Category Archives: apocalypse

possession is nine tenths of the law

The Host by Stephenie Meyer 2008 (619 pgs)

When the world’s population gets body-snatched by invading aliens, a few rebel humans are forced into hiding, struggling to remain whole. A newly installed alien named Wanderer finds herself in a body whose former owner hasn’t quite vacated. What should be an effortless takeover instead becomes a battle of wills as Melanie refuses to disappear. At first biding her time, waiting for Melanie to surrender, Wanderer instead finds herself coming to an understanding and eventual affection for the human trapped in her mind. As they share memories and experiences, Wanderer even comes to love those who Melanie loves. Together they break away from the alien occupied civilization to track down Melanie’s loved ones.

I was pleasantly impressed with Meyer’s much more refined and challenging writing. This in no Twilight novel; it surpasses that series in character realism and evolution, its exploration of humankind’s capacity for cruelty and kindness, and the nature of selfhood and emotion. Billed as “the first love triangle involving only two bodies,” what could easily have become a cheesy sci-fi or sappy romance is instead a surprisingly deft exploration of identity and humanity.


the way of the wanderer

I Who Have Never Known Men  by Jacqueline Harpman 1997 (206 pgs)

What is it that makes up the human experience? Are we defined by our family, our possessions, our personal history, a life lived with purpose, who we are in relation to others? The narrator, a survivor of an unknown apocalypse has less than that. She lives a solitary life focused entirely on mere survival. And yet she strives, she desires, she learns for the enjoyment of pure knowledge regardless of its usefulness or applicability. She is in short, entirely human.

Previously reviewed here.

days of future passed

The Brief History of the Dead  by Kevin Brockmeier 2006 (252 pgs)

A global illness is wiping out humanity. Isolated in Antarctica, a single survivor remains. As she tracks across the brutal landscape, Laura Byrd plumbs the depths of her memories to distract herself from the harsh conditions. In an afterlife city, the longtime residents begin to notice the population changing drastically. As the pandemic takes hold, the recently departed funnel into a city, and even more rapidly disappear, until mere thousand are left from billions. For the inhabitants can only dwell there for as long as they live in the memory of the living.  

In this haunting (or shall we say haunted?) narrative, Brockmeier illustrates the power of memory and the connections we form throughout our lives. Both portions of the story are separately compelling and it’s fun to see how they connect.  And I always appreciate a book that doesn’t tie everything up in a pat little fluffy bow- but rather leaves the ending open to interpretation and imagined possibilities.


post-apocalyptic stress disorder

World Made By Hand  by James Howard Kunstler (317 pgs) 2008

In this future America, modern life is a decade gone. A combination of post-peak oil, terrorist attacks, disintegration of the government, and declining trade resulting from these issues has pushed the country back to a pre-industrial lifestyle.

The small semi-rural town of Union Grove, New York is getting by though. They’ve settled into subsistence-level farming and community that while not quite harmonious, is at least functioning. In the absence of any official enforcement, lawlessness and vigilante-ism are the norm. The townsfolk find themselves caught between the bullies running the town dump (now reversed into a major trading post) and the new arrivals- a cultish and mysterious religious group fleeing violence down south.

The world Kunstler has created is a solid and believable one. And despite a scene of fairly disturbing torture late in the book and some weird mystical “are they or aren’t they” miracles that jar with the rest of the tone, it’s an enjoyable read.

united we fall, divided we stand

The Gate to Women’s Country  by Sheri Tepper 1988 (315 pgs)

Compelling post-apocalyptic tale of a society that becomes gender-segregated. After their world was devastated by wars, the culture eventually evolved into one of matriarchal semi-dictatorship. The men live in garrisons outside the cities walls, the women inside. The two groups meet only at festival times and are otherwise two very separate secretive societies. Tepper deftly explores themes of gender inequality and humankind’s propencity for self-distruction.

the books less traveled

Books I didn’t finish:

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story  by Leonie Swann 2006 (341/read 30)

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Sheep. Solving crime. When they find their farmer skewered by a spade, the sheep resolve to solve his murder. Strangely fun and funny, with comical misunderstandings resulting from sheep vs human thinking.

The Emerald City of Oz   by Frank L. Baum orig. 1910, read 93 ed- wonderfully illustrated by John R. Neill(300/read 80ish)

While visiting family, I figured I’d revisit my childhood as well. I thought I’d read all the Oz books, but I didn’t recall this one. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em come to live in Oz as the Nome King is plotting to invade. Didn’t read far enough to get to the action, it was mostly set up but I was impressed with the quality of writing. I’d forgotten how rich and challenging Baum’s writing was. He didn’t condescend or dumb it down, he wrote genuinely interesting stories with vivid vocabulary.

Einstein’s Monsters  by Martin Amis 1987 (149/read 31)

Read two stories: In “Time Disease” everyone cowers under a nuclear ravaged sky. Vitality is a fatal disease and the only protection is inactivity. In The Immortals, a man reminisces about witnessing the dawn of life and mourns the end of humanity. He watches sadly as the last few survivors labor under the delusion that they are immortal. And he shrugs off his delusion that he is mortal.

Right Livelihoods  by Rick Moody 2007 (223/read 72)

Of the three novellas, I read the second and a bit of the third. In “K & K” a woman is stressing by the increasingly threatening notes left in the office suggestion box. When half of New York is leveled in “The Albertine Notes,” the survivors’ drug of choice is albertine which makes you relive memories with crystaline clarity. The only catch is you can’t choose the memory.

The Apocalypse Reader  edited by Justin Taylor 2007 (318/read 250ish)

A bunch of great short stories. Authors I’d like to read more from: Stacey Levine, Jared Hohl, Lucy Corin, Allison Whittenberg, Kelly Link, Steve Aylett, Colette Phair, Terese Svoboda, Theodora Goss, and Joyce Carol Oates.

My favorite was the hilarious “These zombies are not a metaphor” by Jeff Goldberg, where a man tries in vain to convince his imbecilic roommates that the zombies outside their door is NOT a metaphor, but are in fact literally zombies.

united states of disrepair

The Pesthouse  by Jim Crace 2007 (255 pgs)

 The country is in a state of disrepair, unrecognizable in it’s dissolution, and has been for ages. Memories of better days are fabled and several generations removed. The survivors eke out a hand-to-mouth existence in frontier-style conditions. The hopeful ones make for the coast, where rumors tell of ships sailing for a new promised land.

Two such miserable hopefuls meet when the town in the valley below is struck by an unknown cataclysm- killing every living being within its limits. They seem the unlikeliest of adventurers- Margaret the recent survivor of a pestilence that exiled her from town, Franklin a naive young hopeful, hobbled by a worn-out knee. But the two somehow forge an instant and powerful trust, striking out together for the coast.

Crace’s writing is atmospheric and taut without being dismal. He perfectly captures that aura of pragmatic hopefulness that compels pioneers. One of my favorite books of the year, and among the top post-apocalyptic books I’ve ever read.