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Books of the Month > Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction (themed group read)

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message 1: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
This is the Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic discussion topic for the mid-June to mid-July group read. As three books received an equal number of first-preference votes in the poll, then all three may be discussed here. The books concerned include (in alphabetical order):

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

As per usual, please remember to use the spoiler tags where necessary as not everyone will be reading at the same pace.


message 2: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments I wanted to read all of them so this is nice!!!


message 3: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is the first book in a very strange trilogy called MaddAddam. I have now read all 3 books. Their strength is their originality. It is hard to pinpoint these books. At times they are like horror stories. At times like children books. Sometimes very sexual and perverse. Sometimes innocent and sweet. I have never read anything like them.

Margaret Atwood is not a sci fi writer so her focus is on characters and drama rather than technology and science. Atwood lets her imagination run wild here. So wild it fact that it is hard to explain anything about these books. My daughter asked me what they were about and I realized when explaining them to her that it sounded like an acid trip. Like it was all chaos and no plot.

It is obvious that Atwood knows her Bible and she uses that knowledge to the fullest (just like she does in The Handmaid's Tale and other books I have read by her). The name of the trilogy refers to Adam of the Bible and also humankind as Adam. There is a known theological idea of the old and the new Adam (the old Adam is the fallen Adam, The sinful man). Atwood presents us the crazy human being. The Mad Adam. The Adam who is killing all the animals, destroying the environment and playing God by manipulating genes of plants and animals. Somewhere All of this leads to a total disaster and a new start of humanity. Much like after the Flood at Noah's time.

The difference this time around is that what is left on earth is animals that have never existed before. A new mixture (some part human) and we have a new primitive human-like creatures called Crakers. Everything around the Crakers is so funny but also very interesting from an anthropology perspective.

SPOILERS! The books show well how religion can be created and why. Someone has to explain the chaos. What I found interesting regarding the end of the third book is that even though it feels like a happy ending one can't but wonder when these texts will be misused and will start to oppress the Crakers. The idea was to create people who did not need religion but the Crakers still need it and thrive on it. Is man maybe homo religious? Are we incapable of escaping religion. Of living with chaos without a myth to explain its existence?

And finally for those of you who have read the 3rd book, Praised be Oh-Fuck! Guide us and protect us in need. And dear Oh-Fuck, protect us from a future as described in these books. Amen.


message 4: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Thorkell wrote: "I wanted to read all of them so this is nice!!!"

LOL Glad you like it then! It does allow for people to make comparisons between the books in the same topic too.


message 5: by Susan (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:24AM) (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Of the three books, I have only read Earth Abides. It made a great impression on me. During the week I read it, I felt like I was living in Ish's world. My review is here.


message 6: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments I read that The Stand was inspired by it. I'm 2/3 in to The Stand and it is all falling apart. Turning into a huge disappointment. I'm hoping King will save it in the end but I don't doubt for a minute that Earth Abides is a better book. Will read your review Susan once I have read it.


message 7: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 0 comments Susan wrote: "Of the three books, I have only read Earth Abides. It made a great impression on me. During the week I read it, I felt like I was living in Ish's world. My review is here."

Susan, that's a great review and obviously you put a lot of work into it. Thanks for posting it! I read Earth Abidesa few years back and am thinking of reading it again for this month's group read, however I do want to read The Stand as well and there may not be enough time to get through both.


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments I saw the The Stand miniseries, but that was a long time ago. If I remember correctly, it was a supernatural battle between good and evil. There's nothing supernatural about Earth Abides. In fact, one of the things I liked about it was its realism. I felt like everything in the book could really happen.


message 9: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Well I'm 81 pages into The Road and enjoying it so far, bleak as it is. I had seen the movie adaptation a year or so ago but missed the beginning of it. I see now that I didn't miss very much of the narrative in the filmed version.

I note that McCarthy has an aversion to inverted commas and some apostrophes - he uses the apostrophe for contractions like 'I'm' and 'it's' but not for 'don't', 'can't', or 'won't'. Does anyone know if this is his writing style in general or something specific to this book?


message 10: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Of the three books, I have only read Earth Abides. It made a great impression on me. During the week I read it, I felt like I was living in Ish's world. My review is here."

That's a detailed review, Susan! I'm holding off on reading it till I get around to reading the book itself first.


message 11: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I saw the The Stand miniseries, but that was a long time ago. If I remember correctly, it was a supernatural battle between good and evil. There's nothing supernatural about Earth Abides. In fact, ..."

I saw the miniseries ages ago as well and didn't like it much. With some exceptions, I find film adaptations of Stephen King's books to be somewhat lacking. What did you think of it yourself?


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Greg wrote: "That's a detailed review, Susan! I'm holding off on reading it till I get around to reading the book itself first ..."

Good call. I don't read reviews in advance either.


message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Greg wrote: "I note that McCarthy has an aversion to inverted commas and some apostrophes - he uses the apostrophe for contractions like 'I'm' and 'it's' but not for 'don't', 'can't', or 'won't. ..."

That would drive me nuts. It reminds me of reading José Saramago's Stone Raft. He doesn't use periods.


message 14: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Greg wrote: "I note that McCarthy has an aversion to inverted commas and some apostrophes - he uses the apostrophe for contractions like 'I'm' and 'it's' but not for 'don't', 'can't', or 'won't. ....."

That sounds worse! LOL


message 15: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Greg wrote: "Well I'm 81 pages into The Road and enjoying it so far, bleak as it is. I had seen the movie adaptation a year or so ago but missed the beginning of it. I see now that I didn't miss ..."

I have bio idea whether McCarthy uses that style generally, but it is certainly different from most others. I could not make up my mind whether he was trying to achieve something as far as image/setting goes, or he was merely thumbing his nose at convention. My personal view was that it did nothing for me, but maybe it does add to the bleakness. Does anyone feel it did?


message 16: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Ian wrote: "Greg wrote: "Well I'm 81 pages into The Road and enjoying it so far, bleak as it is. I had seen the movie adaptation a year or so ago but missed the beginning of it. I see now that I..."

It could be an attempt at futurism - that at some point in the future (but perhaps before the catastrophe), the convention of using apostrophes for many contractions had ceased. But it might just be McCarthy cocking a snook at convention as you suggest, Ian! It certainly doesn't add to the bleakness for me.


message 17: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Half-way through The Road - OMG it's bleak! But having seen the film it's interesting to see how closely that follows the narrative of the book.


message 18: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Yes, it is bleak, but my question then is, does it have a message, does it portray anything plausible, or is it a wallow? I have finished, and maybe it put me out of sorts, but I could not really see a message. I have written a couple of dystopian stories, and while they too are bleak, although not so completely bleak, I have always tried to put some sort of message there.

One thing that puzzled me was why the two of them were on the road? Why did they think anything was going to be better when they got there? Or do you think that is the message?


message 19: by Thorkell (last edited Jun 26, 2018 10:32AM) (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments I finished Earth Abides. I can see why King said that it inspired The Stand. Both deal with a virus that kills most of human kind. Both are about the trouble of creating a unity out of the people who live. Whom can we trust and so on. Both books are also epic. The Stand in relation to traveling and Earth Abides in relation to time. Earth Abides is however a much better book. It does not have the supernatural element of The Stand (thankfully) it is surprisingly intellectual.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON.

I also read your review Susan. You touch upon a lot of important themes there. What struck me the most is how quickly civilization can die. George R. Stewart gives a good argument for how and why civilization can die so quickly. It is driven (in large part) by need and since no one needed to do anything they saw no point in learning anything.

So what do you think Charlie was suffering from? If it was syphilis, would it not be right to kill him since you can go mad from syphilis and die from it. It would threaten the life of the few who were still alive.

I found Ish-is attitude toward Evie a little uncomfortable. It is hard to judge how retarded she was (if she was that at all). but would she not have a right to experiencing love? Or would this also fall under the same rule as with Charlie? There are so few left that we have to be careful. Human rights will have to take the backseat. The survival of the humanity comes first.

Thanks to the one who nominated the book. I loved it.


message 20: by Chris (new)

Chris Wright (author_chris_g_wright) Greg wrote: "Half-way through The Road - OMG it's bleak! But having seen the film it's interesting to see how closely that follows the narrative of the book."

Not just bleak, but repetitive, too. I don't know how many times I read the words "dark" "ash" and "shadow". Still, for it's time, it has a pretty substantial message in its pages: mankind in its raw form when stripped of everything we know today. Maybe others got a different message. Overall, it's prophetic and grounded.


message 21: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Hi Thorkell. I nominated Earth Abides. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

SPOILERS.

Steward raises some huge ethical questions with Evie and Charlie.

Thorkell wrote: "So what do you think Charlie was suffering from? If it was syphilis ..."

Yes. "Cupid's Disease" (258) is a euphemism for syphilis.

If allowed to live, Charlie fully intends to continue with his promiscuous ways. Ish and his tribe do not linger long over their ethical dilemma. They are pragmatic. They violate one of the most basic moral principles in order to save the future.

I admit, I did not trouble much over Charlie either. It helped that he was despicable. But moral principles are not dependent on whether or not we like people. Moral principles are needed precisely because we need to be fair when dealing with people we don't like. Still, I had no qualms about violating the basic moral principle of 'thou shalt not kill' in order to protect a hypothetical future.

I believe this was possible for Ish's tribe because of the nature of a tribe. It's small enough where everyone can rely on intuition. As society gets bigger, this becomes impossible and an elaborate legal system develops as people face moral dilemmas.

The case of Evie is less dramatic, but more difficult. She is an innocent. The moral question of eugenics is more complicated here. If her children will be mentally handicapped, it is in the best interest of the tribe that she not reproduce. For a small tribe, this can be prevented naturally. If no one has sex with her, she will not reproduce.

But what if outsiders like Charlie show up? For a small tribe, keeping an eye on Evie might not be too big of a problem, but as society grows, the moral dilemma grows too. There was a time when certain women were deemed inferior and subjected to forced sterilization. The problem of Evie gives us some insight into how such morally repugnant practices can come into being.


message 22: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments I am going to disagree with Chris about The Road being prophetic As I saw it, there is no real message because at no point could the characters have done anything substantially different that would change the outcome. (Or if there was a message, I missed it.) Maybe I am biased. I have written a couple of future dystopian novels, and I tried to ensure that what went wrong was because of a character defect. I suppose you could say the message was, don't cause a nuclear winter, but I regard that as not that important.

One of the things that bothered me was that at no point was there any reason that I could see for the journey. They had no reason to believe "there" would be any better, and they had no real idea what they could do when they got there. I saw no real reason why they had to leave home (i.e. why home was worse than where they were going). Finally, I saw no real thoughts as to what they could do to get out of this mess, other than to find places with cans of food. Yes, some might actually behave this way, but that is surely not the message?


message 23: by Greg, Muad'Dib (last edited Jun 27, 2018 03:47AM) (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
I haven't finished The Road yet (view spoiler), but the message I get from it (whether or not it is the author's) is that hope is what keeps people going in the face of extreme hardship. Not everyone shares that hope (view spoiler) in wanting to continue to live in this bleak, post-apocalyptic, and largely dead, world. The man hopes that the farther south they go, the warmer it will get and maybe more resources might be found. His aim is to reach the coast, partly so that his son will see the ocean, but maybe just so that he has a relatively short-term goal to work towards. It is keeping his son alive that helps to keep him going - his raison d'être - but I don't think the man thinks much farther than finding their next meal or other things that might be of use to survive.

Their primary impetus in moving south is to flee the harsh winter - that much is clear from the text. I suspect that the man also wants to flee the place where he knew so many people who had died - a place of sad memories - but it seems likely that resources (food and whatnot) had dwindled to the point where they had no other choice than to leave to find these elsewhere. And without any knowledge of what conditions are like to the south, it's not unreasonable (in my opinion) to head out and look for somewhere better (if it exists).

I have another 65 pages to go so I may adjust my views slightly depending on how the novel ends.


message 24: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Greg, I have got to the end, and I shall not spoil your read, but eventually we might continue this discussion


message 25: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments I've finished The Road now. It is a terrifying book. As to the message. I found that the book is really about parenthood. I think most parents know this fear. Constantly protecting your child/children bun then there comes a time when you can't anymore and you just have to hope that it has learned enough to keep away from danger. I think the setting is just to make this fear clearer.


message 26: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Interesting what comprises a message. I agree with Thorkell that the parent looking after the child is there, but I thought that would be what would happen anyway, and that is not really a message. Maybe more a theme. It didn't have to be that bleak to transmit that message, if it were a message.


message 27: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments I disagree. It is very hard to write about this fear in a normal setting. It becomes just another story or a story about what ever is happening (kidnapping, rape....) If you want to focus on one thing then you have to change the setting. The whole book is about the father trying to prepare his son. He is caught between teaching him how to survive and keeping what ever is good within him alive. What is good within him can actually kill him (there are theories that too much compassion is dangerous for you). But teaching him to be ruthless will kill what is beautiful about the boy. So he is always trying to balance the two.

The focus of the whole book is about this relationship. Anyway, that is the message I got out of it. As with any piece of art, people will take different things away from it.


message 28: by Chris (new)

Chris Wright (author_chris_g_wright) Thorkell wrote: "I disagree. It is very hard to write about this fear in a normal setting. It becomes just another story or a story about what ever is happening (kidnapping, rape....) If you want to focus on one th..."

That actually makes a lot of sense and gives me a new perspective. Could it be that The Road has more than one message?


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Thorkell definitely has a different interpretation than I had. Thorkell felt the father was trying to prepare his son and teach him, but I did not get that because I thought the father was simply responding to what turned up. He never really took significant positive action, and as I saw it he had no plan other than to go south and try to avoid trouble, and he had no real method for that either.

One of the problems I had with this book was that while there had obviously been an apocalypse, it was undefined. We had no real idea what had happened, therefore we had no means of understanding whether the father should have a plan, and if so, what sort of plan. That is why I thought this was more a wallow in dystopian writing - the author was more interested in writing style and painting a picture than in conveying a message. But since others have different interpretations, which is good, that must mean it was rather effective writing.


message 30: by Thorkell (last edited Jun 28, 2018 02:23PM) (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments Ian wrote: "But since others have different interpretations, which is good, that must mean it was rather effective writing."

Well I don't think there is anything right or wrong here. It did not work for you but it did work for other people. What irritates you is that Cormac McCarthy is not following the rules. Yes I also write stories and I also know the rules. McCarthy breaks most of them here and usually it would also irritate me. But if you can break the rules, if you can get away with it then you should do it.

I feel like Cormac McCarthy gets away with it. In fact I would say that the rules he breaks support my reading of the book. If he wanted to make a apocalyptic book he would have told us about what happened. Or why the people are so crazy. If he wanted it to be about the development of the father, his struggle, his learning curve, he would have focused on that. I think there is a hint at what the book is about and not about and you find that hint in the text - what is in the text and what is not in the text. I don't think it is far fetched to say that a book filled with a dialog between a father and a son about what is right and wrong and how to survive is about parenthood.


message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Thorkell, I agree it is a little about parenting under extreme circumstances, but I did not take it as a message, but rather something that is self-evident. I disagree it was about how to survive; more like keeping going. The finding of food was generally sheer luck. I took it that it was more about the obsession of keeping on going on a journey.

As an aside, I have no objection to breaking the rules, although I am not sure there are a lot of rules. On the other hand, if you break them, you have to pay the price if it then doesn't work :-)


message 32: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments Ian wrote: "Thorkell, I agree it is a little about parenting under extreme circumstances, but I did not take it as a message, but rather something that is self-evident. I disagree it was about how to survive; ..."

I agree. A message is not the right word. A theme would be a better one. I don't think the book has a message. It has a theme. Much like a poem.

As to the rules. Well. We all know they are there and how important they are. But only the ones who know them know how to break them. And yes I agree, if you break them then you pay the price.


message 33: by Mel (new)

Mel | 83 comments I’ve read all three. Earth Abides is a particular favourite and I’ve read it 3 or 4 times. I found the rebuilding of society and the loss of knowledge etc. Really convincing.
Oryx and Crake...enjoyed it at the time but can’t remember much if it now.
The Road - I rate Cormack McCarthy but this one just left me cold. Bleak, dull and dissatisfying.


message 34: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Does anyone want me to keep this group live into August?


message 35: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments There is a reason why I did not nominate this time. I felt this group was totally dead, which is a shame since it is picking very interesting books. What gives? Why don't people take part? Even books that get a lot of votes are manly discussed by me and one other person.

So the first question is, what do you mean by keeping it alive? In what sense? I think the correct question should have been how can we revive it.


message 36: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Thanks, Thorkell, for your frank comment. I have to admit that I am a little puzzled with the group at times. Sixteen people voted in the poll re: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction. Of the three books selected, 12 of the 16 votes went to them, so you would expect that at least the 12 members who voted for one of the books would contribute, yet only 6 of those who voted in the poll posted in this topic. However, one other member who did not participate in the poll also posted in the topic (which is welcome).

Regarding the other topic - horror in science fiction - more people voted (17) and the bulk of the votes (15) went to the 2 books that got selected. In theory, then, those 15 would have all contributed to the topic but only 2 did so. In this case, I was the only other poster but only in my role as a mod.

I know that this has been a problem in other groups where a number of people vote on a book and then don't post in the relevant topic. Possibly work or family commitments get in the way or maybe the members concerned just plain forgot about the group read.

Requesting people not to vote in a poll if they do not think they will be reading any of the suggested books might help - I know that Horror Aficionados does this.

I was wondering also if buddy reads should be promoted more where two or three people get a topic to themselves to discuss a book they want to read but which didn't get selected for a group read.

Regarding keeping this topic alive (or indeed reviving it) I was thinking of extending the completion date so that the longer books could be finished by any members who are still working their way through them.

I'm open to any suggestions as to encourage more involvement.


message 37: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments I agree with Thorkell. What seems to happen is people vote for a book, and then nothing much more happens. From my point of view, unless there is going to be a subsequent discussion, there is no point in doing a group read. We might was well act read what we want to read and enjoy it, and if we have to assume that people don't enjoy commenting, then the exercise is a waste of time. maybe we should poll the group and see how many are prepared to postie they read the book?


message 38: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 0 comments I have been guilty of voting for books and then not participating in the discussions. Often its a matter of starting the discussion period with the best of intentions and then something happens and I don't read the book in time, or I will start the book and really not like it, so will put it aside and go on to something else.

I kind of like the idea of asking people to vote only if they intend to discuss the book. The only issue with that strategy would be if it reduced the number of votes each month to just one or two or three people. Another group I belong to, The Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group, has a rule that if someone nominates a book and that book wins, then the person who nominated it agrees to be the discussion lead/moderator for that group read. Seems to work for them.

The only other suggestion I would have would be to increase the time between when a book wins and when we have to read it. Most of the other groups I belong to will nominate a book a month or more in advance so, for example, they would vote on the September group read in June or July. It helps to have some time to order a book, to finish up what I am currently reading, etc.


message 39: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Hi Greg. I appreciate the work you do to keep the group going.

I think all groups have more people voting in polls than participating in discussions. People enjoy voting in polls. Some might not realize that they are expected to participate in the discussion.

I agree with David's suggestion of asking members to vote only if they intend to discuss the book. It might reduce voting from people who know in advance that they won't be participating.


message 40: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
David wrote: "Another group I belong to, The Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group, has a rule that if someone nominates a book and that book wins, then the person who nominated it agrees to be the discussion lead/moderator for that group read. Seems to work for them. "

Thanks for this, David. This is an interesting idea that I think would be worth trying out.

David wrote: "The only other suggestion I would have would be to increase the time between when a book wins and when we have to read it. Most of the other groups I belong to will nominate a book a month or more in advance so, for example, they would vote on the September group read in June or July. It helps to have some time to order a book, to finish up what I am currently reading, etc. "

Although I haven't seen this approach in any other groups I'm in, it does seem to offer another practical solution that would be worth trying.

Thanks also for your comments, Ian and Susan.

I've been thinking that probably many people like a range of interactivity to engage in. Posting in a topic is just one kind of interaction, voting in a poll is another. Would another monthly poll on other things related to science fiction be fun to have? For example, December and January polls could deal with the best sci-fi novel or best sci-fi movie of the year just gone. Other polls could consider the best depiction of an alien species, the best spacecraft designs, the weirdest ideas and so on. I could set up a topic where members can suggest polls in the first instance. Sound good?


message 41: by Thorkell (new)

Thorkell Ottarsson | 209 comments Susan wrote: "I've been thinking that probably many people like a range of interactivity to engage in. Posting in a topic is just one kind of interaction, voting in a poll is another. Would another monthly poll on other things related to science fiction be fun to have? For example, December and January polls could deal with the best sci-fi novel or best sci-fi movie of the year just gone. Other polls could consider the best depiction of an alien species, the best spacecraft designs, the weirdest ideas and so on. I could set up a topic where members can suggest polls in the first instance. Sound good? "

Yes it sounds good but then you have to have the balls to call people out when they nominate things that are not within the genre. I have seen people way too often nominate books that are not even within the sci fi genre.


message 42: by David (new)

David Lutkins | 0 comments Thorkell wrote: "Yes it sounds good but then you have to have the balls to call people out when they nominate things that are not within the genre. I have seen people way too often nominate books that are not even within the sci fi genre. "

I agree, sounds good.


message 43: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new)

Greg | 812 comments Mod
I've set up a topic about holding monthly non-group read polls here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/....


message 44: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 64 comments Thorkell wrote: "Susan wrote: "I've been thinking that probably many people like a range of interactivity to engage in. Posting in a topic is just one kind of interaction, voting in a poll is another. Would another..."

Actually, that was Greg's comment, not mine.


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