Monday, April 11, 2011

Kindle book roundup for April 2011 (Zombies, Sci-Fi, apocalypse and war)

 

I’ve been reading a lot of Kindle books lately and I know there’s a lot of geeks out there that enjoy the same kind of haughty literature as I do, so I figured I’d share.

First off though, I’m a big fan of zombie fiction. Not the ridiculous, campy kind, but the good, gritty, post-apocalyptic kind. If that’s your kettle of corn, without further adieu or review I highly recommend J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon and its sequel Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile. Then there’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. These are the cream of the crop in my opinion, and worth every penny. But since these two authors are not writing any more books at the moment, and having nearly exhausted my collection of military history and philosophy tomes, I have been forced to find other good stuff to read, which I list below for your (possible) enjoyment.

Comments and more reading recommendations are always welcome!

 

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi
Amazon Kindle edition

I can’t spell his name despite being 1/15th Italian (or so my mom says), but Paolo Bacigalupi is my new favorite author. This man is a genius. He has created a superbly dystopian post-everything world where people are besieged by lack of food, lack of fuel, lack of love and lack of morality. In short, the kind of world we like our post-apocalyptic stories to develop.

The Windup Girl is a story about a man. You might find this odd, but it’s true. It’s the story of a man. Well, actually two or three men. Maybe. You can tell a book is good when you have trouble pinning down the true protagonist of the story. Is it the down-on-his-luck refugee that struggles to survive against pervasive racial discrimination and laments what he has lost? Is it his employer, the outsider that moves around in a bubble of privilege yet finds himself in constant peril and doubt about his ultimate purpose? Is it the swashbuckling homegrown hero that fights against threats both foreign and domestic? Or is it the namesake of the story, a genetic construct with unusual inner beauty doomed to an existence of humiliation and pain?

Against the background of a world that now struggles to sustain its human parasites who have brought most foul doom upon themselves, Bacigalupi develops the characters and the plot with near-exquisite precision. He is concerned with man-made disasters, rather than the more mundane natural ones. The familiar minutiae of the post-apocalyptic environment is all there. His technological acumen is without parallel; his synthetic terminology pristine. He imagines people use genetically engineered beasts to wind special springs, which are then used to expend energy and power vehicles and machines, a latter-day version of our chemical batteries. Potential energy is measured in the amount of calories required to generate it. Computers are powered by foot pedals, like old sewing machines. And that’s just the beginning. The backdrop of widespread famine and plagues brought upon by runaway genetic meddling of our food supply is breathtaking. One assumes this book was not exactly well received over at Monsanto headquarters. And the ways people and nations cope with these problems are surprising and breathtaking as well. Toss in the isolation brought upon by the contraction of civilization for want of fossil fuels and you have a winner here. There’s no other way to put it. The breadth and depth of this book are truly amazing.

Have a Kindle? Go download this book. Don’t have a Kindle? Order the dead tree edition. Go get it now, I’m not kidding. Unlike some of the other books here, this one is a plausible look at our possible future.

Pump Six

Pump Six
Paolo Bacigalupi
Amazon Kindle edition

You know all the praise I piled on Paolo Bacigalupi just now? Well, this is just more of the same prime stuff, FSM bless him. Pump Six is actually a collection of short stories set pretty much in the same dystopian universe as The Windup Girl, including one that offers some background to Windup Girl itself. I cannot help but hope that some of these (nay, all of these) will eventually be made into full-fledged books.

What more can I say? Read it.

The Walk

The Walk
Lee Goldberg
Amazon Kindle edition

An entertaining short story about the end of the world, as seen from the eyes of an entertainment executive in Los Angeles who is trying to make his way home after disaster strikes. A very good read with plenty of survival action, good humor, a clever twist and a great ending.

One

One
Conrad Williams
Amazon Kindle edition

Are you happy? Well, if you want to stop being happy and descend into the depths of depression, then this is the book for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. One is an innovative take on the old end of the world+zombie apocalypse yarn that will keep you clicking that “Next” button until the end. Williams is a good storyteller, and his twist on how the dead come back from the dead will definitely surprise you. That the origins and cause of the apocalypse are left unexplained is irrelevant, really. It’s that well written.

I have but two problems with this book. One (no pun intended), the author at times delves too much into the protagonist’s attachment to his family. While this is the driving force behind much of what happens in the story, at times the remembrance sections tend to get old. They tug at your heartstrings (especially if you have children), but they do get a bit old.

Second, it’s damn depressing. Did I mention it’s depressing? Except at the very end, and maybe even there as well. Don’t get me wrong, this depressing slant is a big part of what makes the book a good read. It’s the result of the author’s exceedingly stark take on what humanity and our world may become after a global disaster. But it’s still depressing. In a good kind of way. The book also gets progressively more sinister, as if everything that came before wasn’t quite sinister enough.

Depressing or not, this is an excellent read, which I highly recommend.

Scar Night

Scar Night
Alan Campbell
Amazon Kindle edition

I don’t do much fantasy beyond The Lord of the Rings and Roger Zelazny’s Avalon chronicles, and I don’t do much Sci-Fi beyond the classics: Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Niven et. al. And maybe Vernor Vinge. So when someone recommended this book to me saying that it was a fantasy and Sci-Fi hybrid, I was hesitant. I downloaded the sample, and by the time I got to the last page I was desperately clicking “Buy this book”. Yeah, it’s that good.

Scar Night is a weird story about a weird city that exists under weird circumstances in a weird world. It is inhabited by weird people who pray to weird gods and fight against other weird people.

Are you sold? No? Well, like I said, there’s a city. It’s suspended over what seems to be a bottomless chasm. Suspended – get this – by chains. That’s right, chains. And then there are angels, which are not really what you think. There are massive war machines, putatively left over after some unnamed apocalypse. There’s a whole industrial/steampunk feel that doesn’t overwhelm. There’s humor and despair. Organized religion makes an appearance as usual. There’s love and family and violence and genetic tinkering and more angels and devils and a whole bunch of other amazingly clever stuff, all woven into the story rather masterfully by Campbell. The gritty ambience of the story is just unbelievably well done. Can’t tell you anymore though, I’ll give stuff away.

I enjoyed this book enormously even though I’m a Sci-Fi and fantasy hipster. Recommended.

The Strain

The Strain
Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro
Amazon Kindle edition

“You have to read this book” they said.
“Really? What’s it about?” I said.
“Vampires!”
“Meh”

But lo and behold, here we are. A story by none other than Guillermo del Toro in collaboration with Chuck Hogan, The Strain is about vampires, yes. In a sense. It’s also a sort of zombie apocalypse yarn. What it isn’t though, is one of those trite vampire treatises. This ain’t no Twilight. The authors do an excellent job of building up the story, develop the characters (all of which are loveable) and explain the backstory.

Yes, vampires. No, it doesn’t matter. You’ll like it.

Summer of the Apocalypse

Summer of the Apocalypse
James van Pelt
Amazon Kindle edition

James van Pelt tells the story of a man at the twilight of his years, facing the realities of a disintegrating civilization after a calamity that reduced it (almost) to the Bronze age, and his desire to ensure that man does not go quietly into the night as little more than a strange species of hairless foraging apes.

Summer of the Apocalypse is an enjoyable read all around. The author goes back and forward in time, explaining the causes of the pandemic that nearly wiped out humanity and his efforts to reach a book repository to save it, therefore ensuring that the remnants of his tribe can regain prosperity through the use of lost knowledge. The protagonist is one of the few “old timers” still alive who as a child lived through the catastrophe and has a very different view on things than the younger generations, which grew up without electricity, cars, TV, the Internet or lolcats (perhaps not a bad thing). He wants to prevent children from dying of formerly curable diseases. He wants people to turn to science instead of superstition. He wants to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, and wants his family to also redeem themselves to him. Lots of popular culture references and reminiscing about the time when getting to the next city took three hours instead of three weeks and Star Wars was in theaters near you.

A good book with a well-developed message of conservation, harmony with nature and the importance of self-reliance. The ending though will perhaps leave you in a bit of a meh, but the rest is worth it.

Brainbox

Brainbox
Christian Cantrell
Amazon Kindle edition

A short story from Christian Cantrell about a post-apocalyptic world fighting its own demons, which are personified by genetically-enhanced cyborgs (created by us, of course). A bit heavy on the military side, but well developed and a fine read. This is $0.99, by the way.

The Compound

The Compound
S.A. Bodeen
Amazon Kindle edition

S.A. Bodeen weaves a good yarn with the story of a wealthy family forced to take refuge in a bunker after some kind of apocalyptic event. The dynamics between the characters are a joy to read, the mechanics of survival are well developed and the twist at the end will surprise you, although one does see it coming a bit earlier. A good book.

Swarm

Swarm
B.V. Larson
Amazon Kindle edition

A cross between the War of the Worlds and Battlestar Galactica, Swarm is a bit heavy on the military angle but worth a read nonetheless, if nothing else because the characters are so well developed. Sometime in the present, a bunch of seemingly evil spaceships descend on Earth and start kidnapping people, presumably to engage in anal probing (ugh, sorry). Then come a set of different ships with a set of different intentions. The twist comes early but everything is nursed along very well by the author. The constant deadpan humor makes a good contrast with the main character’s emotional pain, and the struggle to survive by the motley lucky (or unlucky) few that hold the Earth’s future in their hands will keep you turning the page. Overall a good book.

Immortality

Immortality
Kevin Bohacz
Amazon Kindle edition

This one is actually a zombie book, surprise. Kevin Bohacz is really good at developing the plot and characters, and putting them in one perilous situation after another while the world disintegrates around them. The twists and turns will keep you going until the end. Really, just a damn good zombie book. Definitely recommended.

2184

2184
Martin Parish
Amazon Kindle edition

2184 refers to the year in which this story takes place. In this world there’s been a war between genetically enhanced humans (essentially an evolutionary jump in the Homo sapiens line) and the “mongrels”, who are not enhanced but rather just plain old people like you and I. Basically, Humanity 2.0 has been released and they’re not supporting the previous version.

Parish develops the story with aplomb, introducing us slowly to the very different (and in some ways not so much) world where a minority of “better” people hold sway over the inferior and unlucky ones. If this sounds a bit like Apartheid then you’re in the right channel, except that this is much more sinister. The survival of the lesser species we know and love is at stake here.

The main character is a normal guy with typical issues who is thrust into an impossible situation despite his efforts to remain unseen and unnoticed, like the good little mouse contemporary common sense teaches he should be, as a mongrel. Plucked from his home in post-apocalyptic London and sent to a brutal work camp (yes, there’s that parallel as well) in the incongruously idyllic British countryside, he struggles to survive and maintain his own human essence. He picks up an unlikely sidekick along the way, as well as a secret that might set Humanity 1.0 free from oppression if only he can find the strength to use it. Then comes the voyage back home to what he knows and loves, which is expectedly epic and entertaining. Almost Homeric.

Ultimately 2184 is a story about selfishness, and readers will see why at the end of the book. I must confess this was rather underwhelming, but after a bit of thought I decided that the book should not be dismissed based solely on that. It’s a good story, well told and enjoyable. Recommended.

2 comments:

jimvanpelt said...

Thanks for the comments on Summer of the Apocalypse. I'm glad it (mostly) worked for you.

Verofakto said...

Hello Jim! As I said, it was an enjoyable read, which is why we as readers give you our money :)

I didn't want to expand on why I didn't like the ending to avoid giving stuff away, but it really does not detract from the overall dynamic of the story. It's like the last paragraph, literally.

Thanks, and looking forward to more of your work.

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