the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘post apocalyptic

Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

published May 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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She’s been told her whole life that she was chosen by the Goddess Catchkeep, that only she and the few like her had the ability to be Catchkeep’s avatar.

 

A ghost told her she’s famous in the underworld, that the dead speak of her skills, her knowledge, and her compassion.

 

When she gained the title of Archivist by poisoning the previous archivist, she took the name Wasp. Her true name has been buried deep.

 

It will take a journey to the underworld for Wasp to realize how much of her life is a lie.  More than just her true name has been buried deep. Under the shrine, under the town, under what passes for civilization are the lost and forgotten secrets of the dead.  The dead rarely speak, but they nearly always communicate, usually by physically attacking living people.

 

As the Archivist, Wasp is responsible for catching any ghosts found in the region, asking them a specific set of questions, keeping them if they are useful, and releasing them if they prove worthless. Violent ghosts are destroyed.  To guide her, she has the notes of the archivists who came before her, some notes are better than others, some archivists collected more knowledge than others. The life of an archivist is usually short and violent, this is not the kind of job you retire from.  There can only be one living Archivist at a time, so their knowledge dies with them.

 

I recently read the soon-to-be-released sequel to Archivist Wasp, Latchkey (July 10th, Mythic Delirium Books) so I’m reading these atmospheric and compelling books backwards. In a way, it’s neat, because I went into Archivist Wasp knowing things about the world that Wasp doesn’t know yet.  Latchkey actually had very little in the way of spoilers for the first book, so it was thrilling to watch Wasp as she learns how the harvesting knife works, and I finally got to see what really happened to the Catchkeep Priest.

 

As expected, Kohnher-Stace’s balanced prose in Archivist Wasp perfectly captures Wasp’s lonesome post-apocalytpic world, just as it exquisitely captures the inhumane violence of Wasp’s life as a temple upstart and then as an Archivist.  Imagine Hunger Games on steroids, where teenagers are viciously murdered in cold blood because there can be only one winner, now crank up the masochism and throw in some angry, hungry, and very confused ghosts.

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Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

publishes July 10th 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thank you Mythic Delirium!)

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Reading the second book in a series first is like getting to have dessert first.  More than likely the worldbuilding is already done, the characters know what they are about, the author has a clearer idea of where the story is going and what should happen. You might feel a little lost, and your mileage will certainly vary.  But then when you do go back and read the first book, you’ll feel like a psychic, because you’ll know all sorts of details the characters don’t know!

 

Suffice to say, the first thing I did after I finished Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Latchkey was order the first book in the series, Archivist Wasp.

 

Latchkey is part post-apocalyptic, part mythology, part ghost story, and and all perspective shift, told through the lens of  Kornher-Stace’s mastery of prose and evocatively transportive language. This is the kind of sharp vibrant prose that would translate beautifully to an anime or a movie.  Highly recommended for fans of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and anyone who enjoys a gorgeously told story about horrible things that should never have happened.

 

With metaphors that shouldn’t make sense but do, a poetry on the weight of stories that became legend that became religion, and a world where a hypervigilant 6th sense itch is the only thing that will save your life, nothing in Latchkey stays merely on the page. When Isabel was afraid, I was afraid. When she couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When she is about to drop dead of exhaustion, I felt tired and fatigued. She never lost hope, so I didn’t either.  When I say this was an exhausting read, I mean that as the highest form of praise.

 

Latchkey takes place a few years after the events of Korner-Stace’s 2015 award winning Archivist Wasp.  Isabel and the other ex-upstarts are still getting used to the fact that they won’t have to kill their friends to survive, that they won’t ever again have to live a life of violence and fear.  The old tradition of the archivists has come to an end, even if the PTSD is still at the surface.  Isabel and the other girls need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. In the meantime, they’ll still care for the Catchkeep Shrine, still say the words of their goddess, still have hope that the townspeople of Sweetwater can come to trust them.

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Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

 

I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne.  This book was on everyone’s Best of the Year list last year, so why did it take me so long to read it?  Uhm… i dunno. Took me a while to get out of The Southern Reach, I guess. Guess I needed the closure that was the incredible oversensoryoverload scene at the end of Annihilation more than I thought.  Anyway.

 

One of the nice things about read a book that had a lot of hype, a year after it came out, is that I can skip all the obligatory “what this book is about” crap, and get to the meat of what I wanna talk about in this not-a-review.

 

Seeing the Annihilation movie reminded me of how much I loved all the flashback scenes in the novel. I got to know the biologist through her flashbacks. Her character wasn’t only who she is right this second, while she is walking through Area X, but it’s all the things she did in her life that got her to be this particular person – the overgrown swimming pool, the tidepools, the isolated introvert-heaven projects, how she felt about herself and the world when she was outside. The biologist became who she is now, because of who she was then.

 

And that’s how I felt about Rachel.  The short flashbacks of her youth, of being a refugee, of how she wished her parents didn’t feel like they had to put on a happy face for her all the time, that is how I knew who she was. By who she was then, I had a better feeling for the depths of who she is now.  A well written flashback is a gem in a geode.

 

I’m a super tactile person.   I hate wearing shoes and i joke that when I walk around barefoot that I’m seeing the room with my feet. It’s only half a joke, because in a sense that isn’t seeing, I really am experiencing the texture of the floor through my feet, and that is being transmitting to my brain as a way of “seeing” the floor.   It’s a throwaway comment when Rachel mentions that she usually sleeps with her shoes on, that she hates taking her shoes off, something about an experience she had while she was a refugee.  When I read that, my gut reaction was “how sad, for her to be blind in that way”. I felt bad for her, that she wouldn’t be able to see a room through her feet.

 

Among other things that he might be, Borne is one gigantic sensory organ.  Once he starts talking and walking, and touching and tasting and “seeing the room through his feet”, he can’t stop. Well, he can’t stop doing those things just like he can’t stop doing some other things that he doesn’t like talking about.  Just like you can’t say to yourself “hmm, i’d like to shut off my sense of sight, or my sense of smell today”. You can’t stop either. But for you, not being able to flip a switch to stop seeing, or smelling, or tasting, is normal. So why would someone expect someone else to just be able to stop seeing the room through their feet?    Because we all want our kid to be fucking normal, that’s why.

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time-salvager-book-coverTime Salvager, by Wesley Chu

published 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

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I do like me some time travel books. And a time travel story where objects and people are brought into other times, and you have to go. . . . back to the future?  Great Scott, sign me up! Seriously though,  I’m a sucker for a good time travel.  That movie Looper? It made no sense and all, and I loved it.   So, it makes sense that Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager would be right up my alley.  The gist of the plot is in a few hundred years, Earth is in shambles. Chronmen go into the past to get resources, batteries, energy sources, valuable minerals, just about anything that’s worth anything.  ChronoCom uses the time travel technology to give Earth a few more years of existence. Anyone who can afford to left Earth long ago to live on a colony elsewhere.

 

Chronman James Griffin-Mars self medicates his way through too many dangerous missions. He’s left too many ghosts behind, too many people he couldn’t save, too many people he had to let die, because the history books said they died. You can’t rewrite history, you can’t change the future, everyone knows that.  When James brings a woman back into the future, he breaks every law of time travel, and he seals his own fate as a traitor to everything he thought he believed in.

 

Cinematic action sequences and high octane pacing,  this sounds pretty intense, right?

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station 11Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

published 2014

where I got it: published new

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Station Eleven thinks it’s about a woman named Kirsten who survives the apocalypse. But it’s really about those months and years that lead up to the awful events at the end of the world, those specific moments and events that will give Kirsten something to live for and keep looking for later, when she has nothing.  I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Station Eleven. I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.

 

Mandel made a wise choice in telling this story in non-chronological order. If she’d told us the story in the exact order things happen, we’d know the ending right from the start. Things might be a surprise for Kirsten,  but they wouldn’t be a surprise for the reader. By giving us bits and pieces that happened now and then, the twists and turns are as equally a surprise for the reader as they are for the characters. Mandel teases all the connections out at just the right pace, with the starkness and sparseness of a placid planet that no longer has electricity or gasoline.

 

The center of the time line is a theater in snowy Toronto, a few weeks before a flu epidemic sends planet earth back to the dark ages. Kirsten is an eight year old child actress, doing Shakespeare alongside the famous Arthur Leander.  As an adult, Kirsten will remember very little of her childhood, but she’ll always remember the night Arthur had a heart attack and died on stage. This is the beginning of the end, in more ways than one. It was especially interesting, that a character who dies in the opening chapter  becomes a major character later on. It’s a trick you can pull when telling a story out of order!

 

Twenty years after the world ends, Kirsten travels with a caravan called the Traveling Symphony. She still performs Shakespeare.

 

Twenty years before the world ended, Arthur was enjoying the beginnings of fame. He was still in love with his first wife.

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Cold Comfort and other talesCold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald

published December 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (Thanks David!)

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Beginnings are important.

 

Like a first impression, an author has one sentence, one chance to make in initial impression on the reader. We’ve all come across lackluster openings, openings that didn’t inspire, or confused, or simply made you scratch your head. Maybe you kept reading, maybe not.

 

For me, the ideal opening sentence is a perfect balance between nowhere near enough information, and just enough to draw me in. Not unlike that first floral nose of a glass of wine – you get the aroma, a suggestion of what’s to come, but little to no information about the mouthfeel or finish you’re about to experience. You take a sip because that first scent was intriguing. The titular story of Cold Comfort and Other Tales has just the kind of opening I dream of: perfectly balanced yet minimal information with just the barest hints of the entire worldbuilding of the story:

 

Vanja shivered as the icy wind pried at her furs with cruel fingers

 

What a tease! and I’m instantly curious. Is she used to the cold? Was she planning on spending so much time outside? Is this normal weather?  Time to find out what this wine tastes like. My first sip was fantastic, and it just got better from there.

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starship haikuStarship and Haiku, but Somtow Sucharitkul

published in 1981

where I got it: purchased used

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It’s been a week for weird fiction, that’s for sure. Starship And Haiku came home with me from the used bookstore because it looked oh so strange. And as far as strangeness, it didn’t disappoint. A post apocalyptic story, Starship and Haiku has something to say about clashing cultures, honor, communication, and survival. It succeeds grandly in the sense that it’s ambitious, unique, and strange. But does it succeed in being a good book?

When Josh was ten years old, the skies over his home in Hawaii exploded. People rushed to the shelters as fast as they could, and that was the night his brother Didi was born. Now an adult, and responsible for his brother’s welfare, Josh works at a hospice for plague victims. Called “stranges”, some plague victims suffer radiation poisoning, others have odder diseases that come with telekinesis or precognition. Even Didi is technically a strange – he’s never spoken a work, and has been diagnosed as being mentally retarded. Didi may not have the power of speech, but he’s the furthest thing from being retarded. In fact, if he could just learn to harness his inner voice and his telepathy, he could “talk” to Josh all he wanted.

One evening, Didi sees a dying beached whale, and he has a telepathic conversation with the whale. The whales are in love with death, and see death as the ultimate beautiful act. Didi doesn’t view death like that, but he respects the whale’s alien thoughts, and Didi starts understanding how to speak in the ideogram language of the whales.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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