Starters by Lissa Price

First of two, but I was delighted that it seemed like a standalone book-that the story is resolved, and then almost tacked on the stuff to show that the fight is not yet over.

For a post-apocalyptic story I thought the apocalyptic event was very believable-there was a war and the pacific countries attacked us with “spore wars”—missiles that launched spores of a deadly disease. It touches you and you’re dead in a week.  Apparently the country was somewhat prepared with a vaccine-one which was given to young people and the elderly first.  As a result everyone between 20 and 60 died.  The government stepped in and claimed the “unclaimed minors”-those whose parents and died and they didn’t have grandparents to take them in.  The unclaimed minors get sent to horrible work farm/institutions, where many of them don’t survive. Many unclaimed minors try to stay in hiding and not get caught by the marshals-they live on the streets and squat in buildings.  Callie is one and she is doing her best to protect her sickly 7 year old brother, along with her friend Michael’s help.  When Callie hears about a way to make tons of money, she decides to risk it.  The “it” is allowing her body to be used by an Elderly (oh, and old people live to about 200 years old).  The slick person at Prime persuades her that it’s as easy as falling asleep. And the first two times it is. But the third time she wakes up in her own body while the Elderly is inhabiting it.  She soon finds out that Prime is evil and a horrible plot is afoot.

This was a great adventure.  The futuristic details were completely reasonable and believable, and while this seemed like a plot I’ve read/watched before, it was still thoroughly enjoyable.  I read this entire book (save the final 20 pages) on our trip to Cape Cod.  What a delight to be able to read in the car on car trips once again! Up until now it seemed like the kids needed too much entertaining, but now they are totally caught up in a book on tape, and Paul likes to drive, which leaves me to happily read chapter after chapter.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This was the big winner of the Printz award this year and I was quite surprised to discover I had a copy on my shelf.  I honestly had no idea what this book was about and the cover and title were not drawing me in. Then I opened the flap and read the blurb and realized this was right up my alley. Set in the undetermined future (where they refer to our current time as the “Accelerated Age”) the polar ice caps have melted, the seas have risen, and there are ancient cities (New Orleans) completely underwater.  Nailer lives on the beach and spends his days crawling through the ductwork of old wrecked oil tankers scavenging the copper wire in them.  It’s a horrible life and in general life appears to be a horrible post-apocalyptic mess.  His father is a murderous evil being, half-men (scientifically created creatures made from man, tiger, and dog) are wild and murderous, too, children are worked to death, and so on.  After you read a while you come to realize that the whole world is not like this-it’s just the slummy jungle workers who have such a horrible life. The “Swanks”-rich folk, have fast ships, nice clothes, jewels, and the like.  When a swank’s ship wrecks near Nailer he sees the possibility of an escape from his life.

This was a fantastic adventure, and Nailer’s moral dilemmas in a world that doesn’t seem to have morality left in it, pull you in.  Yet when I read this here’s what I kept thinking about:  one of the things I hated in The Road was the pure evil that seemed to be in the post apocalypic world.  Mad Max-y is how I think of it, and I really don’t care for it. And in this book, too, there are characters (Nailer’s father) that just seem to be pure evil-no moral, no ethics, no empathy, and they almost gleefully murder and maim in the most casual way (or take pleasure in it.) I think what I don’t like about that is that I wonder about the author who thinks that up, as well as the widespreadness of it.  Do people truly believe that Man’s true self is like that? That if the infrastructure of civilization breaks down that will be the default? I simply don’t. The only thing I can possibly conceive is if someone saw something that drove them mad.  Nailer’s father is on some sort of super drugs most of the time, but you still believe that at his core this evil person is who he is, it’s not just the drugs.
I just find it interesting that so many authors have these characters because I don’t believe you would create them without believing in the possibility that they could exist.  And tied in to that, curiously, is a conversation I had with my friend about The Forgotten Garden.  We were remarking about how awful some of the characters were, just very cruel and cavalierly ruining lives.  She said that one of her book group friends thought that because life was so much harder then (Victorian London), that it was such a struggle to have basic necessities of life like food and shelter, that the people were harder.  I thought right away of these post apocalypic stories because I feel like that rationale suggests that when life is hard your humanity and ethics fly out the window.  Which is, at its core, the struggle faced by Nailer in Ship Breaker, and it’s all wrapped up in a good adventurous package.

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

I don’t know how I missed out on this book. I have a friend who is always talking about post apocalyptic things and these books and finally I decided to try one. Because I do rather like that sort of thing. She said to start with this and it’s an extremely satisfying 500 page book. The premise is that a bright painful white light shoots across the earth at a particular moment in time and from that moment on nothing electrical works anymore. For that matter, gunpowder doesn’t work either, nor do batteries (and with that I feel you have to take a giant leap of faith–why on earth wouldn’t batteries work? or gunpowder? They are not technically electrical, now are they?) Imagine what this means at the moment of the Change–airplanes fall out of the sky, cars stop working, millions of people die, fires everywhere, mass chaos.

The story follows two bands of people as they struggle to not only survive, but also establish a society and fight off the truly evil people who come out of the woodwork.  I am beginning to think that all post apocalyptic writers think the worst of humankind. There are always evil people brutally murdering others just for the sake of being a powerful warlord.  There is a fair amount of fighting and violence and brutality in the novel, but it fits in logically. And right here I have to say to all the people who thought I didn’t like The Road because I didn’t “get it” or didn’t like the brutal violence of it, again NO. I hated it because I thought it was sh&*& and don’t like his writing style. I was totally fine with the grim violence and bleakness present in this novel. Because there was a great story! There were characters who fought with bravery and courage and compassion and you were definitely never sure if people would live or die, so it was all very exciting.  There were some interpersonal relationships that I frankly did not buy, but I’ll give that a pass. Continue reading

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Ugh. So many things I disliked about this book. I’ll start by saying that though this wasn’t a book I would have chosen for myself, I was looking forward to reading it for that reason road.jpg(good to try new things!) and also because I do like the post-apocalyptic concept. This book was this month’s selection for my book club. The book is basically about a man and his little boy traveling on a road in a post-apocalyptic world, trying not to starve to death or get killed and eaten by roving marauders. Here are some of my many quibbles:

  • In a book that is 240 pages long, it should not take me to literally page 200 before I actually care about the characters. Seriously. There are only 2 main characters and I really didn’t care about them at all.
  • Continue reading