…because where else would you find such a thing?
I first wrote this piece for this year’s Advent Book Blog, but soon realized that the format didn’t suit and decided to run it here, instead. [Need some ideas for spending your holiday gift cards? The recommendations of the Advent Book Blog are wide-ranging and low-calorie! Find them HERE!]
Not sure if it’s my fondness for the first few episodes of WALKING DEAD or some reflection of my own advancing mortality, but this has been a year of post-mortae appreciation for me. I think my favourite DVD of the year was PONTYPOOL, with it’s claustrophobic, stuck-in-the-radio-station feel and its only-in-Canada source of zombie mayhem. But regardless of the cause, I thought I’d put a little twist in the traditional ‘Christmas Carol’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ sensibility, and give you a review of the collection of post–apocalyptic novels I read and enjoyed in 2010.
Early in the year I tackled UNDER THE DOME, Stephen King’s paean to the capriciousness of alien game-playing. In this tale, King slams a dome — invisible and somewhat gas-permeable — down on the small town of Chester’s Mill in Maine, and the resultant chaos is a contemporary American mix of ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, with a taste of ‘Survivor’ thrown in for good measure. I’ve been an acolyte of Stephen King since I was a very small child, reading in the dark with my quaking back against the wall, and I’m the first to admit he’s run hot and cold over the years. This particular story is fairly serviceable, if a trifle bloated. However, in terms of characterization and believable terror, it’s certainly not on par with THE STAND, which is pretty much my gold standard in terms of post–apocalyptic enjoyability.
I followed UNDER THE DOME with Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. McCarthy is pretty much the antithesis of King on the ‘even a margin of faint hope for the future’ spectrum, and I found this book to be bleak almost beyond measure. The story of a man and his child facing a world gone wrong, it is a quest straight into the bowels of hell. If you like your post–apocalyptic jaunts to be well seasoned with nihilism, this is the book for you. The prose is spare and clean, but there is — there can be — no lyricism in this horrific tale.
After a good omnibus or two of PG Wodehouse to cleanse THE ROAD’s blighted landscapes from my brain, I turned to Justin Cronin’s well-lauded THE PASSAGE. Set in a world over-run by a sort of viral breed of vampire-like creatures, it is apparently the first in a trilogy that pits mankind against these new super-creatures, strong, creative and evolving. It is an engaging story, with a good mix of characters and narrative voices.
SWAN SONG, by Robert McCammon, has been my final dip into the post–apocalyptic pool this year, and yet it is the oldest original publication. Written and published in the height of the Reagan presidency, it was just re-issued in paperback by Gallery books late last year. This story resonates from a world where Star Wars diplomacy and nuclear proliferation go just about as wrong as is possible. The first ten or more chapters of this book are among the hardest reading I have ever done, but the sheer plausibility of the story, coupled with McCammon’s haunting skill with visual imagery make the book impossible to put down. In the end, though, it is the characters, [good, evil and otherwise] who draw the reader onward through the story as it races like a roller coaster toward that final, precipitous plunge. Where McCammon shines is his ability to seamlessly blend brutal realism with a sweet, almost ephemeral sense of hope; to craft, in the end, an intensely satisfying read.
Okay, there you have it. We now return you to candy canes and gingerbread. Happy Holidays!