Book Review: The Apocalypse Seven by Gene Doucette

Title: The Apocalypse Seven
Author: Gene Doucette
Publisher: John Joseph Adams
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (plus a Goodreads giveaway!)
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whatever.

The whateverpocalypse. That’s what Touré, a twenty-something Cambridge coder, calls it after waking up one morning to find himself seemingly the only person left in the city. Once he finds Robbie and Carol, two equally disoriented Harvard freshmen, he realizes he isn’t alone, but the name sticks: Whateverpocalypse. But it doesn’t explain where everyone went. It doesn’t explain how the city became overgrown with vegetation in the space of a night. Or how wild animals with no fear of humans came to roam the streets.

Add freakish weather to the mix, swings of temperature that spawn tornadoes one minute and snowstorms the next, and it seems things can’t get much weirder. Yet even as a handful of new survivors appear—Paul, a preacher as quick with a gun as a Bible verse; Win, a young professional with a horse; Bethany, a thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent; and Ananda, an MIT astrophysics adjunct—life in Cambridge, Massachusetts gets stranger and stranger.

The self-styled Apocalypse Seven are tired of questions with no answers. Tired of being hunted by things seen and unseen. Now, armed with curiosity, desperation, a shotgun, and a bow, they become the hunters. And that’s when things truly get weird.

I found myself mumbling or exclaiming “WTF???” practically once a chapter, start to finish, in this incredibly entertaining and mind-blowing novel of the apocalypse.

Or, as Touré puts it, the whateverpocalypse.

Seven seemingly random strangers wake up to find that they’re alone in a world suddenly overrun by plant life and wild animals — in what was formerly an urban college town. At Harvard and at MIT, several individuals wake up in confusion. Robbie wakes up in his dorm room bed, frantic that he overslept on the first day of freshman classes, only to discover that his technology doesn’t work, he has no idea what time it is, the clothes in the dresser drawers aren’t his, and there’s absolutely no one else around.

Before long he meets fellow student Carol, a blind young woman unsuccessfully trying to locate her dog, and the two then meet free-spirited Toure. Meanwhile, MIT astrophysicist Ananda wakes up at her office desk, confused by why she’s wearing her “Monday clothes” on a Tuesday, teen-ager Bethany wakes up in her suburban family home to see the shrine her family has erected in her memory, pastor Paul leaves his isolated New Hampshire mountaintop chapel when he realizes he’s all alone, and tough-girl Win mounts a horse to head toward a city and try to find other people.

They quickly realize that they’re the only people in the greater Boston area, and most likely in the world, but they have no idea why. How could all these trees and plants have grown so rapidly? Why are there deer and boar and wolves roaming and/or rampaging through the city streets?

Survival is the first issue to address, and initially, Robbie, Toure, and Carol are in rough shape, with no practical skills between them. As they connect with the others and explore local resources, they form plans, raid local malls to stock up on tools and clothing, figure out which parts of campus are safe (and where they’re most likely to run into packs of slavering wolves), and generally start to squeak their way toward something like building a way of staying alive.

The question remains, though: Why did they survive, and no one else did? What made them different? What actually happened to the human population of earth?

Don’t look at me — I’m not giving a thing away! Hints and odd facts and anomalies come to light along the way, but it’s only in the last 20% or so that the characters start to arrive at some real answers. I gotta be honest — even having finished the book, I’m not sure I completely get it, but I think it’s more a question of my brain not being able to fully follow the WTF-ness of it all than it not making sense. There is definitely an answer — but it’s kind of bent my brain into a pretzel, and it’ll take me some time to untangle it all.

There’s so much to love about The Apocalypse Seven. I’m often put off by books that focus on a group coming together, because many times the characters are introduced too quickly or in too large a chunk for them to really differentiate themselves as individuals. Not so in this book — each of the seven are special and memorable, with distinct personalities and backstories and abilities, and I really appreciated how well described they all are.

I also really enjoyed the setting. Who would have thought that a college town like Cambridge would offer so many resources for hiding, finding survival gear, and making a safe(ish) long-term shelter? The use of the campuses and their resources is really ingenious, and I was charmed by the characters’ inventiveness.

It’s also worth noting that this book — despite being about the near-total extinction of the human race — can be really, really funny. The characters are clever and the banter is crisp, and certain elements are just ridiculous enough to make me laugh out loud (or feel quietly charmed).

I really, really want other people to read this book! First of all, it’s so enjoyable and mind-warpy, frightening in its own way — but really, how seriously dire can the end of the world feel when characters use words like “whateverpocalypse”? Beyond the terrific reading experience, I want people I know to read The Apocalypse Seven so someone can explain the ending to me and tell me if we understand it the same way!!

Really and truly, though, The Apocalypse Seven is a terrific read, and I had a great time zipping my way through it.

Big shout-out and thank you to the publisher and Goodreads — I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway!

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Book Review: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Title: Hollow Kingdom
Author: Kira Jane Buxton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.

Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.

If you think a book whose lead character is a crow must be weird, well, you’re right. It’s also amazing and fabulous, and I loved it a bunch!

In Hollow Kingdom, something is very wrong with the humans (referred to as MoFos by our hero, S.T. (whose name stands for Shit Turd, in case you’re wondering). There’s the fact that Big Jim’s eyeball has fallen out. And their heads are all at weird angles. And they run their fingers over surfaces until they’re worn down to bone and beyond. And they’ve become feral. Yeah, the world has definitely changed. And S.T. doesn’t like it one bit.

All S.T. wants is for things to go back to normal, so he can watch TV and eat Cheetos with Big Jim, but sadly, it’s looking less and less likely. Finally, S.T. decides to set out with Big Jim’s dog Dennis to find out what’s going on with the rest of the MoFos outside their Seattle home.

It’s not pretty. The world has fallen apart. As S.T. learns from the murder of crows who hang out at the university, all of humanity has been destroyed by a technology-spread virus. Now, it’s time for nature to reassert a sense of balance in the world. The zoo animals have been released, and giraffes and elephants wander the city. There’s a trio of tigers on the loose as well, and a local stadium has become home to hippos. S.T. and Dennis set out on a mission to free the domestics — finding ways to break into homes and release the pet animals who would otherwise starve to death, locked inside houses where there are no more humans to open the doors or provide food.

It’s a dangerous and awe-inspiring adventure, and S.T. is a magnificent narrator. He considers himself more human than crow, and his journey gives him an opportunity to reconsider where he fits in the natural world and to reconnect with his crow-ness.

The mythology of the animal world is inventive and oddly logical, and the interplay between species works so well. And it’s not just animals — for those who listen, even the trees have wisdom to impart.

S.T. is an opinionated, foul-mouthed anti-hero, who finds himself in the hero business purely by accident, and then rises to the occasion. That doesn’t mean that he loves everyone he meets or revises his condemnation for lesser creatures, including his loathing of penguins — as when he encounters the welcome sign at the zoo:

You can imagine how elated I was to discover that they’d placed cutouts of frolicking penguins all over their sign. Fucking newspaper-colored, ice-balled dick goblins, yeah, that’s who you want as your brand ambassador.

He looks down on lots of birds and animals, to be sure:

It had become clear on this second attempt at going airborne that I now had the aviation skills of an obese chicken. Again, I tried to focus on the positive and not the comparison to a bird who likes to sing while ovulating and has the worst retirement plan of all time (pot pie).

But there are also moment of adulation:

We were utterly surrounded. Plovers, kingfishers, ospreys, sapsuckers, larks, nightjars, shrikes, and buntings. I got starstruck at the sight of a snowy owl, because, I mean, Harry Potter.

S.T. isn’t the only narrator — in brief chapters mixed in throughout the book, we get scenes from the point of view of cats, dogs, trees, and even a polar bear. One of my favorites is Genghis Cat, who has a unique worldview, especially when it comes to taking care of the orangutan who’s come into his life:

Orange needs my protection. He is very, very fat. I summon my feline kin to join me in his protection. Striped ones with laser-pointer moves, jumpers, long-haired assassins, night kings, mousers, shadow stalkers, tree scalers, and one strange naked one that looks like an uncooked chicken. We are killers, warriors, hunters.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Hollow Kingdom is strange and wonderful, incredibly fascinating and surprisingly funny and moving. It’s a brave new world, one without MoFos like us, and the animal kingdom is ready to take it on.

Hollow Kingdom is, plain and simple, a great read, unlike anything else I’ve read in the past few years. Don’t miss it.

S.T., is that you?

Take A Peek Book Review: The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a postapocalyptic take on the perennial classic “Little Red Riding Hood”…about a woman who isn’t as defenseless as she seems.

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

My Thoughts:

The Girl in Red brings together so many elements that I absolutely love in books. Pandemic? Check. Breakdown of civilization? Check. Woman having to survive on her own? Check, check, check.

Red, in her earlier years, was an avid consumer of horror and disaster films, and so she knows the rules. Be prepared. Always have your weapon and pack ready. Never split up. Don’t do the stupid things that movie characters always do, because that leads to very bad things. And if you want to survive, you’ve got to learn fast and do whatever it takes.

I loved Red. She’s smart, strong, and determined. Left alone suddenly and tragically, her only hope is to avoid what she’s sure will be certain death in a quarantine camp by making her way to her grandmother’s isolated home in the woods, which means trekking through hundreds of miles of forest and defending herself along the way, all without being discovered or captured or exposed to the deadly disease that’s ravaged the world. Also, as a biracial, bisexual, disabled woman, Red is a breath of fresh air as a main character, especially since she’s a survivor who never lets anything, including her prosthetic leg, keep her from her path.

The plot is exciting and filled with danger. I love how the author flashes between present day, as Red progresses on her journey and uncovers all sorts of disturbing secrets, and the past, as she and her family prepare their escape and have their plans fall apart as the crisis escalates.

My only quibble here is that the end comes much too soon, and there are so many plot threads left untied. What happens next? What caused all the bad things (being vague here…)? I certainly hope there’s a next book, because I’m dying to know more. (I just wish this book was clearly marked as book #1 in a series, so I’d have been prepared to feel left hanging at the end.)

The Girl in Red is a great read, and I want more! I haven’t read anything else by this author yet, but that’s clearly got to change.

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The details:

Title: The Girl in Red
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 18, 2019
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

When I read Black Crouch’s previous novel, Dark Matter, I used the word mind-f*ckery in my review. And apparently, this author excels at mind-f*ckery, because that’s exactly how I’d describe this book too.

And I mean that as very high praise!

Recursion is crazy heaps of mind-melting, time-distorting, reality-altering fun, and I loved it start to finish.

Barry is our non-scientist entry into the world of playing with reality by activating memories. Helena is the scientist who makes it all possible. Her goal is to help her mother before she completely loses herself to Alzheimer’s, but an innovative mega-millionaire realizes that Helena’s invention can be so much more. When he funds her research, the best scientific minds are assembled to create the device at the heart of Helena’s studies, a chair that enables people to save the synaptic imprints of vivid memories so that they can be re-experienced later, perhaps when those memories have been consumed by disease and deterioration.

I won’t go deeper into plot than what I’ve already said. Through Barry and Helena’s separate experiences, we learn about the research, the ulterior motives of Helena’s benefactor, and the mind-boggling way in which her device can be put to use. The end results are far from what Helena intended or even dreamed… and from the reader’s perspective, it’s just so weird and cool. I came close to permanently tying my brain into a pretzel trying to follow some of the logic and cause-and-effect factors and timey-wimey shenanigans that get wilder and wilder as the book progresses. How crazy is it all? There are apocalypses. Yes, plural. Apocalypses.

At the same time that all this reality bending is going on, there are deep and beautiful relationships at stake, painful emotions and harsh truths, and some really intriguing thoughts about the role of memory and the meaning of experiences.

He is always looking back, living more in memories than the present, often altering them to make them prettier. To make them perfect. Nostalgia is as much an analgesic for him as alcohol.

The plot is complex and made me work hard to follow it (and I’m not sure I always understood exactly why things happened how and when they did), but I loved every moment and couldn’t put the book down. Recursion reminded me a little of one of my very favorite science fiction books, Replay by Ken Grimwood (which, if you haven’t read it, drop everything and go find a copy!).

As I think is obvious by now, I completely fell for Recursion and have been recommending it like a madwoman ever since I finished it. And every time I got confused by a freakish time twist? I just remembered a comment of Helena’s:

You have to stop thinking linearly.

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The details:

Title: Recursion
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: June 11, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back in this fiercely compelling tale of survival, courage, and hope. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts.

My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

My Thoughts:

A man stole my dog.

I went after him.

Bad things happened.

I can never go home.

I’ll keep this short and to the point, because it would be way too easy to veer into spoilery territory, and this book is best experienced fresh and free from a whole lot of expectations. It’s a wonderful story about love and loyalty, centered around a quest to retrieve a beloved dog, and filled with danger, unexpected alliances and moments of grace, bravery, and defiance. And yes, a little sadness too.

The title says a lot about the basics of the book. The key point is that this is a world of after — nothing is as we know it. And it’s not because of a world war or other doomsday scenario. Instead, the world basically went infertile, except for a very small percentage of people who didn’t. There was a last generation, and once they died out, the people who remained — about 7,000 worldwide — were left to live on in whatever fashion suited them. The world we know was essentially dead. Nothing new was made or created, and people survived through farming and scavenging (or, as Griz’s family calls it, “viking” — they’d go “a-viking” to see what they could find to reuse and repurpose on their own little isolated island).

Told through Griz’s first-person narration, the story takes us along Griz’s journey, across the sea and through an abandoned and alien mainland… because a stolen dog cannot be forgotten. I loved the writing, both plain and unembellished, yet full of fun word play and cadences:

And then the thing that happened happened and what happened was really three things and they all happened at once.

I really truly loved this book. It’s sad and frightening, but also lovely and inspiring. Griz is a terrific, memorable main character. The story wraps up well, neatly enough to leave me satisfied, but I still wish I could learn more about this world and the people left in it.

Highly recommended. What a treat!

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The details:

Title: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Author: C. A. Fletcher
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: April 23, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/post-apocalyptic fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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