The Last Book in the Universe

For someone who writes a book review blog, what could be a more horrifying scenario than a novel about a post-apocalyptic world without books?  The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick came out of the author writing that down as a title and then developing first a short story, then later publishing as full novel.

In a future America after an event referred to as The Shake, a giant earthquake has changed the culture of generations.  The descendants of most of the original survivors live a hardscrabble existence divided into districts known as latches.  Each latch is controlled by a ruthless leader who employs fear and violence over the inhabitants.  A teen named Spaz lived in one of the slightly better latches and was raised by foster parents despite the fact that he is an epileptic.  However, when they had a child of their own, the father was worried that Spaz might somehow hurt Bean, his sister.  The reality is that Spaz loves Bean more than anyone in the world and would never cause her any harm, but his foster father was unconvinced and kicked him out of their home and he was banished from that entire latch.  Without any other options, Spaz goes to live in a latch ruled over by gang leader Billy Bizmo who lets him be part of the group as long as he steals valuable items for them.

What doesn’t make sense to me in this book is that Billy is able to steal or scavenge a lot of old tech devices and gadgets, but he never comes across a single book when there were once millions.  Yes, paper is a bit more delicate than metal, but given the amount of books that existing pre-Shake you would think some would survive, but I guess if that were this case this book wouldn’t exist.  Perhaps one reason there aren’t any books is maybe people burned them for fuel or used them for other things as they wouldn’t have seen value in books, people have other forms of entertainment in this world.  They still have something like dvds, though most people prefer probes.  Probes are needles you stick into your brain to have something like a virtual reality experience, but more direct and intense as it is interfacing directly with your brain.  Maybe it’s that intensity that makes the probes seem similar to a drug as the people of Spaz’s world seem to get addicted to them, or maybe it’s just people want to escape their hard and dreary lives.  Spaz doesn’t use probes because he can’t due to his epilepsy and it’s what makes him different than most people.  You see when the probes are overused they affect memory; people only store information in their short term memory, not their long term memory if they use the probes too much.

One day Spaz sets off for the Stacks, an old storage unit where the poorest of the poor live.  His mission is to steal from an old man named Ryter, which readers will discover is an apt name.  Ryter is so compliant about letting Spaz steal all his possessions that Spaz becomes suspicious and spots what the man in hiding, a sheath of papers.  It turns out the man is writing a book, which Spaz doesn’t see the point of as no one reads and there aren’t any libraries anymore so he wonders why anyone would be so dedicated to write a book, yet somehow it intrigues him and he ends up returning to talk to the man.  Around the time of this burgeoning friendship, Spaz is told by a Messenger who has crossed the latches (which is illegal and dangerous) that his foster sister is deathly ill and he is determined to risk everything to see her.

Spaz ends up being accompanied on this journey by Ryter who sees this as an opportunity to write one final big adventure to add to his book despite the danger.  Inevitably, they run into some very bad situations while on the trip, but one good event happens, they run into Lanaya, a proov.  Proovs are like the current 1% as they live a completely different life than anyone in the latches.  They live a life of luxury, get physical enhancement which are well beyond current plastic surgery and live in their own territory isolated from the 99%, though Lanaya is an exception among her community as she comes to the latches and hands out food packages similar to people who currently hand out food to the homeless.  The occurrence of the two worlds colliding will have significant repercussions for all the characters.

The Vault

The Vault by Emily McKay is not a series I wanted to end. I mean, until I started reading apocalyptic and dystopian fiction I had no interest in vampires. This book also have an autistic character as one of the main characters, and I have some conflicted conditions about that disorder after the measles epidemic this summer due to parents who did not want to vaccinate their kids because they mistakenly believe that vaccinations cause it when it does not, all it does it put other children at risk.

So why did I like this series and particularly last book so much when it already had many strikes against it? The characters were well-written and they just felt real. I think too many teen characters come across as immature or too love-struck and that wasn’t the case with Lily and Carter, nor was there the overused plot device of a love triangle. No, the biggest love was actually between Lily and her autistic sister and twin Mel.   Even with difficulties in communicating, the two have an amazing bond, and in this final book Mel became much more vivid as a character and strong person in her own right, not someone who everyone else has to be taking care of and I liked that.

Yes, this is definitely not Twilight for those who start drooling at the mention of vampires. No, in this book vampires are largely cruel and their twisted kin the ‘Ticks’ are truly frightening, as unlike their vampire brethren, their minds are gone and they are driven not by logic or emotions but instinct and need. A Tick is exactly what Lily will turn into if her boyfriend Carter and her sister Mel can’t find the antidote because you see Ticks are not supernatural creatures, they were created by a vampire who was actually trying to develop a cure for cancer and was helped by a human crew. You see, in this book it isn’t necessarily all vampires against humans, it’s vampires against vampires and humans against humans. After all, Lily and Mels father is one of those humans, the guards at the camps where teens are kept as a blood source for Ticks set teens against teens. Sabrina, a former human and Abductura goes after Sebastian, a vampire. There is plenty of tension in this book for people who enjoy both emotional and physical tension.

The story unfolds in alternating chapter by the main characters. That’s another thing I liked about this book, in most stories there is really one main character and a cast of supporting characters, or at most two main characters. I would argue that The Vault has not only four strong main characters, but some pretty strong supporting characters too that if this were a TV show would easily get their own spinoff series as each one brings a unique perspective to the overarching story.

 

California

In the case of California by Edan Lepucki the world goes out with a whimper not a bang.  Maybe in a way that’s the more likely scenario rather than a single catastrophe.  After all, isn’t that what we are seeing right now in our news?  We have a variety of problems, several are climate related, but those are tied with social unrest too, it’s all one giant Venn diagram of interconnected issues,which is what I think has paralyzed both individuals and politicians in making any progress to fix our problems.

The novel California only lightly touches on some of the events that lead to the situation that Cal and Frida find themselves in… a severe blizzard in the Midwest, the inequality of the 1%, lack of fuel and energy.  Frida’s world was normal until about the time she entered high school when the cracks in our society began to show.  Yet her younger brother Micah was able to attend college, well it was one of those experimental colleges, a bit like Evergreen College in Washington, a cross between intellectualism and back to the land hippie education, but for men only.  However, it was free and the concept of skills like agriculture and animal husbandry made it an attractive place for Cal, Micah’s roommate too.  The most complex relationship in the books to me is the one between the two roommates, not the relationship between Cal and Micah’s sister Frida which eventually becomes a marriage.   Micah is this Svengali-like figure at Plank, the school, though Cal has a silent strength of his own that will be needed w in the future.  Micah goes from pulling pranks to being radicalized by the mysterious Toni.  After the boys graduate they all return to LA where Micah and Frida are from, but Micah goes to live in the Encampment as he has joined The Group.  His roommate Cal has chosen another path, he is in love with Frida and they move into an apartment together, Cal tries to eke out a living growing vegetables while Frida works in a bakery until the supplies dwindle and the place closes.  Eventually Micah is involved in a shocking event.

All of the above is told in flashbacks as the story actually begins with Cal and Frida arriving on The Land.  After all, in LA normal life is starting to crumble and it’s not exactly safe in many places.  Cal thinks it would be best if they leave the city, though it’s never actually made clear where “The Land” actually is.  The pair find a shed to live in and are living a Walden Pond existence.  While it’s a primitive way of living, it’s peaceful and makes me question their later choice to leave what seems to me like a safe haven, one that even has good neighbors.  There is a family nearby who teach them additional life of the land skills.  Neighbors who warn them not to leave The Land for an area called The Forms.  Maybe they would have complied if Cal hadn’t found the bodies of Bo and Sandy and their children who appear to have poisoned themselves in a mass suicide a la Jonestown in Guyana.

I guess this is why I couldn’t stand the character of Frida in the book.  Cal has done everything to take care of her and keep her safe and she just comes off as clueless, willful and capricious.  It’s Frida who insists they hike out to the Forms to meet the people living there, a decision that unravels the past, present and future.     If you have ever wondered about people who choose to live off the grid, or choose to join a cult, or choose to live in a gated walled off community, well you will probably find this book interesting as it has elements similar to all three.  However, after a fair amount of building tension the ending left me empty, unless it wasn’t meant to be an ending, but just the first book in a sequel or series.  Normally, I would get online and look but I am still chewing on a bitter aftertaste of feeling a bit let down by the last few chapters.

Burn

Burn, the final book in Julianna Baggott’s trilogy ended with a bang not a whimper. This is the last book in what is easily one of the most disturbing YA apocalyptic series I have ever read.  When we think about disasters, I think we usually think about large numbers of people dying, disturbing, or the conditions survivors live under, also disturbing, but the image of people fused together in a blast and then living is just one you cannot forget.

El Capitan and Helmud have accompanied Pressia to the UK and things are a little awkward after his declaration of love to her.  Pressia is distracted by the action she took to save Bradwell, creating a wall between them, and the strange things she notices at Newgrange, babies who look alike and attacks on the settlement by an enemy too disturbing to reveal here.  During her visit, Pressia is given possession of something that will change the fate of the Dome dwellers and the Wretches and causes controversy within her own band of friends and family.

In the meantime, Pressia’s half brother Partridge, a Pure, is dealing with his own issues after the transfer of power to him after his father’s death.  Both he, and us readers, were perhaps a bit naïve to think that now that Willux is gone, everything will be rosy.  Partridge soon realizes that a life with the mother of his child may not be guaranteed and that the mantle of power does not rest easily on his shoulders.  Despite his loathing for the things his father did, he finds himself on a path that is too close for comfort to his father’s legacy.

The story is told in alternating narratives expressing the different points of view of the main characters which serves to illustrate how people can look at the same situation, but see it very differently.  This book also demonstrates how even when you have the best of intentions, you can make bad choices.

Most of the time I am not a fan of turning books into films, but in the case of this series I admit to being a little excited by the idea, as the special effects would probably be fantastic.

Fire & Ash

What do you when the last book in a beloved series is published?  Do you wait to get it to draw out that last read?  Do you start reading but only allow yourself one chapter per day to stretch out the experience as long as possible?  Or do you tear through it because you have to know what happened to the characters you have grown to love?

In the case of Fire & Ash, the final book in the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry, I took the last route.  That’s unlike me; usually in other aspects of my life I am pretty disciplined and am able to delay always going for instant gratification, well when it comes to material things I want.  However, I have to know what ultimately happens to Benny, Nix, Lilah and Chang. 

We have all heard that “children are the future.”  Well, I can tell you as a former teacher that was not a comforting thought.  I saw a lot of immaturity, a lot of self-absorption rather than empathy, and much weakness rather than strength of character, and this was years ago well before the age of ‘helicopter parenting.’   Benny Imura is the kind of young adult character that post-apocalypse you would hope is out there. 

The whole series is a beautifully written story about the transformation from youth to adulthood. It is rare for a YA author to capture the blend of change, its complexity, as well as the grief of leaving childhood and innocence behind so movingly and realistically. In the first book of the series, the hero appeared to be Benny’s older brother Tom, who despite being Japanese and known for his skill with a katana, was very much reminiscent of the type of hero in the book and movie Shane.  However, Benny manages to surpass even his brother in bravery, loyalty and ultimately selflessness and wisdom in this final story.  He is also not the only character who grows in this way.  Nix, Benny’s childhood friend and first love displays all the complexities of women in one character.  Their maturation is the real story here, so for anyone who has ever thought zombie books are not for them, I would challenge you to read just this series. 

Yes, of course this is a zombie book in the sense that Benny, Nix, Lilah, Chang and newest character Riot have made it to Sanctuary.  A refuge staffed by monks, scientists and military types such as Captain Joe Ledger, a real life GI Joe.  Sanctuary doesn’t quite live up to its name though as the scientists interrogate Benny and his friends from behind the compound’s walls, Benny’s best friend Chang has almost fully transitioned to a zombie and Dr. McCready’s important research is missing; research that could not only help Chang but possibly save the world.  Even scarier than the zombies themselves are the fanatic self-named Saint John and his followers, the savage reapers who have formed a religion that preaches all of the survivors are sinners, and must join them in their quest to kill all the remaining survivors or themselves die. Saint John has not forgotten about Benny and his friends and how that enmity plays out leads to the climax of the story.

When an author has written a truly epic tale, it’s an incredible task to write a fitting ending.  In many cases I have been disappointed in how a series has been completed.  However, I think Mr. Maberry has achieved that and my hat is off to him.

 

 

Trapped

I think it’s the Texan Effect, y’know everything’s bigger and better syndrome.  I got so used to reading about extremely dysfunctional dystopian societies and horrifically cataclysmic natural disasters in apocalyptic fiction, that I almost forgot that the event or trigger doesn’t have to be exotic to make for a good story.    It took reading Trapped by Michael Northrop to remind me that the flashy disasters aren’t what’s important to this genre, but how people react to events, in ways both expected and unexpected.

The premise in Trapped is very simple, a small group of high school students have stayed after school for a myriad of reasons and are trapped together by the snowstorm of the century.  Having left the Chicago area after high school for milder climes, this book brought to life again the very real hazards such storms can cause.  We forget in this time of technological sophistication that even something like a severe storm can bring havoc.

The narrator, Scotty, is a basketball player and all round B high school kid.  Trapped in the school with his two closest friends when they stay after school has been dismissed for the storm to work on a go kart project, he tells the story in a very believable way.  Scotty, Jason and Pete are not the only kids in the school, there’s Les the juvenile delinquent, Elijah, the strange and nerdy kid and Krista the popular pretty girl and her friend Julie.  The only adult, Mr. Gossell the teacher, quickly exits the story leaving the kids to quickly figure out that the storm is a record breaker and they are on their own.

It’s a little like Breakfast Club with its cliques forced together by circumstances, although in this case the circumstances are much more serious than detention.  As the power and heat fails, the water pipes freeze and sickness it’s the group, the teens must find a way to not only get along, but to support each other. 

While the action is less than in other books of this type, the slower pace was fine with me.  I enjoyed the narration which felt very natural and even chuckled at the raging hormones of the boys in spite of the less than ideal conditions.  The story was believable in every way and didn’t rely on slick plot devices or world building to achieve a sense of interest.  My biggest criticism is the ending, which just fell flat.  Again, I will take some responsibility that I have gotten used to this genre usually consisting of book series.  It would actually be fine if there wasn’t a sequel to this book, but then the ending should feel less unfinished.  I actually had to go to the author’s website to find out if there was meant to be a sequel.  While Michael Northrop implied that it hadn’t been written with the intention to have a sequel, he would not be adverse to writing one if the demand was there.  There seemed to be may comments by readers demanding a sequel for ‘answers’, but the way the story ended it wasn’t any mystery what happened to the teens, the only unknown for me was how their parents, classmates and townspeople had fared.  The only thing that could make a potential sequel interesting would be to use it to retell the story from the perspective of one of the other teens who could provide a totally different take on the relationships that form and maybe get the book to a real ending.

Icons

Icons by Margaret Stohl is a post-apocalyptic/sci fi book.   On an event called The Day, aliens took over the Earth by sending out some kind of electromagnetic pulse that instantly caused the hearts of men, women and children to stop beating in all the major cities on the planet.  Well everyone except a few special babies in the cities referred to as the Icon Children.

Dol and Ro have grown up at a Mission outside the dead city of Los Angeles raised by the Padre who has kept them hidden.  Dol has vivid dreams of The Day despite the fact that she was only a tiny baby when it happened.  She wears the burden of sorrow as she has the ability to sense the emotions of other people around her.  Ro, her companion since childhood, is the exact opposite.  Fiery of spirit and strong, he sneaks off to visit friends in the Rebellion, only softening when it comes to Dol.

The surviving humans on the planet live a life that is a throwback to the days before technology, as the Icons the aliens placed in the major cities prevents electricity from working and thus modern technology.  No one has actually seen the Lords, as the alien invaders are known, except perhaps the Ambassador who serves as the conduit between the aliens and the remaining humans on Earth.  The Ambassador operates the Embassy out of Catalina Island assisted by Sympas, sympathizers, who have sold out their fellow human beings through the work as a paramilitary force carrying out the orders of the Ambassador and dragging Remnants to work camps to work on the mysterious ‘Projects.’

On Dol’s birthday the Padre presents her with the gift of a book about her and the other Icon children, but before she can read it, chaos breaks out at her peaceful refuge and she is taken to the Embassy by Sympas soldiers.  The people she meets there, and what she discovers about herself, will have profound consequences on her relationship with Ro, and indeed on the planet itself.

I didn’t make the connection that this first book in what will be a series was written by the same author as Beautiful Creatures until I read the author bio at the end.  My feelings about this book are mixed.  I think the concept of aliens taking over the Earth was better imagined in The 5th Wave as the concept was much more straightforward and less woo woo than the mysticism spread throughout Icons.

Taken

I made a rookie mistake.  I started reading Taken by Erin Bowman before checking to see if the next book in the series was published yet.   The reason that’s a mistake is that I really enjoyed the book and now I have to wait until next spring to continue the adventure.

Gray Weathersby has spent his whole life behind the wall.  Like all young men he is aware that upon his eighteenth birthday the Heist will occur plucking him away from the only home and friends he has ever known.  What happens to those who are Heisted is unknown, as no one has ever returned.  Those who try to avoid the Heist by climbing over the wall, return as charred bodies, killed by something monstrous on the other side of the wall.

With his own father heisted years ago, his mother dead and his older brother on the verge of his eighteenth birthday, Gray is desperate for answers, well when he is not being distracted by Emma his childhood friend that he is in love with.  Well he doesn’t actually know that what he feels is love, because in his town Claysoot, love is usually something that only happens because parents and children, to form a romantic attachment to someone who will be Heisted, or someone you will leave behind when heisted, means that no one in the society marries.  They mate, or slate to several people, as a  way to ensure that the population won’t die out.

After his older brother Blaine is Heisted, Gray finds a note from his mother that leaves him even more determined to find out what’s behind the wall. 

This book combines a love triangle, a closed society, modern technology and science and has some elements right out of an M. Night Shyamalan film.

 

 

 

Monument 14: Sky On Fire

Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne is the sequel to Monument 14.  At the end of the first story, the kids had split into two groups with Dean and his brother Alex now separated.  Alex has left with a group trying to reach Denver International Airport where they have heard rumors of people being evacuated and where they want to try to get medical attention for one of the group who has been seriously injured. 

Dean has elected to stay at the superstore because he is the dangerous Type O blood, and because Astrid (who is pregnant) is staying as well as one of the kids who is Type O too and the twins. 

Each group encounters different dangers and setbacks while trying to survive, however the more interesting story is the group trying to get to the airport who are finally able to see the world beyond their Greenway store refuge.  Outside is both better and worse than they or I was expecting.  The group encounters various characters, some with good intentions and many without, though both types for their own reasons try to split the group up.  However, the relationships developed in the first book have only deepened and after splitting into the two groups already, the kids are determined that there won’t be any more divisions at least until some unexpected reunions occur that change things for the group. 

At the end of the book there seemed to be a hint that there could be a third book, although the way the second book was written, it could simply end there.  I tried looking on the author’s website to get more information on this, but couldn’t find anything.  Does anyone know anything?   I did found out that it sounds like the first book has been optioned for a film.

Best Places To Be If You Want To Avoid An Apocalypse

It seems that most apocalyptic novels I read are either about:

a) zombies created by some mutated virus

b) a natural or an environmental disaster of some kind

So it was with interest that I came across this list of the Ten Safest Places in the U.S. from Natural Disasters:  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-10-safest-u-s–cities-from-natural-disasters-183608693.html

Maybe apocalyptic readers can create a Top 20 List, since this only covers places safe from some natural disasters and not from other factors….food for thought.