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Group Reads Discussions 2009 > The Road -- Is the Road Fantasy?

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Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments I was surprised when someone told me the Road was a Fantasy book. I don't think of it as fantasy, any more than I think of the Stand as fantasy - to me they are both fiction. I was surprised to hear this was the first "fantasy" to win the Pulitizer since I don't think it is "typical" of the genre.


Jill (wanderingrogue) | 35 comments I suppose it depends on how you'd define post-apocalyptic literature. Some, like Lucifer's Hammer, definitely fall into the realm of sci-fi. I'd be hard pressed to put The Road in a category other than "post-apocalyptic".


Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) I agree. I don't feel that there were any fantasy elements in "The Road" at all. In fact, it was the realism that made this book speak to me in the way that it did.

I do consider "The Stand" to be fantasy, due to the dreams that link the survivors, and Flagg and his abilities, etc.


Brooke I've always considered all post-apocalyptic fiction SF simply because it contemplates a "what if?" scenario about the future.


Lori (Hellian) Me too, Brooke.


Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) I only consider books to be science fiction if there is some technological aspect that contributes quite a bit to the story. It's pretty subjective, and really has more to do with my own preference than any established criteria, haha.

Going back to "The Stand", I do consider it to have SF elements, due to the plague being a man-made, and the research done to find a cure, but it that's such a small part of the story that I can't really categorize it as a SF book.

"The Road" strikes me as more SF than fantasy, but no explanation is ever given for their situation. I assume, because of the ash everywhere, that the apocalyptic event was caused by man and his penchant for explosive devices. But, since the cause is never actually given, and doesn't really play into the story at all, I don't categorize "The Road" as SF either.


Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments I'm pretty sure that it was a bomb - in a flash back he talks about seeing a flash and the power already being out (EMP?) and then he starts filling the tub with water -- right?


message 8: by Jill (last edited Feb 01, 2009 08:12PM) (new)

Jill (wanderingrogue) | 35 comments Robin wrote: "I'm pretty sure that it was a bomb - in a flash back he talks about seeing a flash and the power already being out (EMP?) and then he starts filling the tub with water -- right?"

Correct.


Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) Oh, I didn't recall that... But it has been about 6 months since I've read this!


message 10: by Ben (last edited Feb 02, 2009 04:47AM) (new)

Ben (bcaldwell) | 251 comments I'm pretty sure I read that McCarthy implied in an interview that it was an impact event. I'll see if I can find the reference.

edit: Here's a reference to it but not an actual quote.


Dan (djunger) | 15 comments "Fantasy" doesn't make much sense to me as a description of this book. I'm not sure about sci-fi ... maybe "speculative fiction"? Or does that have a technical meaning that I'm not aware of?


Kevinalbee | 188 comments Becky wrote: "I only consider books to be science fiction if there is some technological aspect that contributes quite a bit to the story. It's pretty subjective, and really has more to do with my own preference..."

with the ash everywere and the extent of the carnage. I see this distruction as beyond the scope of man. Anything we could do would also render the entire planet so radioative it would be uninhabitable. This seems to me to be more like the after effect of a mega volcano. Say yellow stone park finaly blew.


Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments Well because of the lack of electricity right after the bright light I think it probably was man-made. I think Dan hit it on the head - Speculative fictions sounds right to me.


Michael (bigorangemichael) | 186 comments Many times, we're too quick to want to find a nice, neat compartment for something. And I think the best books are those that defy easy compartmentalization.

"The Road" is one of those books. Clearly something has happened to bring about these post-apocolyptic conditions. And yet, I am less interested in that and more interested in the impact it has on these characters and the choices they have to make.


Sarah | 205 comments I think it's pretty spooky - and also realistic on some level - that we never find out what the event is, though it's hinted at. It doesn't matter as much as what happens afterward.
I'd tend to agree with Brooke and Lori that it is sci-fi because of the "what if?", even if it doesn't spout a whole lot of hard facts...
At the risk of repeating myself from another book group, Michael Chabon wrote an essay in which he claimed that the post-apocalyptic novel is one of the few sci-fi subgenres that authors of "literary fiction" can dabble in without being labled as sci fi writers. Reviewers give them a pass, and then talk about how they've elevated the genre. That said, I don't think McCarthy is afraid of labels.




message 16: by Brooke (last edited Feb 02, 2009 01:10PM) (new)

Brooke Michael, #14 reminds me of complaints about the movie Children of Men (one of the few instances where the movie was far, far better than the book). People said the movie suffered because it didn't explain WHY the population ceased being able to produce babies. I thought that it didn't matter, and that the focus was on how society responded to the fact they were about to die off. The point wasn't the science behind the lack of pregnancies, but the aftermath.


Terri (TerriLovesCrows) | 73 comments To me it is SF. Who was it that called it a fantasy book I wonder?


Josh Readmore (javajosh) | 20 comments The cause is important because it helps you to formulate a plan on how to deal with the problem. One explanation for "The Road" might be that all bacteria was killed off by a man made super anti-biotic virus. This would, of course, kill all living things eventually, from small to large, and would cause great dust storms, etc. However, once the virus runs it's course, it would die off, leaving the world safe again to be repopulated by any uncontaminated bacteria. This might motivate survivors to find caches (air tight containers, totally isolated wilderness, etc) and reintroduce into the world. There would be a pretty tight window of opportunity - too soon and the super virus will kill the bacteria. Too late and the bacteria will die in their containers, making recovery all but impossible.

The prospect of a solution would seem to make all the difference to a character in such a setting, and that depends on knowing the cause. So I disagree that one can focus on character reaction apart from the cause.


Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments Terri wrote: "To me it is SF. Who was it that called it a fantasy book I wonder?"

The Road has been written up several places as "The First Fantasy to win the Pulitzer".




Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments Josh wrote: "The cause is important because it helps you to formulate a plan on how to deal with the problem. One explanation for "The Road" might be that all bacteria was killed off by a man made super anti-bi..."

While he did not say "what type of bomb" - I.e. Nuclear or Neutron etc. He did mention something big blowing up and the electricty going out - just before he fills the tub with water. Also there were all the fires which I think rules out bacteria. But maybe I missed something.


Sarah | 205 comments I think a different character would be interested in finding a solution, but not this particular man. I think finding a solution is just another form of keeping hope alive -- some characters look for answers, others don't question. I think your own skill set would have an influence on your interest in looking for an answer as well.

And he may have thought he had all the answers he needed, and all that he could ever get - the boom and flash, and nothing working. And by the time the events of the book take place, the event is far in the past, and only its obvious repercussions linger.

He's kind of like Wall-E :)



Manuel | 49 comments McCarthy has said he left the "cause" vague on purpose. The characters had no way of ever finding out what happened, clearly its something devastating since the father fills the tub with water at once.

We know there is ash everywhere and even the snow is dirty. I suspected it was nuclear winter due to nuclear war or perhaps a huge meteor strike has devastated the planet.

obviously they were far enough away not to get killed in the initial blast, but not far away enough to not feel the affects on the environment. We know the mother was pregnant when the devastation happened, I suspect the boy must be around 8-9 years old, so several years have passed since the collapse of civilization.
Any survivors must have long ago ravaged food sources and overwhelmed towns that survived.


Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) I pictured the boy much younger, around 4-5 years old... That's interesting... Hmm!


message 24: by JuliAnna (last edited Feb 07, 2009 09:06AM) (new)

JuliAnna | 53 comments Sarah Pi wrote: "I think a different character would be interested in finding a solution, but not this particular man."

I think Sarah's comment brings out something very important. The story is really about this particular man and his struggle. We only get glimpses of how other people have adapted, and this may or may not give us glimpses into "the human condition."

The book certainly lends itself to an allegorical reading. Certainly the boy is there more for what he represents to the man than as an actual character. Oddly, it reminds me a little of Everyman (the Medieval morality plan, not Roth's book).




message 25: by Richard (last edited Feb 14, 2009 05:38PM) (new)

Richard (MrRedwood) | 161 comments I don't think this book is fantasy or sci-fi. It might be considered "speculative fiction" in some sense, but I think lies beyond even that. Science Fiction involves (imho) what is unlikely but plausible -- typically in other times or with other technologies; whereas fantasy deals with what is impossible -- typically by adding some special element, such as magic or dragons.

What McCarthy has given us can only be allegorical fiction. The cataclysm that triggered the apocalypse killed everything but humanity, which is impossible by human or natural means (leaving alien intervention, but McCarthy doesn't send us there). If any means to effect this devastation had been provided, then we'd be probably be firmly in the sci-fi camp (as in Josh's scenario, #18 above), but to kill everything but humans? That would be absurdly implausible speculation.

Those that have read Saramago's Blindness have already noted the similarity: the triggering event is so inexplicable as to seem magical, but is presented in a wholly non-magical manner.

Precisely what allegory McCarthy is striving for... uh, did I mention I didn't like the book?


Jane (jane_jones) | 37 comments I would say speculative fiction classifies it best.


Jensownzoo | 202 comments Ah, but it is killing the humans. What would happen if you blocked the sun's rays? Plants and algae that depended on photosynthesis would die, then the animals who depended on those as a food source would die, then the animals who depended on those animals would die on and on up the food chain. Humans have an advantage in not only being at the top of the food chain, but also by having excessive stores of non-perishable foods...but even those are running out and the human race is declining as a matter of course as they turn to eating each other as one of the few remaining sources of food. I was actually surprised that I didn't see more of what should have flourished in that type of environment...fungus and molds, but I suppose they grow mostly when the temperatures aren't as cold as they were portrayed to be.


Jensownzoo | 202 comments Oh, and I did some serious waffling when I was classifying this book for my shelves. I ultimately put it into "scifi" but I am thinking I need to create a new speculative fiction shelf to house it and a few other hard-to-classify books.


Richard (MrRedwood) | 161 comments Jensownzoo wrote: "Ah, but it is killing the humans. What would happen if you blocked the sun's rays? Plants and algae that depended on photosynthesis would die, then the animals who depended on those as a food sou..."

There was still liquid water and bare ground, which means there was enough light for some plants to live, but even if the premise was that photosynthetic life had stopped, it doesn't explain many other things.

The father found some dessicated morel mushrooms, but even with no light mushrooms should have been thriving on the fallen trees.

The biggest problem was that people dead at the side of the road had mummified. If the problem was merely that the light was dim, that wouldn't stop feral dogs, rats and bugs from feasting on the dead and the dying.

And even if that somehow is prevented, the microbes, fungi, etc., that do the whole composting "dust into dust" thing wouldn't let our bodies mummify. Even in the external absence of those bugs, the microbes we carry in our guts would be sufficient (I can recommend Stiff as a delightful if often creepy book).

Since we require our gut microbes to live, they can't have been killed off; if they weren't killed off, then in the presence of humidity and below-freezing temperatures there is no reason for bodies not to undergo autolysis and putrefaction. McCarthy provided a contradiction, and if he intended it he was presenting an allegorical fantasy.


Jensownzoo | 202 comments I still say there might not be enought light for plants...the cloudcover could act as an insulator and you have all those references to fires so there is at least some source of ongoing heat, particularly if the disaster was volcanic, as someone suggested. BUT, I agree that the mummification was weird as it certainly didn't seem dry enough for that to have happened. I don't know what would happen to bodies that were covered in ash, either. Perhaps only the shells of people actually wrinkled and hardened, looking like mummies? The microbes could have gotten the guts and left the bones and shell behind since most microbes would leave at least the bones mostly alone. I can't remember exactly what the corpses from Pompeii looked like (the ones that were only buried in ash, not burned to a crisp).

Also, I would expect that the noticable feral animals/bugs would have had a heyday with any corpses while food was still more available for the humans, but after the humans started getting hungry, there is little doubt that they would start eating anything they could catch (as alluded to with the promising not to eat the dog incident). Also, with all the people in the world that would have died to make things as sparse as they were depicted, there were relatively few corpses, mummified or otherwise...maybe only the mummies were the ones that stuck around?

I am still bothered by the fungi, but most fungi like warmth and it was emphasized again and again how cold it was. Fungi don't really need sunlight, so I wasn't considering that as a limiting factor. There still should have been mildew/mold in the houses and such, particularly with the state of neglect they presumably would have been in.

Also, just thought of the fact that there can be thriving communities in caves, where no light is shed at all. Not that the novel visited any caves, but I bet something was surviving below ground!



Richard (MrRedwood) | 161 comments Mummification isn't just weird, it's impossible under the circumstances he describes. It requires effectively zero percent humidity, along with either such high heat that bacteria can't survive (which still wouldn't stop internal autolysis, but would be invisible), or along with sub-freezing temperatures to completely halt bacterial action. Cold isn't enough: go up to Seattle during the winter and you'll still see plenty of vibrant life -- explosions of fungi (which don't require warmth, and are actually exothermic), for example and plant matter composting quickly (which is an equivalent process to putrefaction).

The best preserved mummies are those that are quickly frozen and then are covered up into anaerobic condition asap -- like Ötzi the Iceman, found in a glacier after five thousand years. Those in Pompeii were probably cooked by hot ash (killing their bacterial cohort), which then also dried them out and covered them, preventing re-infection.


The novel did deal with fungi: the father found those morels, which should have been thriving in the dead forests. Instead the only ones he found were dead and dessicated. He knew enough to recognize them, so the only reason he wouldn't have excitedly started hunting for more would be if he knew that he was lucky to have found some dried morels, because no new ones would exist. Same with the dried apples -- leftovers from years previously, preserved by chance and by desiccation.


Justin (fanlitsjustin) | 4 comments If I had to classify it, SciFi would be it. Also there were animals mentioned in the book. If I remember correctly they hear a dog barking at one point in their journey. I was led to believe that the book starts a good 9 or 10 years after the event. What animals hadn't died from the conditions were eaten.


Jensownzoo | 202 comments I can't remember (without re-reading most of the book) but were all the mummies found outside, or were some inside as well? If just outside, then maybe they were cooked ala Pompeii? The circumstances that created them in the first place could have changed into the wetter environment that it was in the current period...might explain the dessicated mushrooms as well if it was very hot and dry for a time. Would mummies rehydrate with the rain, do you think? I seriously can't believe that bacteria and spores would not travel from *somewhere* to recolonize and cause decay if that were the case. (I need to read that Stiff book, people keep recommending it.)


Richard (MrRedwood) | 161 comments Jensownzoo wrote: "I can't remember (without re-reading most of the book) but were all the mummies found outside, or were some inside as well? ... Would mummies rehydrate with the rain, do you think?"

I've returned my copy to the library, but I'm pretty sure the father found several people that had died indoors -- one in bed, I recall? And "cooked" a la Pompeii would have destroyed most structures, as well -- Pompeii was covered with a layer of searing ash something like 60 feet thick. The ash and cinders hardened to something like concrete. And, according to Wikipedia, even then the bodies did eventually decay inside the concrete shells.

And, yes, even if somehow the original victims had been "mummified" (sterilized by radiation, for example) then later dampness and exposure to new microbes or fungi would still cause decomposition.


message 35: by Robin (last edited Feb 17, 2009 01:18PM) (new)

Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments I always attributed the "mummification" more to the fact that they had been lying in the elements a long time. But come to think of it - it is pretty rainy so one would think they would rot. If the ash blocked out the sun and made it a "desert" then it would make more sense for the mummies.

-- Wife of GR author Michael J. Sullivan: The Crown Conspiracy (10/08) | Avempartha (04/09)


Catamorandi (wwwgoodreadscomprofilerandi) I would definitely classify this as sci-fi. I haven't quite got the connection of fantasy to The Road. I'll chew on it a little and let you know what, if anything, I found.


Kathryn | 5 comments I work at a high school at this is used in the senior Sci-Fi course.


Nick (ndoerrabbott) | 55 comments It does not fit neatly into a single genre category, and I bet the author prefers it that way.

It would be similar to describing No Country for Old Men as a western, a 'drug' book, a thriller, or a hispanic studies book (horrible to think of it that way).

McCormick's books are about deep characterization, not genre classification.


Kandice I'm not sure of this comment belongs on this thread, but, while I didn't enjoy the book, I definitely felt the real story was the love between the father and son. Everything around them was incidental, and used only to put the focus on their relationship. You could almost classify it as a love story. Not romantic love, but love in general.


message 40: by Becky (last edited Feb 18, 2009 02:53PM) (new)

Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) I'd agree with you regarding the categorization as a love story, Kandice. I actually shelved it under "post-apocalyptic", "dystopias" and "fiction" because I couldn't really decide...

But I'm curious because you rated it 4-stars... Why did you rate it so high if you disliked it so much? Based on your review, I'd expect a 2 or MAYBE 3 star rating.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) I think I'm just repeating people here but I've always considered post-apocalyptic fiction to be more sci-fi than fantasy, but it depends on what other elements it contains. I didn't really find anything "fantastical" about The Road, and I confess I was surprised that it was nominated here.

Then again, some people have pointed out certain religious or even biblical undertones, so that puts it back into the fantasy field.

Post-apocalyptic can be either fantasy or sci-fi as a sub-genre (of a sub-genre!), but can it not stand alone as just post-apocalyptic as well? It reminded me of Jean Ure's YA books Plague 99 and its sequel, Come Lucky April, which is just post-apocalyptic fiction - which is more or less how I consider The Road.


Kandice I rated this book so high partly because I'm not a good or realistic rater. (I admit it) Mostly, it was because of the way the writer was able to make me feel. He ripped out my guts. I did not enjoy even one paragraph, but I also could not stop reading. I dwelled for days after finishing on what I would do in a similar situation. I have 3 children, and as I think I've posted somewhere else, I have to admit, my biggest concern would have been how to make sure we all died quietly together. I would not have been able to go on in that world. I would not be able to see my sons and daughter starving, dirty, not one single thing to look forward to, and more to fear than I could ever imagine. I would imagine, though, that's part of why I wouldn't be able to face it.

An author wo can make me feel this much deserves 4 stars.


Becky (Beckyofthe19and9) I can agree with that.


Kandice I still admit to giving too many stars, way too freely;)


Jensownzoo | 202 comments Oooh! I didn't even think about sterilization by radiation! Very cool. Would kill all the humans pretty quickly as well as all the wildlife...we do depend on those little microbes!

I was pulling any Pompeii knowledge from about 20 years ago, so the memory is spotty. I may need to redress this deficiency soon. Thanks for the discussion, Richard (although we probably shouldn't have hijacked the thread quite so thoroughly, so I will apologize now to the rest of the group!).


Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments I'm not sure where the fantasy classification came from either. When I heard that a fantasy novel won the Pulitizer I definitely put it on my TBR list. I was really surprised then since as I've stated I don't think this really should be classified as fantasy. Speculative Fiction yes....Sci-fi.....maybe..fantasy ?? I don't see it.

-- Wife of fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan: The Crown Conspiracy | Avempartha (04/09)


Richard (MrRedwood) | 161 comments I think it fits what non-SciFi people think is SciFi. (Or, likewise, with Fantasy). In other words, the literary crowd that never takes SciFi seriously is perhaps moderately clueless about what aficionados see in and like about the genre.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) Well put Richard - even if I do feel a little smug for saying so!


Sandi (Sandikal) I agree with Richard.


message 50: by Robin (last edited Feb 21, 2009 03:42PM) (new)

Robin (RobinSullivan) | 348 comments Oh - well said - very good point Richard.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Blindness (other topics)
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (other topics)
Avempartha (other topics)
No Country for Old Men (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

José Saramago (other topics)
Michael J. Sullivan (other topics)