Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth

It's been a few days, but that's what happens when you go out of town. I've picked up a few new PA books lately, but I need to ruminate on them a little more before I can effectively evaluate them. For now, I want to focus on one of my favorite Post-Zombie-Apocalypse books.

Most zombie stories focus on the events of the apocalypse itself (usually these days attributable to some sort of plague) or the events immediately after it (ie The Walking Dead). Very few actually deal with a world where zombies are taken for granted (or granite, if you like), as is the case with Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Set seven generations after a zombie plague hit the earth, the narrator lives in a tiny enclave of humanity within a forest of the dead (as well as a literal forest). Everyone in the village believes that their small community is the last bastion of humanity on earth--that they are literally all that is left of the world. The undead are a part of their lives, albeit a dangerous part.

This novel focuses on Mary, who longs to see the ocean--something she's only heard of and which others in her village no longer believe in. As their world has shrunken to include only what is inside the fences that protect their village, many people have come to believe that their never was another world--that the world has always been like it is, with the dead pressing against the fences longing for a taste of their flesh. Mary's life is bound, not only by the physical fence of the village, but by the archaic traditions, laid down by a religious group called the Sisterhood, and that people unquestioningly follow. When Mary's life takes an unseen detour, she discovers secrets long buried and paths both hidden and forgotten.

As a stand-alone novel, this book is wonderful. Mary pushes the envelope, refuses to accept the life that has been pre-written for her; she both literally and figuratively forges a new path, while losing and gaining a lot along the way. Whereas a lot of young adult fiction (and make no mistake, this is young adult fiction) has a main character who is too perfect, whose defects really aren't flaws at all (SEE Mary Sue), the main character in this book is flawed, and she does things that as readers we find a bit morally questionable. And in the end, she is incredibly selfish, but we like her for it; we appreciate it for its honesty. Of course, there are places where she is obnoxious as any teenager is obnoxious, but as an adult I'm not sure if it would be read as irritating by other teens.

There are so many elements in this book--the Sisterhood, the community, the fast ones, Gabrielle, relationships both romantic, friendly, and familial--but the the author manages to pull them together quite well without leaving anything out. There is, of course, a bit of ridiculousness somewhere around the middle of the book; when the characters find themselves stuck in a pair of adjacent houses, the energy to the story leaks like the air out of a tire--it completely fizzles. The forward motion that had been building in the book just dies and becomes stagnant. Eventually it builds again, but I can't help but think the book would have been better if that series of scenes had been shorter or arranged differently.

All in all, this is a good book for the PA fan who wants to zombify his or her life without all the typical zombie tropes. They provide a very real menace, but a very different menace from your typical zombie novel. This book is also the first in a series of companion novels that are loosely tied together; the second book is The Dead-Tossed Waves. Which I'll review another day. The third in the series is The Dark and Hollow Places, which arrives in hardback on March 22!
looks a bit like Summer Glau, no?  BTW, the movie rights have been optioned, but as of yet, nothing serious in the works.

Monday, March 7, 2011

might as well be the last whale on earth

This is so sad and disturbing. Imagine being stuck on a planet where you could see people around you, but it's like you don't exist. No one can hear you calling out. Poor Alice. Or Dan. Or whatever.

The Story of the Lonely Whale

It reminds me of that episode of Twilight Zone.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

halloween plans, anyone?

Since there are now two small children in my life, we don't get to do a lot of "scary" Halloween stuff. Plus, I'm not the biggest fan of people jumping out at me, and I don't want to be chased around by a guy with a chainsaw. There's an interesting place in birmingham (Sloss Furnace), but with no family around to babysit and $20 per person plus gas and babysitter? That's about a $100 night, which just sucks the fun right out of it.

But this year. THIS year I'm hoping to go here:

According to their website:

"A group is lead through the apocalypse by Sergeant McKinsey. Known as Mack he is a post military zombie fighter dedicated to try to help the human race survive the zombie invasion.  Mack will lead our group through this wasteland of destruction and gore keeping the zombies at bay with his M16 plus the help from friends they find along the way.  Will they make it through the chaos and constant zombie attacks from all sides?  If they move quickly and stick close to Mack they stand a chance, but most likely not everyone will get out alive. With plenty of gunfire, car crashes, gore, and of course many zombie attacks inside and out, this is what the end of the world would look like."

90,000 sqaure feet!


Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Owned a City

Probably the first post-apocalyptic novel that I ever read was in 7th grade English--Mrs. Crowley or Crawley, something like that. I detested the teacher--she made us diagram sentences, but we'd never been taught the parts of speech (how I got to the 7th grade without learning the parts of speech is another problem). But one thing was good about that 7th grade English class--the required reading was O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City.

The short story: A deadly virus kills everyone on earth over the age of 12, leaving the children behind to fend for themselves. Gangs form, battle lines are drawn, etcetera. One girl named Lisa forms a group of her own, and in order to defend themselves against other gangs, she decides to build a fortress to protect them from everyone else.

The story itself is one of several sub-sub-genres of the Pandemic subgenre: the adults-are-all-dead plague. Typically, stories with this particular plot tend to be Young Adult fiction, just as this book is, because isn't it a great fantasy of all kids that there are no more adults in the world to tell them what to do? And since adults write books, isn't it the job of adult writers to show children how terrible it would be and destroy the collective fantasies of children everywhere?

I LOVED this book as a kid; as an adult I find it dated and a little flat. The dialogue isn't that great and the characterization is, well, about what you would expect from someone who really only wrote one book (and it was written to generate capital to pay his workers at his house painting company, wtf). On top of all of that, Nelson isn't shy about pushing Objectivism onto kids. In fact, that was the whole point he wrote the book--to help explain Ayn Rand's Objectivism to the youngsters. I'm not really sure that was the message I came away with all those years ago. I got more of a "thank-God-my-parents-aren't-dead" vibe.

However, for kids between 10-14, this book would be an awesome beginning to the genre.

I would give it 4 out of 5 stars for nostalgia's sake, but probably only 2.5 out of 5 without it. The short moral to the book? Kids are psychopaths without adults around to control them. Be happy you aren't living in a world where they run the show. Remember Lord of the Flies?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Definitive Post

The world of end-of-the-world-or-maybe-just-civilization is vast and all-encompassing (that was my freshman composition introductory sentence. You're welcome). There's apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, near-apocalyptic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic dystopian, zombie apocalypse, post-zombie apocalypse, and there's probably more I'm not thinking of. So in the interest of clarity, I'm going to define them, or at least give you my particular definition of them.

In terms of this blog, apocalyptic fiction deals with the apocalyptic event itself, and ends either with the aftermath (usually scenes of cleaning up and putting everything back together) or with the successful prevention of said-apocalyptic event. Most disaster movies go under this heading. Less concerned with the consequences themselves, they focus on the apocalyptic scenario. Case in point: 2012. Near-apocalyptic is related; in this sub-genre, the event is prevented from happening (think: Armageddon). I consider zombie apocalypse a sub-genre as well, since in these stories the zombie outbreak begins within the book and then must be dealt with by the main characters, like in Cell by Stephen King, for example.

Post-apocalyptic differs from apocalyptic because, in most cases, the apocalyptic event occurs before the beginning of the story, or at the beginning. The majority of the story concerns the events that happen after the apocalypse. Sub-genres of this would be post-apocalyptic dystopian (where the apocalyptic event most commonly occurs many years before the events of the story) and post-zombie apocalypse (where a zombie apocalypse occurred beforehand: think Zombieland).

Dystopian does not necessarily require an apocalyptic event, but it can in some cases (as in The Handmaid's Tale); dystopian stories feature societies that have become repressive and controlling, usually by means of a totalitarian or authoritarian government, which may or may not be religious in nature. Classic example: V for Vendetta.

As far as apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic (and most of its sub-genres) are concerned, there are several different flavors that it can come in: nuclear war, pandemic, failure of modern technology, extraterrestrial threats, the "cosy catastrophe"/natural disaster, and post-peak oil.

As you can see, the genre is pretty large. There are probably even sub-genres in zombie fiction, but I don't know them. There's no end to the end of the world!

The End Times (or, The Beginning)

I suppose I've been both terrified by and fascinated with the idea of an apocalypse for as long as I can remember. I grew up in your typical Southern Baptist church, and there was always talk of The Rapture or the Second Coming or The Return (but I'm still not exactly sure if they all mean the same thing). One thing was always clear though: it was a terrible thing, but it warranted a lot of sermons. Oh, and one other thing: it wouldn't come until there was peace in the Middle East. No one knew the day or the hour, but they were pretty sure about this part. So as long as Israel and Palestine were going at it, I felt pretty safe. Sucks for Israel and Palestine! (To this day, I still get a twinge every time someone mentions Middle East Peace Talks, but by now, I know that it truly would take a divine intervention to get that ball rolling.)

I mean, Southern Baptist culture is steeped in the idea of the End Times, a time when all the good, Good-Book-Abiding Southern Baptists would be rewarded for their long suffering (I'm still not sure if the other brands of Protestants are going to make it) and all the evil-doers and unrepentant liberals would be punished, a divine I-told-you-so. I remember standing in my grandmother's home looking out the window at a storm punishing the landscape outside; she patted my hand and told me that "with all this weird weather, I think the end times are near, sweetheart." I was about eleven or twelve.

Then there was the time that my youth group went to Christian alternative to the Halloween haunted house--Stockbridge, Georgia's Tribulation Trail ( NINETY MINUTES of post-rapture hell on earth. An hour and a half of in your face, walk-through the end times. Half of our group was crying from fear by the end. At one point they even tell you that you can be safe if you just take the mark of Satan. Those tricksters.

By the time I'm old enough to actually see how screwed up the world actually is, I have all this end-of-the-world baggage. Of course, then I get to college and find out that not all denominations take Revelation as seriously as the Baptists. In fact, according to wikipedia, there are at least eight religious interpretations. When you add in the non-religious ones, well, you get my point.

A few years ago I decided to stop wandering in the literary desert, roaming mindlessly from book to book, never thinking about what I was choosing or why. So I started to put more thought into picking out what I was going to read (I mean, before, I just read whatever I found laying around my mom's house). It was through this approach that I discovered the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Since then, I've explored the nooks and crannies and have dedicated myself to watching, reading, or listening to anything I can find.

That brings us to now. I decided to start this blog to cover all things apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. And since the edges of this genre touch others, expect to see things related to dystopias, zombies, survivalist fiction, and non-apocalyptic disaster stuff. Or anything else I want, since it is my blog after all.

Welcome to the End of the World!