Tag Archives: Apocalyptic

Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Hodder & Stoughton | 2019 (23 April) | 294p | Review copy | Buy the book

Emily Eternal by MG WheatonThe demise of the Sun was believed to be billions of years safely in the future but now, just a few years from the present day, the Earth is far darker than it should be. The forces that power the Sun are failing, resulting in the so-called Helios Event and the imminent extinction of life on Earth, including humanity. In just a few weeks radiation and severe cold and ceaseless night will end life. This tragedy is felt keenly by Emily. Emily is an Artificial Consciousness. She feels intensely and is able to move through transmitters into the consciousness of others, reliving their memories, taking their experiences as her own. She also has the mind of a computer and she is determined to do all in her extraordinary power to save the species she loves.

But these last days are dangerous as people try to deal with their imminent destruction in ways that they can handle – or not. A disaster puts Emily’s existence in jeopardy and she must run for her life alongside two human beings who have more to teach Emily about humanity and what it would mean were it to be completely lost.

I’m a big fan of speculative fiction, apocalyptic novels and techno thrillers and Emily Eternal has an irresistible premise. It largely succeeds because the whole novel is filled with the spirit of Emily, who is such a wonderful, memorable creation. The story is told in Emily’s own words and she tells two stories – of the approaching apocalypse, which is darkly fascinating, and of her own personal tragedy – that she is becoming fulfilled at a time when it’s too late. But her voice is never gloomy, even if it can be sad, because she is on a journey to learn all she can about the human race and be as close to them as possible.

I loved the descriptions of Emily’s exactly patterned daily routines. She lives as a virtual human and she has learned human emotions. As a result, Emily Eternal is perhaps even more of a romance than it is speculative or science fiction. Emily falls in love and these feelings are almost consuming. The depiction of her relationship with Jason is beautifully drawn, even if it did feel a little unlikely.

The novel is thrilling and very exciting. It’s also poignant and reflective as the world faces its end – the sadness of parents with newly born children, for instance, is just one situation brushed upon. There is a good mix of future technology, science and human emotion. But, fundamentally, Emily Eternal is a novel about what it means to be a human by someone who wants so desperately to be one. As a result of this, there is a sense of hope because humans, for all their many faults, are shown to be worth the saving.

I have my issues with the ending of the novel, which becomes rather muddied. All sorts of science fiction ideas are thrown into the mix, rather too rapidly to make as much sense as they could. It all goes a bit mad! But, nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Emily Eternal. I loved Emily and she’s a joy to have in a novel that could have felt bleak and gloomy but instead she makes it sad yet hopeful. It’s as a science fiction apocalyptic romance that Emily Eternal succeeds the most. Emily will be very difficult to forget.

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Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Head of Zeus | 2019 (Hb: 7 February; ebook: 26 February) | 389p | Review copy | Buy the book

Winter World by AG RiddleEarth should be getting warmer. All of the scientists are agreed. But the unexpected is happening and it’s happening very fast. Earth is getting very cold indeed. Glaciers are reclaiming the planet, pushing people into just a few enclaves where conditions are still survivable – for now. There isn’t enough space. War seems inevitable. But it will be brief because the evidence is clear – Earth will be covered in ice in a matter of weeks and most life, including humans, will face extinction. The crew aboard the International Space Station is working on experiments to find out what is going on and to try and put a halt to it. But then an object is spotted against the backdrop of the Sun. It’s a cataclysmic moment for the Space Station and is of great significance for all Earth – we are not alone in the universe. And whatever, whoever it is out there did not come in peace.

As soon as I read the premise of Winter World I was desperate to read it! I love apocalyptic thrillers and even more so when they’re combined with science fiction, especially first contact stories. As soon as this arrived, I read it and it is such an exciting read. There’s a Gravity feel to the opening chapters as ISS Commander Emma Matthews struggles for survival. Meanwhile, on Earth, scientist James Sinclair has his own battles to fight and we follow them both as their stories weave together into a thrilling science fiction apocalyptic adventure.

Half of the novel is set in space while the other half is on a frozen Earth and I enjoyed both of these. The Earth sections focus mostly on people as they try and do the best they can to survive while maintaining their relationships and humanity. I’m glad to say that conflict between nations doesn’t play as large a role as I feared. Instead it just adds tension. Mostly this is a novel about survival on a more personal scale. And it’s in these sections that we get to know Emma, James and their friends and family better.

The space sections are the most exciting. In fact, the action gets so intense at times that it does all get rather confusing and I found those pages a little hard to follow. But the intrigue of what has been discovered in space is absolutely spellbinding. I love this kind of thing.

There’s some science, there’s a little bit of romance, plenty of danger, and there are spaceships, alien artefacts and extreme weather – if I had to put together a recipe for a book I want to read then that would be about it. I do enjoy A.G. Riddle’s books. Some I’ve had trouble with but there are others I’ve loved. I always look forward to them. If you’re after a fun apocalyptic science fiction thriller to take your mind off some of the reality of life on Earth then you’re in the right place with Winter World.

Other reviews
The Atlantis Gene
Pandemic

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Viking | 2019 (31 January) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last by Hanna JamesonJon Keller left his home and family in California for a conference in a hotel in Switzerland unhappy about how he had left things. He really needed to sit down and work things out with his wife for the good of their two adored young daughters. Emails and texts are all very well but home seems such a long way away. And then those emails and texts stop. Everything stops. Modern life comes to an end. Survival instincts have to be dredged up from humanity’s distant prehistoric past. Because one morning, while Jon and his conference colleagues were eating breakfast, nuclear weapons fell on Washington DC and soon they fell everywhere, the last flickers of television chronicled the fall one by one of the world’s cities. Then there was nothing. For Jon, life has shrunk to the dimensions of this hotel, preserved from the bombs by its remote location, so far from cities and any settlements at all.

The Last tells the story of the end of the world from the perspective of one man stranded far from his home, family and country. Jon recounts events in his own words as he records events in a diary. It’s his testimony, a message to his family but ultimately intended only for himself, and its power partly lies in the fact that he can only recall the full details of what happened on that terrible, terrible day bit by bit. And so the narrative frequently returns to Day One.

This is a remote hotel and many fled on the day the world ended and so we have just a small group of men, women and children to observe as they work out how to survive. It’s such a compelling and involving story. But there’s more to it than that when Jon discovers the body of a murdered young girl in the hotel water tanks. Jon is determined to discover the truth about her death, to do right by her as he couldn’t by his daughters, presumed dead in San Francisco. And so The Last is also a murder mystery.

It is, to be honest, a little difficult to focus on the murder mystery in this situation and so our focus instead is on the people in the hotel as they try to form a postapocalypse community, with varying degrees of success. I’m not sure how much I liked Jon but I realise that we’re not seeing him or anyone else at their best. I wasn’t keen on the sections in which characters took refuge in drugs and drink and it was all a bit Lord of the Flies at times, with some relationships becoming tormented. But there are some great and memorable scenes and I loved the way in which the novel developed. It is full of surprises and the end was as good as the excellent beginning.

I love apocalyptic novels and The Last has such a fantastic premise and I particularly enjoyed its setting in Switzerland, becoming increasingly cold and desolate under the encroaching nuclear winter. The joy felt by characters on hearing the rare song of a bird is palpable. There are gems in this novel. I heartily recommend it. And what a brilliant cover!

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.

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.