that our shared language would have been suddenly snuffed out. What a fine bit of foreshadowing that all would have been.
But our neighborhood was failing to foreshadow.
What is it called when features of the landscape mirror the condition of the poor fucks who live in it?
Whatever it is, it was not in effect. (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