(Spoilers are pretty minor throughout)
1) World War Z by Max Brooks
I saw the movie before reading the book, which was a really good order to do things in because as much as I love a good mindless action-packed end-of-the-world movie (and - oh - I really do love those to an almost worrisome degree), I love a strong, smart, piece of social commentary set against the backdrop of the apocalypse even more. There was an almost unsettling realism to this book that made it all the more eerie. And, as much as I enjoy a good zombie story, World War Z isn't actually about the zombies; it's about everyone else. The zombies might as well have been smallpox or the plague or anything that spread amongst the population and incited desperation and panic.
First and foremost, World War Z is about people. People of different cultures, from different backgrounds with different values. It's about how they cope both individually and collectively against unthinkable odds. It's about human nature - the best and the worst in all of us, about what we are willing to do when there are no good choices left and everything is on the line. This is a novel that fit my literary interests precisely. My sole point of criticism to it is that (particularly toward the end) it was sometimes difficult to keep characters straight. But its a minor criticism. I'm glad I bought this book rather than check it out from the library. I'll definitely read it again.
2) The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
Space Merchants was written in the 1940s and 1950s by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Pohl intrigued me simply because his writing career spans more than seventy years and his writing won four Hugos and more than a couple of Nebula Awards. This isn't a book that met with a lot of initial success and I can see why. It isn't flashy. It doesn't have the action-packed appeal that a lot of popular 1950s sci-fi had. In some ways, I think Pohl conceived this story too early. At its core, it's a story warning against the dangers of overly powerful corporations. Prophetic? Maybe. Enron is specifically mentioned at one point. A good read? Not really.
A handful of corporations control virtually the entire incredibly over-crowded world. Commercialism is king and conservationists (nicknamed Consies) are considered terrorists. There's no one more powerful or more respected than the top advertising executives. And, with Venus suddenly deemed habitable (a questionable assessment, to be sure), the main character's job is to drive an ad campaign that will entice colonists to go to Venus.
The plot could have worked and it has some wonderful points (Senators and Representatives being blatantly representative of corporations was incredibly interesting), but the tale itself felt woefully flawed to me. The main character's realizations and changes of heart felt forced and somewhat inexplicable. Several plot points seemed to come out of nowhere, too. But the biggest problem, I think, was in how the story was crafted. Pohl wrote the first third of the book, Kornbluth the second third, and the two switched off every four pages for the last third. It didn't work. Maybe in that era such a method couldn't work between two writers who didn't even live in the same city. After the first third of the book, I had the general sense that the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing and vice-versa. It didn't help either that I much preferred Pohl's style of writing to Kornbluth's. I bought the book, but I plan on trading it in.
3) The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The Passage was a monster of a book in every sense. The story of our world falling victim to its own hubris, as military experiments on death row inmates inadvertently create incredibly powerful monsters of these men. Somewhere between zombies and vampires and somehow embodying the most horrifying aspects of both, the world is quickly overrun, survivors are few and life is hard. Often brutally violent and utterly terrifying, The Passage spans a hundred years over about 800 pages. It's a commitment to read but one that I absolutely loved. The Twelve, it's sequel and the second of what will be a trilogy that's already been optioned by Ridley Scott for the movie rights, is a little shorter at 600 pages, but no less monstrous.
I think it's undeniable that Justin Cronin has an amazing way with words. His characterizations of even minor characters feel intensely three-dimensional and his settings are fully realized in precise detail. That being said, his style can be somewhat jarring in his tendency to jump around in time and introduce entire new casts of characters with little or no warning (most of the time killing half of them off in short order). It takes about 200 pages for The Twelve to rejoin with the main characters in The Passage and when it does, it does so with maximum brutality and an intensely complex narrative that's sometimes a little confusing. It's rare that I've read anything that, were it fanfic, would require so many trigger warnings. There were plenty of times I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit.
Nevertheless, there's a haunting quality to this book, as there was to its predecessor, and I look forward to next year's conclusion of the series. There are strong parallels between this series and the reboot of Battlestar Galactica (I was pleased to find that I wasn't the only one to think this, as several reviews for the book point this out). Indeed, despite their physical differences, I can't help but picture Lish and Peter as Starbuck and Apollo... right down to the "special destiny" and the daddy issues. Like World War Z (which honestly handled the immediate aftermath of a massively cataclysmic event much more convincingly), The Twelve casts a spotlight on humanity, amplifying the best and the worst of us. And, like World War Z, I found myself thinking that the worst monsters weren't the inhuman things attacking everyone, but the self-serving people of the world indifferent to the pain they might be causing others in their struggle to address their own best interests. I liked The Twelve in spite of how difficult it was to read at times. However, it didn't absorb me the same way that The Passage did. I'm hoping The City of Mirrors, the final book in the trilogy, brings it all back full circle when it comes out. (I'm also really hoping Katee Sackhoff plays Lish in the movie. Please, Ridley Scott? Pretty please?)
I'm reading another book now, where late the sweet birds sang by Kate Wilhelm, but the stupid publisher missed a rather important page right in the middle of the book, so I'm going to try and go exchange it tomorrow. Still, I'll say this about it. It's a 1970s Hugo award winner about a small town who survives the apocalypse (What? I have a certain kind of story I really, really like...) only to find they've all been turned barren. They turn to cloning to prolong the life of the human species. The story appears to predominately be about these clones who share a mental bond and shun "breeders" (those amongst the clones who aren't barren), their elders and anyone with a sense of individuality. Thus far, I'm not loving the book, but I suspect that's largely because of intentionally bland characterization meant to show the interchangeable nature of the identical clones. I'm hoping the last half of the book will be more engaging.
Anyone read any of these?? Opinions jive or am I kooky?