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Tag: apocalypse

READING THE TBR, DAY 147: Damnation Alley (1968) by Roger Zelazny

I have long loved Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, a sci-fi/fantasy series of depth and breadth and significant scope. But strangely, those ten books are the only Zelazny I have ever read, probably because I once attempted reading Lord of Light, another of his works, and couldn’t get past the first chapter. (It really is awful.)

But many years back I found this post-apocalyptic tale of his, and since I have something of a collection of those, I could not pass it by. And while it has its flaws — it’s a bit abrupt, and sometimes opaque, and its treatment of women is pretty lacking, of course — I am nevertheless very pleased to have it on my shelves.

The story: In a land blighted by nuclear war, with society in tatters and with a plague on the loose, convict Hell Tanner is given a pardon from all his many crimes if he will ferry a load of serum from Los Angeles to Boston – the oly two remaining functional major cities. The only way to get there is along Damnation Alley, a route laden with outlaws, the occasional hopeful township, the increasingly virulent plague, and giant monsters out of the worst radiation-based “When Animals Attack!” B-movie. Action-packed, but seeded with no little philosophy (and sexism), Tanner’s epic journey is a compelling series of near-disasters, proves him to be a pretty fascinating anti-hero in this future world where true heroes are few and far between.

The book was turned into a film in 1977 (starring Jan-Michael Vincent, who pretty much is the 70s), which I shall now be looking up. And, not long before, UK band Hawkwind delivered themselves of this:

Amazing!

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 146: Damnation Alley  by Roger Zelazny
GENRE: Science Fiction, Apocalypse
PUBLISHED: 1969
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 102: Penny Pollard’s Diary (1983) by Robin Klein

I remember the jolt of pure joy that ran through me when I spied the distinctive tartan check cover of this book, its corner peeking out below an avalanche of others at a school book fair late last year. “Penny Pollard’s Diary!” I may or may not have exclaimed out loud. “I remember this book!”

I, of course, bought it immediately. (It was 50c. A crazy bargain.)

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that no, I actually didn’t remember that much about the book. I remembered loving Polly, in that she was totally different to any girl that I knew. But as I sent my mind back through the decades to that Grade 2 student who had re-borrowed the book so many times in a row from the school library that I was eventually banned from ever doing so again, I realized that I could not recall a single detail of the story, and resolved to read it again to relive that childhood obsession.

And I get it. I had good taste back then. This book is gold. Penny is THE BEST. She’d be diagnosed as on the spectrum nowadays, but in the 80s, she was just a bit of an eccentric, as she sorted and resorted her horse swap cards (swap cards! Oh, the flashback that gave me!) and refused to wear dresses and made friends with an elderly lady who is just as non-conformist as she is. 

Text-heavy for a picture book, and featuring actual photos that makes it all seem remarkably like a true story (if it is: where is the real Penny now, and why is she not my friend?), this “diary” features some Klein touches that are familiar to readers of her best-selling novel Hating Alison Ashley and — my favourite of hers — Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left, like the perfect pattern card of ladylike virtue that our heroine detests for no real reason, but that is all part of its appeal. 

One thing of which I was utterly unaware until this very day is that there are FIVE sequels to Penny Pollard’s Diary that I guess my school librarian just never bothered to get in, because she hated me or something. How have I made it so advanced an age without learning that there was a sequel to a book that I — admittedly — didn’t remember, but did remember loving so very much?

We’re agreed, I do not need any more books to read. The whole point of this book-a-day TBR mission is to clear the decks of all the books I already own. But you don’t understand, I NEED these books more more than I need chocolate. More than I need air. They are now a physical requirement. My life will be incomplete until my Penny Pollard collection is, at last, now that I know that’s a thing, complete — and in original first edition format, too.

This is who I am. I can’t fight it, so I have to embrace it. I need to buy five kids’ books very, very much, and I will not be able to rest until I have found them and read them and they are mine. They’re currently running at about $13 each on eBay, by the way.

Turns out my 50c bargain is going to cost me more than $50. 

Totally worth it. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 102: Penny Pollard’s Diary (Penny Pollard #1 [!!!]) by Robin Klein
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1983
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 months. 
PURCHASED FROM: School book fair.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 83: The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher

The White Mountains was my first introduction to a dystopian world. I read it when I was twelve, then read the two sequels in quick succession. One day, three books, aliens vanquished, and my eyes newly opened to the possibilities of science fiction. As a YA novel, it is pretty brutal, but still reigns in the worst possibilities of people desperate for survival.

The Death of Grass — aimed at adults — pulls no such punches.

A blight is affecting the world’s grass, killing off not only lawns but also wheat and barley and even corn. As a food shortage threatens and the trouble that first hit China heads towards the West, the comfortable people of England hear the news of frantic, murderous exoduses and the deaths of two hundred million people, and are still chatting about tea and football.

But then the blight hits England.

People are the worst. Literally a day after the Chun-Li virus hits the UK, the Government plans to bomb the cities to reduce the soon to be hungry population. At the same time, John Custance and his wife Anne head out of London with their best friends Roger and Olivia, assorted kids and diabolical gun shop owner Pirrie, along with his wife Millicent, bound for John’s brother’s distant valley farm, which he is sure will be safe.   

Within a week, groups of men rove the country gang raping and pillaging, life becomes cheap and young girls are given into “marriage” to killers, while all compassion and decency is considered a luxury. Everyone looks out for only themselves and their families, stealing and torturing and allowing others to perform the most heinous acts if it might advance their own chances of survival.

This is a truly horrid book. Oh, it’s remarkable, and brilliant, and utterly enthralling. But the veneer of civilization falls away so damn fast, and the rise of tyranny happens so abruptly, and the women are such targets, and the people are so cruel, it is just a horrible, horrible vision of the end of everything and make it clear that humanity just does not deserve to survive.

It’s awful. It’s probably true. I hated this book. It is a masterpiece. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 83: The Death of Grass by John Christopher  
GENRE: Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse
PUBLISHED: 1956
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 8 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: I don’t think so. It just makes me uncomfortable to even look at it right now.

READING THE TBR, DAY 77: Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut

This book takes a longer time to apocalypse than most apocalyptic fiction, but when it does, it apocalypses hard. But before that there is a long, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, often just deeply upsetting, contemplation of cultism and mad science, with a side helping of human frailty and genocide.

John is a journalist. He is researching a book on the bombings of Japan that ended World War II, and begins to research the late physicist Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a key figure in the invention of the dread atomic bomb. To that end he tracks down Hoenikker’s children, diminutive Newt and statuesque Angela, and there is something not quite right about them, so John drops his bomb research and gets sent on assignment to the tiny, impoverished island of San Lorenzo.

But what do you know? Newt and Angela are there! And also Frank, their elder brother. Also there total babe Mona, whom John has loved a long time but also just met, and she is betrothed to Frank. With “Papa” Monzano, the island despot prone to threatening summary executions (but rarely going through with it) dying in secret, Frank is next in line for the dictatorship of the island and Mona is to be his bride. But Frank doesn’t want the job and so kicks it (and Mona) over to John. 

But before John can really take pleasure in his new position, Papa decides to end his own suffering with a lethal — that is to say, any amount — dose of ice-nine, a chemical invented by the elder Hoenikker with the aim of helping soldiers cross gloopy marshes and bogs by changing the freezing point of water to “room temperature.” But, what? A scientist did something he could without wondering if he should? Because a single drop of ice-nine can freeze the oceans, and the lakes, and the rivers. And the mostly water inside a human body. The Hoenikker children all had a vial of the stuff, kind of a souvenir they decided to keep of their father’s genius, but they never imagined it might get out into the world. Or did they? I have serious questions about Angela.

Meanwhile, on the island of San Lorenzo a fabricated religion, Bokonon, was both invented and banned by the same two American social engineers, and Bokonon is the most genius part of what is an entirely genius book. But the rest is pretty damned genius, too. Funny, outrageous, absurdist, but also terrifying. Quite a trick. Crazy that I’ve never read it before; I’ve meant to forever, and have owned a copy for years.

I’ve been blown away by several long-neglected books on my TBR so far this year. But this one… It makes this (entirely self-indulgent) mission of mine infinitely worth it. Some books just make you smarter. This is one of them.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 77: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut  
GENRE: Apocalyptic Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1968
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes.