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text 2017-09-03 18:26
"After The Apocalypse" by Maureen McHugh
After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh

After The Apocalypse" is a collection of nine short stories that look at events in different near-futures after a disaster of some kind.

 

As you'd expect with Maureen McHugh, the stories tell us as much about the world we live in as the possible future being described.

 

She has a flair for looking at the world through the eyes of the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the at risk and an impressive ability to build future worlds and believable characters using very few words. Almost every story describes a near-future that stimulates, surprises and convinces and populates it with characters that I recognize and care about.

 

If you're not familiar with Maureen McHugh's work, this is a good introduction. If you're already a fan then these stories are a treat not to be missed.

 

I've given short comments on each story below to give you a flavour of the collection. Some of them are available on line if you want to sample them but to get them all, you'll need to buy the book.

 

The Naturalist

This is dark, surprising and not at all your average zombie story. In this tale of a Zombie Preserve being used as a prison compound cum death-by-zombie execution sentence, the walking dead are not the thing you should be afraid of.  I enjoyed the way this story makes the Rational Observer, so beloved of many science fiction stories, into something quite chilling.

 

Special Economics

This near future story is set in a post-plague China, faced with a scarcity of workers for the first time. It describes a brand of Corporate Slavery that was once common in the US and is now rumoured to be used when the US outsources work to less regulated nations.  It appealed to me because it showed how ordinary people will find a way to overcome the economic obstacles in their way.

 

Useless Things

This is one of the simplest and most powerful stories in the book. It is permeated with a sense of threat, of the real possibility of imminent loss. It captures the quiet desperation of living a life on the edge of an unstoppable slide into poverty and homelessness; of wanting to help others but being afraid that they will do you harm; of having little control and less hope; of having enough to lose to cause worry but not enough wealth to buy security. It's the perfect tale for Trump's America.

 

The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large

This one didn't engage me. It felt like an essay on disassociative states and what they imply about identity. It was interesting but it didn't hook my emotions.

 

The Kingdom of the Blind

This is the most plausible story about the possible emergence of an AI "awareness" that I've read. It's mercifully free of anthropomorphization. There are also so nice points made about women in the coding world that made me think of the recent Google embarrassment.

 

Going to France

This is the shortest story and the most bizarre. I felt its pull but it was just a little too far out for me.

 

Honeymoon

I loved the first line of this:

 

"I was an aggravated bride."

 

It got me straight inside the head of the woman telling the story. She's a forceful working class woman, who's been working in McDonald's plus two other jobs that paid for her wedding. At first, it seems that she's leading a relatively unexplored life but as the story progresses and she faces some abnormal events, it becomes clear that she is making informed, even philosophical choices because that's the kind of person she is.

 

The Effect of Centrifugal Forces

This is told from multiple points of view. Unfortunately, the narrator didn't demonstrate this very well and I got confused from time to time. It's focused on people under pressure who can't hold themselves or their lives together.

 

After the Apocalypse

This is the strongest story in the collection. It showcases Maureen McHugh's ability to help us see the people in the situation and then help us to see the situation differently.

We've been saturated with post-apocalyptic worlds where we revert to something less than we used to be in order to survive. We've been fed tropes about tough survivalists and ruthless raiders and the crumbling remnants of an order that doesn't know it's already extinct. It's like we're practising for something that we expect to happen soon so that we'll know what to expect and what choices to make.

 

We've been saturated with post-apocalyptic worlds where we revert to something less than we used to be in order to survive. We've been fed tropes about tough survivalists and ruthless raiders and the crumbling remnants of an order that doesn't know it's already extinct. It's like we're practising for something that we expect to happen soon so that we'll know what to expect and what choices to make.

 

The achievement of this short story is that it humanises the tropes we've been taught. It shows us that, in other parts of the world, the apocalypse has already arrived and that the flood of refugees we are so used to seeing on the media could one day be us.

 

The story is told from the point of view of a woman on the road with her daughter, heading through an America without electricity or fuel or clean water or food or any of the things that Americans take for granted.

 

As they travel, the woman slowly comes to realise that everything she knew is gone. That even though she's an American, she's now just another refugee. Then she decides what to do about it.

 

Her situation, her reactions and her final choice seemed very real to me. After the apocalypse, we're still there, only the future we assumed we were entitled to is missing. Dealing with that realisation would tell each of us a great deal about who we have always been.

 

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review 2017-08-30 02:06
Wow, I can't believe it's over...
The Dark Tower - George Guidall,Stephen King

 

 

And...

 

did that really just happen???

 

This series has been part of my life for months and I can't believe it's over. Though there is another book from somewhere in the middle that I still need to read: Wind Through the Keyhole. I think it tells some of Roland's early adventures.

 

I loved the series and wished it would never end. Part of the ending really pleased me and the other part made me a bit angry. Of course, King knew that would be the case and warned me before the final bit of the story. But, I didn't listen - I had to see what was going to happen. 

 

I heard the movie is sort of a continuation of the series, and I guess I now understand how that could be (sort of). Of course, I haven't seen the movie yet and now it looks like I will have to wait for it to come out digitally, so...

 

I don't have much else to say except if you are a Stephen King fan or a fan of epic fantasies, you should give this series a try.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-20 03:51
Reading progress update: I've listened 1200 out of 1690 minutes.
The Dark Tower - George Guidall,Stephen King

 

I'm at the point where I can't wait to see how it ends, but I also never want it to end...

 

Then I hear this:

 

I'd have you see them very well... because now they are ka-tet for the last time. The story of their fellowship ends here on this make-believe street.

 

The rest of the tale will be short and brutal compared to all that's gone before...

 

I know what this means, and I dread it so much. I almost want to stop reading. I can't bear losing any of my gunslinger friends....

 

There will be tears, I'm certain.

(spoiler show)

 

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review 2017-08-18 17:35
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Seveneves - Neal Stephenson

"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

Seveneves is an entertaining, complex and thought provoking hard-science fiction book that takes a look at humanity, the good and the bad, during an apocalyptic event.

 

The book is split into three sections.  The first sections deals with humanities' preparation for the cataclysm that will result from the split moon.  The second section focuses on the people in space immediately after the cataclysm, who have the task of keeping the human species alive or the duration of the catastrophe.  The third part of the book takes a look at what happens when the Earth is made habitable again five thousand years after the cataclysm.

The author has a fondness for lengthy explanations and descriptions of new environments, but is short of character development.  There is a great deal of focus on hard science in this novel - everything from orbital mechanics, robotics and the physics of keeping a space station in space to genetic engineering and psychology.  However, this story is still enthralling, the world building is fascinating and the character cast entertaining and their interactions complex.  I enjoyed this book immensely, but wish there was more to the second and third sections.  There are some poignant moments, some funny moments, feats of heroics, and then there are the moments where you wish you could toss a particular character out the airlock!  

NOTE:  Seveneves is a palindrome.

 

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review 2017-08-14 16:36
One Trick Pony - Nathan HaleĀ 
One Trick Pony - Nathan Hale

I enjoyed this enormously: I liked the juxtaposition of multiple different cultures and societies. The premise was intriguing, the kids are resourceful, the parents believable, the robots were funny. Good set up and good payoff. I would thing this would be insanely popular since it's like to appeal to fans of fantasy and science fiction, to horse people and 

Western people, everyone really, except aliens.

 

My only problem with the book is a technical detail: I had tremendous trouble reading the speech sometimes. Yes, I'm old and the eyes go and dim lighting isn't sufficient anymore et cetera, et cetera, but none of that troubles me when reading anything else. I'm not confident I know what the difficulty was: whether the book pages were too small (for me), or the font size too small (for me), or the contrast not sharp enough (for me). I can't say with any certainty. But it made for an uncomfortable experience. I'm a motivated reader, so I stuck with it, but I can imagine that not everyone would. YMMV

 

Library copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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