Tag Archives: Apocalyptic

Drop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn

Tor Books | 2018 (1 July) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Drop by Drop by Morgan LlywelynIn the small American town of Sycamore River something strange is happening. When Nell Bennett tries to withdraw money out of the Sycamore and Staunton Mercantile Bank cashpoint, her card isn’t just chewed, it turns to mush. And then the pens in the bank begin to ooze. You could almost laugh it off but reports on the TV suggest that these random occurrences aren’t limited to Sycamore River or indeed to the United States. In the weeks to come people will look back and know that this was the time when the Change began – when plastic around the world, bit by bit, drop by drop, began to melt.

Drop by Drop is a wonderful book and curiously not at all what I was expecting from its description. It does indeed tell the tale of what happens to a small town when plastic disappears from life, as well as hinting at the repercussions of this phenomenon in a wider volatile world, but this is essentially a novel about how the people of Sycamore River face this challenge and do their best to overcome it. The fact that the Change doesn’t happen at once but is instead an evolving situation really adds something very intriguing to the story.

This is a novel driven by a large cast of fabulous characters. We’re given the time to get to know so many of the inhabitants of this small town, especially the people who work in the bank and their families, scientists, vets, retired people, people keeping quiet about what their jobs actually are, newspaper publishers, and then there’s their offspring. So many lives and I became caught up in them all. I love Morgan Llywelyn’s writing, the way that he makes each character, whether male or female, young or old, individual and unique. Some are likeable, others are far from it, but they’re all interesting, and they’re doing all sorts of incredible things during the Change – you either adapt or you don’t. And some do fall by the wayside and occasionally in the most unexpected ways.

This is a science fiction novel, though. It’s set at some point in the near future. People rely on their AllCom’s for communication, cars are self-driving, but generally life is as we know it. In fact there is a general nostalgia for the old days (when cars had less plastic in them and all of your data wasn’t stored on a device that could melt into useless sludge in just a moment). I liked the fact that many of the characters in Drop By Drop are older, not that this makes all of them wiser.

There’s a message in here clearly as we’re shown what life can be like when plastic oozes out of our lives. How it can be catastrophic, apocalyptic even. So perhaps it’s time we found alternatives? But there’s nothing preachy about the message. This is a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing read from start to finish. This is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait for the next book, which is set up very well indeed.

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Shelter by Dave Hutchinson

Solaris | 2018 (14 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shelter by Dave HutchinsonIt’s almost a hundred years since the Sisters, a fragmentary asteroid, hit Earth. Much of the planet was overwhelmed. Those who survived the initial impacts, with their floods and fires, then had to endure the Long Autumn, a time of famine and starvation, brutality and cruelty. Finally, it’s drawing to an end. Earth is beginning to recover. But everything that was once taken for granted is gone. The past is now something to be scavenged.

At last the rains that have deluged southern England are beginning to dry. But most people haven’t been further than a day’s horse ride in their entire lives. Rumours, though, are moving between the communities of isolated farmers and small towns. Oxford, for example, is a no-go area, although nobody is really sure why. There’s a foreign fleet moored off the coast but nobody knows why it’s there, and there are boats moving silently through the flooded Somerset Levels. West and East are no longer connected by land. There is talk of a tyranny in Kent that is drawing people to it. Elsewhere, it’s the daily struggle for survival that consumes the mind.

Shelter by Dave Hutchinson, the author of the compelling near-future Europe novels, is the first of the shared universe Tales of the Aftermath series which will be continued by Adam Roberts later this year. Dave Hutchinson is such a fine writer. His prose is bleakly beautiful and his characters carry their doom within their souls. In Shelter, Dave Hutchinson continues what he does so well.

The setting of Berkshire and Oxfordshire during the apocalyptic aftermath is painted brilliantly. This is my neck of the woods and I loved to see it portrayed in such unusual style. It made me take another look at the world around me and imagine it all ravaged. This feels real. It’s frightening, alien and terrifyingly possible. This book frightened me.

The characters have so much to suffer through. Shelter isn’t an easy book to read, at least for me, largely because its people have had to compromise to survive to such an extent that possibilities of a future hope now seem destroyed. We meet quite a large group of characters scattered across this region. Time is needed to get to know them all as we move from one community to another and discover the harsh reality of each. At times we might feel liking for one or other of them and then that empathy is smashed on the rocks. There are moments here that shocked me, one in particular, so much so that I had to put the book down for a day or two.

While I admire so much the vision and prose of Shelter, and relish its Oxfordshire and Berkshire setting, I found the novel too grim for me. The behaviour of most of these people is so ugly. The Long Autumn has robbed them of their humanity. Perhaps there is hope now that the weather is settling and the past is beginning to be forgotten but for many salvation is an unimaginable dream. So while I appreciated elements of Shelter, not least its power and bleak beauty, I found it hard to read. But, if you enjoy a compelling apocalyptic tale and can cope with characters who appear to have no mercy left in them, then I think Shelter could be for you. Dave Hutchinson continues to be one of the most exciting and soulful writers of contemporary science fiction.

See David’s review at Blue Book Balloon.

Other review
Acadie

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

Gollancz/Atria Books | 2018 (UK: 1 March/US: 27 February) | 315p | Review copy (UK and US editions) | Buy the book: UK/US

Zero Day by Ezekiel BooneZero Day is the final part of Ezekiel Boone’s skin-crawlingly brilliant Hatching trilogy, which means that if you haven’t already read The Hatching and Skitter then you must tread no further, certainly not without looking where you’re walking because this is the Spiderpocalypse! This review assumes that you know what’s happened before, although I’ll do my best to give nothing away about any of the people (otherwise known as spider food) within.

The world has endured the first and second waves of spiders but the world is not as it was before. Nucleur missiles have wiped out many of Earth’s biggest cities, in China, the United States and elsewhere. Much of America is now a no go zone, with some politicians advising that everywhere west of New York City should be abandoned to its fate. The scientists know that there is one more wave of spiders to come and this one could mark the end of humanity. But how far should mankind go to fight the spiders? What if man’s extinction comes not from the spiders but from the very actions taken to defend the human race? These are the questions troubling the highest levels of government but meanwhile men, women and children across the globe are trying to survive from one day to the next. Sometimes surrounded by moats of fire or lakes of water – anything to keep the spiders at bay.

This has been a fantastic series from the start and I’m delighted, but not surprised, to say that Zero Day concludes events in fine style. I’m not going to mention any of the people. Not everyone will have made it this far but there are some that have and we are desperate for them to live. We meet survivors across the planet but most of our attention is on the US where politicians, soldiers, scientists and normal families are battling for existence. As we move back and forth between them we are desperate to know how all of this is going to turn out.

While I would have preferred more spiders – and fewer gungho nuclear-missile-waving politicians – in the first half, the second half more than makes up for this and it is thoroughly exciting, spectacularly explosive and deliciously creepy – these spiders are awful! I don’t mind spiders myself but the ones within these pages are enough to fill a lifetime of nightmares.

One of the things that I really love about these books is their humanity. With a very few notable exceptions, most of the people we meet care for each other as much as for themselves, if not more so. Time after time we see people put their own lives in danger to help strangers or those who have become close to them in this time of crisis. There are survivalists who go against all the stereotypes, helping others, risking everything. We have straight and gay relationships, there is a harmony and equality at work here. Society isn’t perfect but I like the world as we see it here. This is good against evil on an almighty scale, with the enemy being not just the spiders but also a few male powerful politicians who belong to an old world that deserves to be eaten by eight-legged monsters.

I read Zero Day in one glorious sitting. I love how frightening and thrilling it is. I knew when I read The Hatching that I was in for a treat with this trilogy and I was so right! And it’s so good to say that the ending is every bit as fabulous as the beginning. I’ll miss these characters but I’m looking forward very much to seeing where Ezekiel Boone takes us next.

Other reviews
The Hatching
Skitter

Year One by Nora Roberts

Piatkus | 2017 (5 December) | 419p | Review copy | Buy the book

Year One by Nora RobertsWhen Ross MacLeod shoots a pheasant dead and its body falls to the ground in the centre of an ancient stone circle in Dumfries in Scotland, he has no way of knowing that he has sealed the fate of not just himself but of billions of people around the world. He and his brother and cousin are with their wives in a farmhouse miles from their homes in New York City, celebrating the New Year in fine and traditional fashion. But when Ross and Angie fly home to the States they carry with them an illness that the world will soon know as the Doom. It is merciless in its greed and ferocity.

But not everybody dies. As the world collapses around them, a few live on and they are helped in their survival by new and strange abilities. Some when they touch another person can sense their future, some can fly, some can move objects, some can create power and light. But there are others who have the power of darkness. Magic has returned to the land and with it hope but also danger.

Year One is a bewitching novel in so many ways. On one level it is a very good apocalyptic tale and, even though it is caused by disease, as one character declares, this is no zombie apocalypse. Phew! The chapters that describe the world’s descent into this chaos of death and fear are superb. It’s not only engrossing, it’s also emotional. We meet a great many characters in this novel and all of them have a tale of tragedy to tell. Surviving an apocalypse is as hard as succumbing to it.

There is a strong magic element and I thought that this might be a hurdle I couldn’t overcome. I’m not a reader of fantasy and I particularly don’t read novels about magic, fairies and elves. But it’s integrated so well into what feels like reality that I found myself accepting every word of it. The magic doesn’t take over and generally it feels like another symptom of the disease and not otherworldly. Nevertheless there is something unworldly here but I loved how it’s done. It’s also fascinating to listen in to the discussions on how this came about. While one person might argue that the rest of the population were wiped out as a kind of cleansing and these new superhuman beings were born as a result, another believes that these new superhuman beings have been created as a source of hope for the continued survival of humanity. This element of hope is such a critical part of the mood of Year One. There is a sense that mankind is inherently good while it is clear that a few human beings are wrapped in sin.

I love the cast of Year One. We follow several small groups of people as they make their way to a safe place in the United States. The journeys are arduous, harrowing and packed with adventure. They’re so compelling. You have to keep your wits about you to remember who is in which group but so many of these people are three-dimensional with an interesting tale to tell. And the relationships between them are enthralling and moving.

Year One is the first novel in a new series – Chronicles of the One – and this did lead to my one issue with the novel. The ending, without giving anything away, wasn’t entirely satisfactory due to the number of loose ends that are left untied, the people that we leave in the lurch, as the focus narrows to follow just one person. I’m hoping that the answers will be provided in the next novel in the series. I’m so desperate to know.

But, above all else, Year One is an engrossing and original apocalyptic vision that takes an intriguing look into the future of a new form of humanity. I haven’t read any Nora Roberts’ novels before and I understand that this one is a little different from her usual fare. It certainly has me hooked.

Clade by James Bradley

Titan Books | 2017 (5 September) | 301p | Review copy | Buy the book

Clade by James BradleyOn a summer solstice, some time in the not too distant future, scientist Adam Leith waits by the phone in Antarctica to learn if his wife Ellie’s fertility treatment has been successful at last. As he reflects on the meaning of his marriage in his life, the frozen landscape around him is changing. But it’s not just Antartica. The Earth is being irreparably altered by extreme temperatures and weather. One can only wonder at what sort of world this child might be born into.

Moving through the years, we witness the experiences of Adam and Ellie, their child and their grandchild, as the world is battered by storms and heat, as the birds stop singing and are lost from the skies, as the floods rise and as death arrives in the form of a great plague.

Clade is a novel in several parts. Much of it focuses on Adam, his wife Ellie and their grandson Noah, presenting snippets of their increasingly changed lives, mostly in Australia but also in a Britain battered by storms and rising waters. These chapters are almost like short stories, complete in themselves, presenting different perspectives and different elements of these years of crisis.

This structure does, in my opinion, distance the reader from the emotional impact of what we’re witnessing but it does serve to illustrate the many ways in which this slow-moving apocalypse affects people, nature and the Earth itself. There is a particularly poignant chapter in which Ellie is drawn to bees and the man who cares for them. We know how poorly bees have been doing in reality in recent years and this book gives us a reminder of just how precious they are and how wonderful they are. For me, the most touching moments were those when characters reflect on how quiet the woods are now that the birds have gone. What a devastating state of affairs.

Noah is arguably the standout character of the novel. Autistic and isolated in several key ways, he must cope with constant shifts in the best way he can. And as he grows he finds that comfort in astronomy and the constancy of the stars. He is beautifully drawn. And a source of hope.

Science fiction is present in lots of little ways – in the technology of people’s ‘feeds’, in the virtual reality games they play, and also in the development of AIs. But there can be no doubt at all that this is a novel with a warning to the present. Just look at what can happen. There are moments of trauma and crisis – such as storm and plague – but in between there is the slow inevitable decline to which people must continually re-accustom themselves.

There is room for development in each of the chapters or stories of the novel – these chapters are very personal and, as such, venture little beyond the experiences of the characters except through media reports – but I was spellbound and horrified in equal measure. Not because of the shocks and thrills of what happens but because of its quiet inevitability and the reasonableness and calm with which characters cope. We hear of refugee camps and gunbattles in the streets, but this goes on outside the walls of the novel. The world we’re given is recognisably ours.

Clade, such a beautifully written and expressive novel, is both elegant and powerful. It is quietly terrifying. It gave me nightmares for the two nights that I read it. Horrible nightmares. So to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading Clade wouldn’t be true. In these uncertain times, it spoke to me and it frightened me. It is bleak – but not without some hope, not least in the resilience and caring of its main characters – yet I found its sadness harder to deal with. Nevertheless, I was gripped by it and troubled by it on a scale that I don’t often experience.

Defender by G.X. Todd

Headline | 2017 (Pb: 10 August) | 480p | review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Defender by GX ToddThe world as we know it has ended. Just a few short years ago the majority of people listened to the voices in their heads that instructed them to kill – friends or family, strangers on the street, and then themselves. Those who survived have learned to hate and fear anyone with a voice inside their head, and with good reason, but what they might not know is that among the survivors there are those who still hear Voice, but its new words are not what they would expect. Pilgrim lives with Voice in his head and when it tells him to stop by the side of the road and buy homemade lemonade from Lacey, a young girl with nothing but her courage and brains left, he does what he’s told.

So begins Pilgrim and Lacey’s road journey in search of Lacey’s sister and niece. Lacey insists that they’re still alive, although she hasn’t seen or heard from them in the eight years or so since the world’s fall into bloody violence. Pilgrim has nowhere else to go and so, driven on by Voice and then by another waif that they collect along the way, he takes on his new role of protecting Lacey, keeping Voice very much to himself.

Defender is the first of a series of four novels called The Voices and takes us into territory reminiscent of Stephen King’s finest novel (in my opinion) The Stand and Todd’s homage is a fine tribute. The world building is absolutely fantastic, with its long stretches of dusty road, abandoned by all but empty vehicles and the occasional solitary soul or, and these should be avoided, mysterious convoy. Houses, towns, motels are places of refuge, supplies and the utmost danger. After eight years of apocalypse a lot of things are running out. Life hasn’t yet found a way. People have become feral. This is frightening stuff, especially when you realise that one of the main characters is a young teenage girl who is having innocence forced from her with almost every step of the journey.

There is nothing safe about this new world and Defender takes us into some bleak places and situations. Predators lurk and Pilgrim and Lacey have a knack of falling into the wrong hands. This includes sexual violence which, I will admit, is not something I like to read about and so I did skim these sections while wishing that they weren’t there. To me, these scenes didn’t come with the significance or resonance I felt they would have in reality. But this is just a thing of mine and so is my fault rather than the novel’s, which has a great deal of difficult themes to contend with and otherwise does so brilliantly.

Pilgrim and Lacey are both such deeply involving characters to follow. Pilgrim in particular is fascinating and I grew very fond of him. The novel moves between the two and so we spend good time with them both. Voice has a personality of its own and it plays such an intriguing and effective role. I loved its tone and couldn’t wait to learn more of it. How characters deal with having such a voice in their heads constantly is a big appeal of the novel and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops in future books.

This is the first novel in a series and so there is much still to be revealed. There are rumours of other travellers, of people on the hunt for those who can hear Voice as well as much more that is barely touched on at this early stage. It leaves the reader prepared and ready for more. But there have been shocks along the way and we know that in the second novel much will have changed.

Defender finishes at a good point. There may be more to come but it is also pleasingly complete in itself and so is a very satisfying read. It’s disturbing and menacing, dusty and heated, and it is also immersive and extremely accomplished. G.X. Todd writes so well. The way she gets into the heads of her characters is wonderful and what she does with them is both shocking and thrilling. This is one of those books that does not let you put it down. It keeps you enthralled from start to finish and is a fast and exciting read. Not only is Defender the first in the series, it’s also Todd’s debut and is an astonishing one – it’s hard to imagine a better beginning to The Voices. Who knows where they’ll take us next? I’ll be listening.

The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

Orbit | 2017 (4 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Boy on the Bridge by MR CareyBritain is no more. The Breakdown destroyed it. The land now belongs to the Hungries – altered, infected and no longer human, these lost souls live only to feed. A few enclaves of uninfected humans survive, but not many and they’re under constant threat. Only two outcomes are possible. Either the Hungries will devour the last of the uninfected or an antidote will be found. The first is far more likely than the second. But hope persists.

The Rosalind Frankie, or Rosie, is an armoured vehicle that has embarked on an epic, perilous journey from the south of England to the Highlands. Aboard is a group of soldiers and scientists, existing side by side in the most limited of space. Their mission is to recover biological samples placed across the country. Whether they will live to return with them is another matter entirely. But their responsibility is immense. Time has run out. They know they have to succeed. Six soldiers and six scientists live and work aboard Rosie and each has their own personal tale of survival and hope. Each has something to live for and they all have everything to fear. The pressure on them is so immense that it’s only a matter of time before the cracks appear and then each must look deep within themselves for the strength to cope.

Among the scientists is Stephen Greaves, an autistic boy, and Dr Samrina Kahn, who has more reason than most to fear for her future. These two find themselves drawn together while everyone else wonders what on earth Stephen is doing there. But Stephen is very special indeed. When he looks outside he can recognise something else that hides out there among the Hungries and he can look it in the eyes.

The Boy on the Bridge is the follow up novel to the enormously successful (and now filmed) The Girl With All of the Gifts. It’s been a while coming but it is most certainly worth the wait. It isn’t a straightforward sequel. It doesn’t pick up on Melanie’s story but in her place is another fine set of characters to enjoy as they develop through the pages, continuing the tension between the military and scientists, and also within these groups. There is good and bad in both. So you could read The Boy on the Bridge without having read The Girl with All the Gifts first without any trouble at all, but I do think you’d be missing out on the development of this shattered world, as well as the emotional power of a couple of key scenes.

The writing is as brilliant as ever, loaded with personality and opinion, sharp and incisive. There is horror, so much of it, and you can’t look away from it, it’s so gripping and thrilling, but there are moments of peace and calm as well. Rosie really feels like a refuge despite its claustrophobic spaces. Outside, by contrast, is such a scary place. You wouldn’t want to go outside. But Stephen does.

I’m no fan of zombies, whether in novels or movies, but there’s something about the Hungries that fascinates me, especially those that we meet in The Boy on the Bridge. We’re asked to re-examine what they are and, although this means confronting deep fears, it is so compelling, as well as tragic, sad and gory. There are moments in this novel when I shed a tear, that’s how much I cared for these characters (especially Kahn) and for how well this story (and world) has been developed through both novels.

M.R. Carey is a great storyteller with a fantastic imagination, bringing apocalypse and hope together in the best of ways. I loved this portrait of a devastated Britain, with the mix of the familiar and the irrevocably altered. The descriptions are wonderful. At its heart, though, are its people, non-Hungry or otherwise, and they power this unusual horror novel on. Will there be more? I really hope so.

Other reviews
The Girl With All of the Gifts
Fellside