Station Eleven: A quiet and lovely post-apocalyptic novel

Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel

“Quiet” and “lovely” are not usually words one reaches for when describing a post-apocalyptic novel. Not with the reverted-back-to-savagery cannibals; the road-raging-mohawk-sporting highway warriors; the gleeful told-you-so rat-a-tat of survivalist gunfire, or the annoying mumblespeak “braiiinnnnss” from the shambling zombies. But quiet and lovely are exactly the words I’d use to describe Station Eleven, the post-apocalyptic novel from Emily St. John Mandel that is happily missing all the above and shows the modern world ending with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a gentle murmur.

Mandel’s chosen method of ending the world is the Georgia Flu, an incredibly virulent bug that wipes out 95+ percent of its victims within a span of 48 hours. In true form for the eventual tone and shape of the novel, though, Mandel opens not with a ma... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Sixth Annual Speculative Fiction Haiku Contest

Time for our sixth annual SPECULATIVE FICTION HAIKU CONTEST!  Anyone can do this!

As a reminder, here are the rules:

For haiku, the typical subject matter is nature, but if you decide to be traditional, you must give it a fantasy, science fiction, or horror twist. We expect to be told that the peaceful wind you describe is blowing across a landscape of an unfamiliar, distant planet. And if your poem is about a flower, we hope that elegant little touch of beauty is about to be trampled by an Orc. We welcome the sublime as well as the humorous, the pedestrian along with the momentous.

Though you may use the traditional three-line haiku following a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, feel free to break that pattern. Many poets who write English haiku adhere to other expectations:

Written in three lines, though sometimes in two or fo... Read More

A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World: Took a while but won me over

A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World by C.A. Fletcher

A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World (2019), by C.A. Fletcher (aka Charlie Fletcher) bears no small resemblance to Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, which, it turns out, is not a bad thing. Both are quiet, elegiac stories set in a post-apocalyptic world and focused on a main character who sets out with his faithful dog on a journey that becomes less about finding what is sought and more about learning about oneself. Both had me unsure at the start if I’d finish, and both won me over, though Fletcher somewhat less fully than Heller. If you’re looking for a typical post-apocalyptic story with c... Read More

Good Morning, Midnight: Your book club might enjoy this

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s general fiction novel, Good Morning, Midnight (2017), is literary in nature but uses speculative elements to contemplate isolation, hope, despair and human connection. The book has beautiful prose, especially in some of the descriptions of the arctic, and interesting insights into human nature, but it was not a completely satisfying book for me. In a few places, the hand of the author can be seen forcing events in order to make the story work, and some of these tropes, particularly the literary ones, felt too familiar. Still, it’s worth checking out for the writing alone.

Good Morning, Midnight follows two characters who are about as far apart spacially as one can imagine. Augustine is an astronomer who has remained behind at an arctic observatory site after it has been evacuated. To his surpri... Read More

Sunday Status Update: April 15, 2018

We've had an interesting week of reading!

Jana: This week I was a bit more of a tortoise than a hare, and ended up getting a bunch more of my outstanding reviews knocked out (hooray!) as well as a few of my TBR books actually read, which was a great feeling. I read Emma Newman's Before Mars (and loved it),  Read More

Bannerless: A thoughtful detective story in a post-apocalyptic world

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

In Bannerless (2017), Carrie Vaughn ― perhaps best known for her KITTY NORVILLE urban fantasy series inhabited by werewolves and vampires ― has created a reflective, deliberately paced post-apocalyptic tale with some detective fiction mixed in. It's about a hundred years in our world’s future and after an event simply called the Fall, when civilization collapsed worldwide. The cities are now ruins, abandoned by all but the most desperate people. Climate change has resulted in, among other things, deadly typhoons that periodically hit the California coast, the setting for our story. What's left of humanity is living a far simpler lifestyle than most of their twentieth century ancestors.

Along the Coast Road, a largely agrarian society has developed in which people ... Read More

The Fireman: Baby King delivers his own incendiary apocalypse

The Fireman by Joe Hill

First of all, Joe Hill‘s The Fireman is no horror story. It's apocalypse-lit through and through but without the hackneyed zombies and vampires. Second of all, The Fireman is thoroughly infected with the 'King' family genetics. If there were any doubt about a connection between Joe and his old man, Stephen King, put those doubts aside. Actually, put them in the way-back storage room in the furthest, darkest corner of your basement.

Fires run rampant across the world. It started in the far north of the Arctic Circle, but only hit the public American radar when Seattle’s Space Needle toppled over in flames, bodies falling in a replay of 9-11. This was not a terrorism-fueled horror... Read More

Sunday Status Update: April 3, 2016

Character update on break this week, but we kept reading!

Jana: This week I read (and really enjoyed) Philip Reeve's latest YA science fiction novel, Railhead: it's full of fun Easter eggs and features sentient trains! Review to come shortly. I re-read "The Cage," by A.M. Dellamonica, which I'll review soon, and I started Daughters of Ruin, by K.D. Castner, a YA fantasy novel which follows four princesses who have been raised together though their home nations are at war. It'll be interesting to see what Castner does with the characters and their internal/external conflicts, especially since "YA princesses" is undeniably over-used as a tr... Read More

Oryx and Crake: A scathing condemnation of the world we are creating

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood details an apocalyptic plague, introduces a new species of creatures that have been genetically designed to replace humanity, and the villain is a mad scientist in love. What could be more “SFF” than Oryx and Crake?

Quite a lot, according to Margaret Atwood, who prefers to describe her novel as “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction.” In interviews promoting Oryx and Crake, Atwood explained that everything that takes place in Oryx and Crake is based on trends that we can see today, as opposed to distant planets that have an allegorical connection to our lives. Atwood is “speculating” about where our society is headed. It’s a distinction that some readers may choose to reject, but it’s an approach that ... Read More

The Gracekeepers: Sea and circuses

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

In Kirsty Logan’s watery debut, the world as we know it still exists, only it is entirely underwater. Eerie and poetic, The Gracekeepers has been dubbed a dystopia, but it actually reads much more like a regular fantasy. Small scraps of land are all that remain of earth’s continents after rising water levels, leaving humanity in two groups: “clams,” the lucky few who cling to the land and “damplings,” those that must live out on the sea. The two groups have an uneasy relationship: half-mistrustful, half-fascinated by one another.

Our story opens with North, a dampling who is part of the Excalibur, a floating circus that performs across the islands and archipelagos for the clams who live on land. There are sinister clowns, horse riders, acrobats and a ringmaster that seems to have more glitter in his veins than blood. North’s is one of the sta... Read More

Sunday Status Update: December 13, 2015

This week, Leia. Because Star Wars has engulfed popular culture for a week or two, and there's just no fighting the tides.

Princess Leia: So, finally got the story out of Luke once Lando and I got him back on the Falcon. Apparently he decided to get into a lightsaber battle with Darth Vader, the man who deflects blaster bolts with his open hand. How he thought this was feasible is largely beyond me. He keeps going on about how he's had all this training from some little swamp gnome or something, but come on. It's been a few days, tops. I didn't even change out of my Hoth clothes until yesterday. That is the crashiest of crash courses. Hell, if that's all it takes to become a Jedi, I'll do it. Sign me up with Master No-Duh. We'll do a correspondence course or something.

Bill: This week I reread The Sparrow Read More

A Lovely Way to Burn: Lukewarm post-apocalyptic lit

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

Post-apocalyptic literature is having a bit of a moment. This is probably because you can’t call anything dystopia anymore without someone rolling their eyes, but still. Louise Welsh’s contribution to the genre is A Lovely Way to Burn, in which a flu pandemic (kind of grossly nicknamed “the sweats”) is wreaking havoc on the human race. Welsh’s tale is set in contemporary London and it’s all her heroine, Stevie Flint, can do to try and survive the descent into chaos.

The novel opens (in truly British fashion) with the Tory MP for Hove sunning himself in a deckchair in the back garden of his residence on the river Thames. He then proceeds to load up his gun and open fire on the tourists, ploughing down six holidaymakers. The scene then cuts to a hedge-fund manager for a bank, who opens fire in a crowded tube carriage on the Undergrou... Read More

The Drowned World: Diving into the pellucid depths of our racial memories

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World (1962) is J.G. Ballard’s best apocalyptic work, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966), but if you are thinking of an action-packed adventure where a plucky group of survivors clings to decency amid the collapse of civilization, this is the wrong book. Ballard was interested in ‘inner space,’ and while he sometimes adopted SF tropes in his books and short stories, his works most often featured natural disasters, the collapse of civilization, lonely astronauts, grim future urban landscapes, and weird obsessions with technology and mechanization. His main intent was to explore the psychology of human beings trapped in modern urban societies (and what happens when these societies collapse), and most of his protagonists are fatalistic, detached, and not particularl... Read More

Sunday Status Update: September 20, 2015

This week, Supergirl again.

Supergirl: So, back in the saddle again this week after my latest exile to the Fortress (when some of us have to sneeze, we just have to sneeze, Kal, and inconveniently placed sailboats be damned). Not a bad week to ease back into the swing of things -- I stopped a robbery, I delivered some medicine, and Green Lantern (who I think felt sorry for me for whatever reason) put me in touch with an urban renewal group who wanted a building demolished. Most fun I've had all year. Then Saturday came along, and I had nothing else to do so I just flew on over to Gotham and kind of stopped the crime. Like, you know, all of it. Seriously, the heaviest hitter they have is some mexican wrestler-guy who can lift a car. I could probably lift a football stadium, so... you know. Anyway, turns out that was a big no-no, because all four gajillion Batgirls and Robins have been messaging me a... Read More

WWWednesday: July 29, 2015

Transdimensional Emmisary (c) Andy Kehoe

On this day in 1954, George Allen and Unwin, London publishers, published The Fellowship of the Ring, Volume One of The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien.

Movies and Television:

Syfy announces plans to serialize Dan Simmons's work Hyperion. (The Shrike! The Shrike!) The plans so far only include the first of the four books, but since that one ends on a cliffhanger,  it seems likely they will want to continue production if the audience response is good. Simmons's ... Read More