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Tag: post-apocalypse

READING THE TBR, DAY 271: A Modest Proposal (1729) by Jonathan Swift

The only Swift I have previously read was an abridged and — I think — sanitized version of Gulliver’s Travels, produced for younger readers and that spends a lot of time in Lilliput and not very much in Brobdignag and… the other lands. I don’t remember their names, exactly. In fairness, I was eight.

I never thought of it as an especially funny book, but I have seen it referenced so frequently as a compelling satire that I have long been determined to read it in its original form. (Plus, I loved that movie version with Jack Black in it.) But before embarking on such a course, I figured I might as well tackle a shorter and far less imposing example of Swift’s celebrated humour: thus, A Modest Proposal, short and much-acclaimed.

And… dark. So, so dark.

Basically, Swift contends in this faux parliamentary-style report that the best way to tackle the overabundance of parentless children in 18th-c Ireland is to turn them into a source of sustenance for the rest of society. Basically, Soylent Green way way before Soylent Green. I can only — and want to — assume that this is a commentary on the placing of such children into workhouses. And oh, it is funny, sure. Definitely funny, in a shocked-gasp, breathless, can’t-believe-what-you’re-reading kind of way. But also… yeah. DARK.

Maybe I don’t want to read the full-length Gulliver’s Travels, after all.


TBR DAY 271: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
GENRE: Humour, Satire, Classics
TIME ON THE TBR: ~3 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 255: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (2014) by Meg Elison

A pandemic has swept across the world, with devastating effect. Not only did it wipe out 98% of the male population, it hit women even harder, and infant mortality became total. The human race looks to be on the edge of extinction, and many of its remaining females are being held captive and forced to serve the needs of the men who have claimed them.

The tale is told mostly through the journal entries of a woman who goes by many names throughout the book, who binds her breasts and cuts her hair and becomes handy with a weapon, in order to remain free. She is travelling north east from San Francisco, she doesn’t know why, mostly just seeking refuge from the disturbing radio messages coming out of Mexico (“bring your women, they will be safe”) and trying to help women along the way, where she can, even if it is just by giving them temporary medical care and birth control, which she had the forethought to bring with her. Be prepared.

There are many points in her journey that are pure terror, as her safety is compromised again and again by the intrusion of fellow survivors into her loneliness, and she doesn’t trust easily, or often, but eventually finds a few decent people in a sea of terrible ones, thus restoring to her some semblance of faith in humanity–and in the reader, as well. The occasional interspersing of third person omniscient narration, which gives us back- and future-story on several key characters and the world at large, only serves to intensify our midwife’s plight, and makes of the world an even more starkly barren wasteland.

Moving, terrifying, gripping, ultimately hopeful, it is a post-apocalyptic book that deals in many big themes, especially those of women’s rights, reproductive rights and (which is a near-constant of the genre) the Evils the Men Do, as well as the role of faith and mindless devotion when all about you is in ruins. Sexuality is explored, as is the notion of active consent, and it is a book to leave even the most ardent of gun control advocates with an appreciation for a powerful rifle, if the worst should ever befall us.

I loved this book. And hated it, too. I will be thinking about it for a long, long time. I am just not sure whether that is a good thing or not.


TBR DAY 272: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg Elison
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 145: The Last Book in the Universe (2000) by Rodman Philbrick

My stepmother Angela gave this book to me for Christmas several years back, and it is a mark of how well she knows me that it is exactly in my wheelhouse. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia, told through the eyes of the ickily-named Spaz, who ekes out an existence in the slums and fights to save the life of his one-time foster sister with the help of the elderly Ryter, an adorable orphan child, and a privileged scion of the utopian Eden.

This book could have been written specifically for me.

It’s compulsively readable, even with — or perhaps even because of — all he future slang and determined classism. It’s hard to quite understand the economy of this world, especially in the halcyon “proov” enclave in which everyone is genetically engineered and disdainful of the “normals” struggling for life outside the radiation-proof dome of Eden, but that doesn’t really matter when the message of the novel, of equality and conscience how politically active youth can change the world, is so powerful.

There are tears, of course, and not many laughs, but it is a thoroughly immersive experience, both heart-breaking and hopeful, and one I shall not soon forget. 

Thanks, Angela!


TBR DAY 145: The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
GENRE: YA, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a Christmas gift.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 133: One Second After (2009) by William R. Forstchen

Full of the kind of conservative rhetoric and survivalist preaching you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic book featuring a Foreword by champion Republican evildoer Newt Gingrich, this is nevertheless the compelling story of a world gone made after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse), caused by three atmospheric nuclear detonations, sends the US back to a pre-Industrial Revolution footing, and sends most of the population mad.

One interesting facet to this particular post-apocalypse, and one you don’t often see, is that the population level remains the same even as technology and comfort and communication break down, which means that it really is a very much worse case scenario. According to this version of events, it will take a week for food riots to break out and starvation will be imminent in only a couple of months and those dependent on life-saving drugs will be dead within the same amount of time. It will take less than a season for cannibalism to take over the population, and satanic cults to rise, and for disease to run rampant and for anarchy to let itself loose on the world.

And for America to be invaded by Mexico and China.

And all of this will happen because “we” weren’t prepared, and because “our enemies” — most likely from the Middle East and North Korea, though the real culprits are never confirmed — know our weaknesses and because people are too fat and happy and contented and take too many prescription mood stabilizers and watch too many movies. A lot of the book is just our hero, Army vet and military scholar John Matherson, thinking outraged thoughts about how no one ever took the threat seriously — yeah, because it’s not a serious threat — and how in the good old days, people were better.

Also, man-made climate change isn’t real. Obviously.

For all my philosophical objections to the book, however, I found it compulsively readable, and was gripped by both the destruction of society as they knew it — so quickly! — and also the formation of a new world order, as conventions broke down and old taboos became luxuries the good people of Black Rock, North Carolina simply could not afford. There were some deaths that literally had me weeping, even though I hated so much of this book’s underlying bile, and I came to care for John, despite our vast political differences. Because people on the other side can still be decent people, of course.

Every now and then, I think it’s important to read a book that challenges you and also humanizes diametrically opposed points of view, because living in a liberal bubble can be just as dangerous as being blind to, you know, science and facts and the fact that trickle down economics does not work.

The fact that I got to fulfill this mission and spend some time in a post-apocalyptic world — one of my favourite (hopefully) fictional locales of late — is just a bonus.

Not sure I’m going to go out of my way to track down the other two books in this trilogy, however. I feel like, in reading this blood-soaked manifesto, I’ve been fair and balanced enough for now.


TBR DAY 133: One Second After (After #1) by William R. Forstchen
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse, Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
KEEP: Possibly…

READING THE TBR, DAY 98: The Shade of the Moon (2013) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Wow, this series took a turn.

Very often, post-apocalyptic fiction will lead into burgeoning dystopia, and with this book, we get a glimpse of that already happening. Four books in, and only four years after the cataclysm, life has gotten very disturbing for our friends, with classism rearing its ugly head and corruption taking its toll on pretty much everyone.

But it is made even worse here because we see all of this unfold as we follow the adventures of Miranda’s youngest brother Jon, now seventeen, who is one of the favoured few living in a comfortable safe town — where he plays soccer to pay his way, if you please — and he has turned into a total asshole.

Jon and his step-mother Lisa (the kids’ Dad is dispensed with in the early passages of the book) live in a rarefied enclave with little Gabriel, into which they gained entry due to the largesse of Alex, of the last two books fame. They are known as clavers, the upper class, who employ servants and look down on the working class, who are commonly called grubs — Alex, now a bus driver, and Miranda, a greenhouse worker, are grubs now. There is supposed to be a metaphor here, about how easy it is for people, given even a modicum of power or status above others, to begin to lord it over their fellows, and yeah, that is true, and I totally get it. But it is brutal to see it happen to a character we have liked for the past three books — and one, moreover, whom we now learn is a serial sexual predator.

The final third of the book is supposed to be Jon’s redemption, having him see the error of his ways through the eyes of his new love, the vaguely egalitarian (but absolutely infuriating) Sarah, and realize that hey, actually my family are just as good as I am, and girls are not my playthings, and also, this town’s caste system is fucked the hell up. But by the time we get there, it is all so bleak and horrific and the disasters have been enacted so thoroughly — along with a Handmaid’s Tale-esque twist — that it is nigh on impossible to forgive him, nor the book itself. 

I wish I hadn’t read this book. It has utterly ruined the (uneven, but withal enjoyable) trilogy that came before it. It is no wonder that the series ended here. Indeed, according to her Author’s Note, this was apparently Pfeffer’s second attempt at this book.

What on the blighted Earth could have been worse than this, we can only speculate.


TBR DAY 98: The Shade of the Moon (Last Survivors #4) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
GENRE: YA Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 97: This World We Live In (2010) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Idiot kids.

This is a refrain that ran through my head pretty constantly throughout this book, after our new friend Alex, from the previous novel in this quartet, meets with our old friend Miranda, from the original book in this quartet, and of course they are into each other, because they are the only age-appropriate teens either has spent much time with, and are not related to.

In this book, we’re back in journal mode, with Miranda relating elder brother Matt’s precipitous marriage to the designing Syl; the clan’s continuing battle for survival; and the arrival of Alex and his sister Julie — in company with, hey there Dad and Lisa! And nice to meet you, baby half-brother and road buddy Charlie!

Of course, disaster strikes, because the end of the world sucks, but more importantly, these teens are troublesome as hell and manage to make the end of the world even worse. (Eldest brother Matt as much as any of them, this time out.) Meanwhile, the religious element of this entry is very interesting indeed, as those who were once atheistic, or at the very least agnostic, are won over to devotion, as they seek comfort in a world that is devoid of same.

By turns infuriating and fascinating, This World We Live In brings together the action of the previous two novels perfectly, ups the angst level considerably, and oh, boy. That ending. It is full on.

Next up is the fourth and final installment in the series. I am equal parts excited and anxious to get to it.


TBR DAY 97: This World We Live In (Last Survivors #3) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
GENRE: YA Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 96: The Dead and the Gone (2008) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Dead and the Gone departs from our sweet Miranda of Life As We Knew It, and instead introduces us to New York City native Alex Morales. Second in his class at an elite Manhattan academy, he is looking forward to going to Georgetown and getting away from his pesky younger sisters, but when the moon is knocked out of its natural orbit, he and his family must find a way to survive in an increasingly dangerous city, with their parents MIA and Alex now in charge.

In contrast to the atheist Miranda, the Morales clan are very devout, enough that it causes more than one difficulty for them throughout the months that they linger on in a dying New York. The kids attend Catholic schools and they pray, er, religiously, for salvation and peace. And Brianna — foolish, deluded Brianna — is punished mightily for her unquestioning faith. Ooh, that made me so mad at her! Almost as mad as the time Alex slapped his little sister across the face because she dared talk back to him. (Fuck you, Alex!)

The unsavoury side of humanity makes itself far more evident elsewhere in this sequel, too, with evidence of that “societal breakdown turning men into monsters” theme that post-apocalyptic fiction almost always explores. Terrifying, really. And terrifying that it feels so accurate.

Told in third person, rather than first, and dealing with much grittier fare than the original, The Dead and the Gone is as bleak as its title implies, and proves to be a pointed contrast to its predecessor. Reading of Miranda’s tribulations, you couldn’t help but feel awful. But reading of Alex’s much more horrifying reality, you realize that she and her family had it all relatively easy, making it clear that there is always someone who has it worse than you, and to be grateful for what you have.

It is very well done indeed.


TBR DAY 96: The Dead and the Gone (Last Survivors #2) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
GENRE: YA Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 95: Life As We Knew It (2006) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Back in 2014, was kind enough to inform me of the release of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Shade of the Moon, which its algorithm was pretty sure I would enjoy. Said algorithm neglected to mention the three books preceding that novel in the Last Survivors series, either by accident or on purpose, but once I discovered them for myself, I ordered all four.

Amazon really does know me disconcertingly well.

Life As We Knew It takes the form of a diary, in which we read the first-person thoughts of one Miranda Evans, who witnesses the destruction of the moon’s orbit from her small and prosperous Pennsylvania town. Through months of uncertainty and stockpiling and illness and privation, she and her family eke out an existence in a world much changed, but one that remains remarkably civilized, all told. Certainly, there are rumours of mistreatment of women, some tinpot dictators get their kicks out of some limited power, and Miranda sees some kids with guns potentially bent on some kind of mischief. But here, the people of the town grow to be self-interested but not malignant, and the biggest conflict Miranda faces is with her mother, who really is spectacularly unfair at times — at least, according to her teenage daughter.

It’s a blessed relief, from all the horrors of lawlessness inflicted mostly on women in other examples of this literary field.

One of the more interesting, but little-seen, characters we meet during Miranda’s struggle is her childhood friend Megan, who has always been religious, but on whom the end of the world has worked a kind of pious overload, so determined is she to see the goodness of God even amid all the death and destruction. It’s a subtle piece of writing, especially when Miranda confronts Megan’s manipulative, patronising preacher, a man clearly not suffering the same hunger as his parishioners.

Miranda herself is a mixed bag of teen angst, especially in the early days of the disaster, when the extent has yet to make itself plain and relative comfort can still be maintained. But she is quite likable, very relatable, and only grows more so as she must set aside childish things to take the reins of her much-beset household.

I am very pleased that I took a chance on this whole quartet before even testing out the first one, as I am now very eager to see what happens next to our heroine and her family, including two brothers as well as the aforementioned Mom, in this much-altered — but maybe steadily improving? — world. I cannot wait to keep going.


TBR DAY 95: Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors #1) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
GENRE: YA Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
KEEP: Yes.

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. 


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

READING THE TBR, DAY 79: Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien


From the very beginning, this book is filled with dread.

In many ways, our heroine Anne is living a pastoral idyll, self-sufficient in her green valley. Outside of this hamlet everything is dead, the trees brown and bare, the sky empty of birds, the nights silent.

Growing her own crops, husbanding her own livestock, canning and cleaning and scavenging, and even attending Church, she is a frighteningly competent fifteen-year-old surviving alone with her sanity remarkably intact. Seriously, we all want to be Ann when we grow up.

But the coming of John Loomis  – she calls him “Mr. Loomis”, because he is an adult and she has been raised to be respectful – a scientist in a radiation-proof suit who foolishly gets himself quickly radiation poisoned, changes everything for her, at first as she hides from him, sensibly assessing his threat level, then as she cares for him in the depths of his illness, and then as he tries to exert both verbal and physical control over her at every turn.

Ann is a particularly perceptive, determined young woman, but this book is very good at illustrating that even very perceptive young women can and will fall into patterns of politeness and appeasement when confronted with an aggressive, domineering man. It is Loomis’s own madness — we want to believe his brain was affected by the radiation, but his fever-fuelled flashbacks prove he was always a dick — that eventually drives Ann away from the home she has cared for so diligently (she’d idly considering marrying him, this Last Man Alive, when he first arrived; on her seventeenth birthday would be perfect, she thought), and as a parable for female empowerment this book works even better than as a warning of the devastating effects of science gone mad.

It is a book of terrible beauty, a knife’s edge read, where the peaceful serenity clashes so perfectly, so devastatingly, with the gut-wrenching fear that the cognitive dissonance is almost too much to bear.

Two characters and a dog. That is all this book gives us. But it does so much with them, tells such a big story so intimately, through the clear, matter-of-fact journal entries of the intrepid Ann, that it never falters, never fails to make its point. It is a force of nature.

I’ll be thinking about this book forever.


TBR DAY 79: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien  
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years. 
KEEP: Yes.