Apocalyptic Reads: Part One

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Here lately I’ve been reading a lot of books with an apocalyptic slant. It’s not entirely mysterious why this would happen, as I really gravitate toward the sub-genre. It’s gotten me thinking about my favorites, which is going to be a long conversation, so let’s start with five for this article and go from there.

Before I begin, let me direct you to this helpful link: Apocalypse How. This TVTropes page will give you an idea of the different ways the world ends in fiction, based on severity. It’s very thorough, and it’s a good place to start in seeing what’s out there.

thestandThe Stand by Stephen King. It feels very right to start here, because so many novels and series have taken a page out of this book. The apocalypse in question is one caused by disease. A super flu is accidentally released, and it kills most of the population. A handful of people are naturally immune, and the survivors go on into a much different story amid the wasteland. It becomes a high fantasy of sorts with an epic adventure, going way outside of the science it starts with.

It’s considered a classic in the genre that if you want to get into this type of fiction, you should start here. I know when you see the size of the book, that will feel incredibly daunting, but it’s worth the time. The characters are all fully-realized people. There’s so much about this story and how it’s presented that’s incredibly memorable. You’ll find yourself deeply invested and feeling wrung out with emotion by the time the book is done. It’s the cream of the crop, for sure. And as I said, so many works jump off of this, some of which I’ll be addressing here.

Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Here we have The Stand but nuclear. For a while now, we’ve been living in a world where anything could go wrong at any moment, and the bombs would be over our heads. This book explores what would happen if that indeed were the case. For the time it was written, it’s very accurate about radiation poisoning and nuclear winter, the effect fallout would have on both people and the land they inhabit. Like King, he throws in some magic to make things extra interesting, and all his characters are deeply-written and feel real.

It’s actually not fair to call this The Stand over again, because he does a lot differently. It really is an entirely different book, but I do wonder if it would exist if not for its predecessor. Not to diss my man King, but the pacing in this book is a lot better. This would also be a fantastic place to start for newcomers, but it is another brick. A rewarding brick with a lot in it to love, but a brick nonetheless.

mistertouchMister Touch by Malcolm Bosse. Now I feel it’s time to talk about a book that again probably owes its existence to The Stand but is far less well-known. Mister Touch follows a group of people holed up in the city who are attempting to survive after a disease has ravaged the nation. The interesting thing here is no one is immune. Everyone catches the disease, but it varies in severity. It affects eyesight and the ability to breathe on varying levels. They’ve developed a system where those who see well or breathe well help those who don’t, and it’s a very interesting, tidy way of handling a difficult situation.

That’s where this book is about community, and how the only way mankind survives is on each others kindness. It’s expressed a lot throughout this book, and it’s never Maudlin or heavy-handed. There’s also a lot in here about identity, since everyone in this tribe has chosen to forsake their names before the disaster and all go by nicknames chosen for them. A coping mechanism in a world gone mad. I wish more people would read this, because it really is wonderful and sadly forgotten with a lot to say about humanity.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is a good one to follow Mister Touch, because this book is less about the how and why of the apocalypse and entirely about two people trying to get through it. A man and his son. Something has happened, and the prevailing theory among fans seems to be that an asteroid hit the earth or a super volcano erupted. In any case, it’s never clearly stated what happened. All we know is there’s the man and the boy, and they have to find food and keep surviving in a world where the sun is gone and nothing grows. The world has gone so long like this, even prepackaged food is scarce and cannibals roam the countryside, making for a harrowing journey.

If you’re a fan of things like The Walking Dead, where the point is not the zombies so much as people, this will be right up your alley. Though it’s bleak. I mean, the entirety of the genre tends to be bleak with spots of hope, but nothing is bleak like McCarthy is bleak. Trust me on that. It’s short and written with sparse language as stark as the landscape he’s writing about, and it’s very effective. It’s not so much a story as a reading experience.

sweettoothSweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. This is a totally different medium being a graphic novel series, but for that reason it helps shake this list up a little. Once again, we have a disease that kills the population. In the midst of this disease are the births of human/animal hybrid children who appear to be immune. So we have a few human survivors who will eventually die from this disease trying to use these kids in the search for a cure. With all the dubious morals that go along with that when people get desperate.

This series is incredible, both visually and in the story it tells. It’s six volumes long, so it’s easy to collect and not expensive, since I know that’s where some people balk at starting in on a comic series. There’s a great emotional core to the story, and the ending, which I will not spoil, is very epic.

Expect I will be back another time with more recommendations for you. In the meantime, if you liked this and would like to support my blog, check out my Redbubble Shop. Also, if there’s any other genre you’d like to hear me talk about, let me know in the comments. I’m not schooled on everything under the sun, but it’d give me an idea of what some of you would like to see from me. As always, happy geeking!

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Unreliable Narrators

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I recently finished The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan, and the narrator herself invokes the idea of unreliability. She postulates that no first-person narrative is reliable, because no one has total recall. We all miss things and turn them slightly toward our own perspective. It’s an interesting idea, so let’s discuss it.

It’s easy to think of some more famous examples of a truly untrustworthy narrator when broaching this subject. Such as American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, which I have invoked before. Here we have a 1980s businessman who sees himself as a serial murderer, but evidence of his crimes seems to randomly disappear and trying to get caught is nearly impossible. So what’s really happening to Patrick? The theories are endless, but the point I’m making here is the author clearly wants us to wonder. We’re not meant to take anything at face value, and as you read, you’ll find that increasingly difficult if that’s what you want. It’s a good storytelling trick that works incredibly well here.

But insisting that there is no such thing as a first-person narrator that can be trusted quickly becomes like that douche you know. The subject of someone’s declining health comes up, and they intone importantly, “well, we’re all dying.” Yes, technically, but some of us are dying. The same goes for something like this. Okay, no narrator is reliable, but some must be considered more so than others for the story to retain its integrity.

Consider Dracula by Bram Stoker. Like The Red Tree, it’s an epistolary novel, composed of journal entries and other found media. Where the narrator of The Red Tree, Sarah, speaks freely about her inability to remember details and put everything down perfectly, Dracula acts as if it is a completely sound account. Some interesting things happen when you consider these characters’s POVs to be skewed. Something bad is happening around them, something they want a scapegoat for. They turn to the new man in town, who happened to arrive when all this began. They whisper about creatures in the night to one another, whipping themselves up into hysteria until they’re pursuing him across countries with a stake in hand. Maybe the story is really about an innocent man and xenophobia. No one is stopping you from having that theory in your pocket, but unlike American Psycho, it’s clear enough that’s not what Stoker intends. He wants it to be a vampire. He wants you to fear Dracula, not the people exacting justice on him. Believing they are a mob of xenophobes is interesting and a good discussion piece, but it also erases the story entirely.

I understand that might help some readers though. Suspending disbelief for a perfect account, dialogue and all, of events someone witnessed isn’t possible for some people. If you can consider every narrative as told by one person’s account of it flawed, it’s easier to swallow. That’s fine, but it’s also a very post-modernist view. For works that don’t exist in that type of fiction, you have to consider that the author wasn’t thinking of that flaw. They intended for the account given to be “accurate” to that character’s knowledge. The reason we have unreliable narrators is because authors questioned someone’s ability to recall an event so well and started writing characters who couldn’t possibly be that truthful, so questioning it does have merit. But consider this: it’s true that we do each have our own point-of-view that we bend to suit us, so how do our theories regarding someone else’s POV show how we’re equally susceptible?

Deep, I know. What I mean is that even our fan theories about what someone was really going through, what was really happening, further warp the narrative. We’re part of that cycle when we attempt to make sense of it, explain it, and mold it to suit us. But how reliable are we?

If this article gave you something to think about, and I hope it did, consider supporting this blog. Check out my Redbubble Shop and see if there’s anything you like or want to share. As always, happy geeking!

Discussion: Overhyped Media

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What do you do when the hype kills something for you? Do you try to go along with the crowd? Do you go so far to the opposite end that you become a staunch crusader against that thing? What kind of kneejerk reactions does it stir in you when you finally watch that movie or read that book that everyone’s been raving about and you don’t have that connection with it?

I can honestly say that the times when something felt equal to the overabundant praise it was getting have been few and far between for me. Some things that became blockbusters or bestsellers gave me the same reaction as it did many others, but I’m always shocked when it happens. Because more often than not, I feel like the one person who wasn’t impressed.

There is a recent example of this for me that inspired this editorial. I finished The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey yesterday and was completely underwhelmed. I think the hype surrounding this book is a particular kind of hype that gets under my skin: “it’s so original! There’s nothing else like it!” No, it isn’t. Sure, there is. Has anyone taken these exact elements and mashed them together? Not exactly like this, but as someone who reads and watches a lot of horror and science fiction, I didn’t see much that was completely new here. Some of it was clever, but most of it was obvious. Surely not worthy of calling it one of the most original ideas of our time.

In cases like this, I have to ask myself an important question that would put this into perspective. Is that the only reason it irked me? If I had read this without the hype, would my opinion be different? The answer is that maybe I wouldn’t have felt so harsh, but it did still have other problems that brought the experience down for me, things I don’t want to spoil for you. It would’ve been average instead of something that left me sour.

That’s where the community experience of absorbing media can be a bane. It’s not just the negative people who pan everything that can get under your skin. It’s also the people who push and insist and make hyperbolic statements. The way we all, as fans, can get in a crowd and insist this is the best thing. I’ve seen it happen outside of my own groups, as well.

I love Star Wars, and I never fail to encounter someone who doesn’t get what the big deal is. So am I contributing to that feeling, that if you don’t like it enough you don’t like it at all? I think if we’re interacting as part of a fanbase, we inevitably are. I’m certainly not trying to tell anyone to stop being a fan of anything, but I wonder if we should analyze how we present to outsiders. How welcoming or alienating do we seem? The word fan does find its origins in “fanatic”, and is that automatically going to put newcomers off?

I know that when I read reviews, I find over-the-top statements to be totally unhelpful. I understand the impulse. I get excited when I love something, too. At some point, I bought into the hype surrounding The Girl With All The Gifts. I got a copy because, even though I should know better, I assumed enough people liking it would mean something. In looking back, I realize that no one actually talked about why this book was good. It was all this intensity and fire about it being the best. Just the best thing. Better than chocolate and unicorns! And now I sit here chagrined trying to analyze why I fell for that and why it cheeses me off.

The best advice that I can give, that I intend to follow myself, is read thoughtful reviews. Fangirling and getting excited shouldn’t be eliminated, but don’t use that as your personal barometer for the entertainment you choose. Look for the people putting their thoughts into a tangible form with weight, not fluff. Avoid that hype cloud at all costs.

New Design: The Sparrows Are Flying Again

Check out my latest design!

Robot Owl Designs

dhshirt_adThe Sparrows Are Flying Again @ Redbubble

A design inspired by The Dark Half by Stephen King, one of my favorite novels by him. It’s featured on several products and clothing styles.

And now would actually be the perfect time to purchase this or any of my other designs, since the site is offering 20% off sitewide for the next two days. Use the code GOUSA20. Enjoy!

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Quill’s Reading Wrap-Up (April-June)

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I haven’t done a monthly wrap-up in a while, and it’s because I wasn’t reading enough to justify one. I was feeling a bit slumpy. But that’s definitely not the case now, so it’s time to backtrack and talk about what I’ve read. First off, let’s talk about the things I wrote entire articles about.

Richard III by Shakespeare : Click that link to read my very in depth thoughts on this play. Anything else I could say would be redundant.

My Journey With Doctor Strange : Wherein I review four comic trades relating to Dr. Strange.

The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King : My review of the entire trilogy that ends with the latest novel, End of Watch.

Now onto the rest!

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (My Rating: 3/5) This was my one read in April. And it wasn’t that good. Probably why I ended up in a slump that I struggled to get out of. It was a historical YA novel that was short and quick, but that’s really the only thing that recommends it. Otherwise it had a stereotypical villain, and I couldn’t tell you much more about it than that. That’s its sin: it’s forgettable. Not terrible. Just very average. That’s often worse than a one-star read. At least things you hate leave an impression.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (My Rating: 4/5) This book was the new Gone Girl for the time it came out, and it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t Flynn either. It tackles some difficult topics with a grey-area protagonist, so it was page-turning enough. My complaint would be that with what Knoll clearly wanted to accomplish, maybe an unreliable narrator (which is how Ani sometimes seems) wasn’t the right direction. It was bold, but it also left me not knowing how to feel when I finished the book. That I’d enjoyed the novel but it wasn’t perfect is as close as I can come to expressing my feelings on it.

Swan Song by Robert McCammon (My Rating: 5/5) After the release of the new Stephen King shoved me straight out of my slump, I knew what I needed to do next. I needed to slay this beast. I’d been working on it since the very beginning of March, and it needed to be finished. My struggle with large books is one I relish, because I do love big, epic stories. But it is also real, as they say. The commitment it takes to finish something of this size and scope… I find myself putting it down, even when I’m loving it, in favor of shorter books simply because I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something and not just chipping away at this too-massive rock.

With that out of the way, I loved this. It was as epic as you’d want it to be. It owes a lot to The Stand, but as far as pacing, I’d call this a better book. It had a great, diverse cast of characters, and you’ll find yourself loving every, single one. Lots of harrowing action to keep you moving forward. A touch of magic that nudges it into fantasy in a very comfortable way. It’s a new favorite, which is the highest recommendation I can give.

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes (My Rating: 4/5) I read You (still one of the weirdest sentences you can say) when it first came out and fell in love with its pitch black comedy and villain protagonist. When a sequel was announced, I couldn’t wait, but I’m just now getting to it. I’ll say this book starts off the same as You, but then it veers. Necessarily. Because a rehash of the previous story would’ve accomplished nothing, but this takes us and Joe into whole new territory. Well, California, but not just that. He faces entirely new challenges, and just like before, your opinion of him and his actions is going to feel complicated and slippery. Just like I like it. Also, Kepnes takes this story places that are simply wild and insane, so if you like your books unpredictable, there’s that to recommend it, as well.

That’s my wrap-up. It felt good to catch up. If you want to support my blog, check out my Redbubble shop. And as always, happy geeking!