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
Once again, China Mieville has done it. Taken a bunch of genres, mushed them together and thoroughly conquered them. This time it's young adult, steamOnce again, China Mieville has done it. Taken a bunch of genres, mushed them together and thoroughly conquered them. This time it's young adult, steampunk, speculative fiction and then some.
I love Mieville's playfulness with techniques. No two books are written similarly. In this case, he intersperses the longer action-oriented scenes with one-page chapters where he, as narrator, breaks the fourth wall, directly addressing the reader. Frequently this is done to explain a literary device, such as the "mise-en-abyme", or picture-within-a-picture effect. Sometimes, it is to explain why he is focusing on one thread of the story and not another. I feel like these chapters not only acknowledge that this is a book for young adults, but honour that responsibility by providing learning experiences, without talking down to the reader.
One technique I wasn't sure I would enjoy was the use of an ampersand to begin a sentence. Take a moment and let that sink in. Not only is Mieville using ampersands in a novel, not only is he beginning a sentence with "and", he is actually BEGINNING A SENTENCE WITH AN AMPERSAND, PEOPLE! I know, right? I should have hated the book for that alone, but miraculously, I didn't. This is probably aided by the fact that Mieville explains the technique in one of his mini-chapters, using the ampersand as an analogy for winding train tracks, and thus linking it to the story.
Ahhhhh, the story. As always, Mieville has created a thoroughly unique and fantastic world for us to play within. Imagine a world where criss-crossing train tracks were the only way across an earth so toxic that everything within it wanted to kill you? If the soil were a sea, and the rails, remnants of an epochs long forgotten civilization, the only safe passage across? What then?
I also loved Mieville's use of the term, "philosophy" to mean "obsession". In his Railsea world, great train captains hunt the one that got away - whatever beast they are obsessed with finding and killing is referred to as their "philosophy". Each of these animals represents a theory to that captain, who endlessly obsesses over its meaning. Melville's "white whale" has become just the thing every great captain needs.
& then there's the wordplay. (See? Now he's got me doing it too.) This one little sentence may be my favourite, "The vast harsh velvet beast breached." I could say that all day.
Most of all, this is a fun story, which doesn't patronise its intended readership. Oh, and the kid has his own pet bat, so..... jealous! Bravo! Five stars!
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