The circumstances of this post-apocalyptic near future scenario are familiar: nuclear war breaks out. The United States goes through a period of upheaval. Minnesota breaks off into the Minnesota Territory and creates a government where corporations can create monopolies.People become a homogenous group of automatons for the state. Eventually, the reader follows Sally Dodge as she leads the territory in a revolution.
All good qualities. The writer, Cynthia Kraak, has a pretty good story on her hands, but there are a few problems: its use of current events and the not-so-subtle political overtones. Continue reading
I just got this game today, and I love it. It’s pretty simple: the game gives you a bunch of plants, some sunflowers, and a few bombs. The objective is to stop the zombies before they reach your house and eat your brains. As you move further into the game, the hoard attacks get more intense, and you really have to think about what kinds of tools and plants you’ll put in your arsenal since you can’t take it all with you. Right now, I’m a fan of the frozen pea shooter and the the little mushroom guys that shoot spores at the zombies. Makes me want to read World War Z all over again.
I’ve never been good at writing about poetry. That’s why after I read Lord George Gordon Byron’s Darkness several times, I went on a Google expedition. Poetry has always scared me because getting stuck in the tone, diction, and “what was the speaker feeling?” myre is a little too easy. Of course, these are all valid ways to look at poetry — or any other literary work for that matter — but I find it frustrating that a poem is viewed as a code to be cracked.
Synopsis: The poem details the observations of a man whose world is covered in darkness by some fiery cataclysmic event. Byron writes:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day…
There’s a lot more after that, but the setup is incredibly important because it lays the foundation for what life was like in Geneva, the city where Byron is said to have gotten the inspiration for this poem, according to Wikipedia.
Historical Context: On the surface, the poem does resemble a last man on Earth story. However, according to Wikipedia, Byron wrote “Darkness” in July 1816, which is referred to as the Year Without a Summer. During that summer, “severe summer climate abnormalities destroyed crops in Northern Europe, the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe,” according to the entry in Wikipedia.
These crazy weather patterns, scholars think, were caused “by a combination of a historic low in solar activity with a volcanic winter event; the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped off by the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the largest known eruption in over 1,600 years,” the post elaborates.
What’s more, if Wikipedia is to be believed, other pretty important things happened because of Mount Tambora’s erruption: Mary Shelley wrote ”Frankenstein” and John William Polidori’s wrote “The Vampyre.” The colder weather also led to poor crop yields, which led to a scarcity of oats for horses, spurring the invention of alternative, horseless transportation. Back then, it was known as the velocipede. Today, we know the contraptions under the name, bicycle. And then we have Joseph Smith. Without that volcano, the Book of Mormon and founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might have never happened.
So here you have it, folks: Darkness.
Published in 1954, Fredric Brown’s Answer is an example of good flash fiction. In the very short story, Brown writes about man building a super computer, which connects 96 billion planets. Since all the knowledge of the world is connected by the flip of a switch, the main character, Dwar Reyn, takes the opportunity to ask the computer a question, “a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer.”
Is there a god?
I don’t want to spoil the end, so I’ll stop plot the discussion here.
What I love about the story is that the reader is intentionally left to fill in the blanks. You’d have to given Answer’s word count.
Every good news story has a nut graf. The nut graf tells you why the story is important — why you are reading it. BBC’s television show, “Survivors,” has a nut graf. I know. I know. “Survivors” isn’t a newspaper story, but in the first episode there is one scene that tells you why you are watching the show. You’re watching because you want to see people come to grips with the fact that their cell phones won’t save them. After all, you can’t eat 3G network for breakfast.
The story is set after a pandemic flu wipes out 90 percent of the human population and centers on a group of people who have survived the outbreak, either by being naturally immune or by getting sick and recovering. Even though the show has a pretty typical cast of characters for this type of story (people who only see the good in others, a felon, morally ambiguous people, some kind of super secret spy agent guy who isn’t revealing anything, and an angelic child who has still kept his innocence despite all the death around him), the show is just flat out good with themes of new beginnings and how choices affect outcomes. More to come as I get more familiar with the show.
It’s a bad sign when you have to talk yourself into finishing a book, and that’s exactly where I am with “Plague Year” by Jeff Carlson. If I had even 30 pages to go, I might be exaggerating about how much of that novel I have left to read. Still, I find myself struggling to finish the book, to care about what happens to what ends up being a pretty shallow story, with very shallow characters, which is a shame because of how strong the book’s lede is. “They ate Jorgensen first,” Carlson writes in his opening sentence.
Genius. The story grasped me immediately, and then Carlson telegraphed every plot twist after the first 90 pages. Sad.
I’m going to power through to the end of the book this weekend since I’ve made the commitment to read the stories on The List, but I may or may not update this post depending on how spectacular the ending is. Right now, I just feel disappointed. I foresee no update, but we’ll see.
UPDATE: (July 2, 2010) When I said I’d power through the book over the weekend, I really meant the week and only at the pace of a couple of pages at a time.
So let’s get into it.
One thing that really bugs me about the book is how the narrator is too omniscient, and it gets to the point where you just don’t know if it’s a character’s subconscious mind that is playing narrator or some observant being who isn’t exactly detached from the situation.
Carlson also does a great job of telling you about what’s unfolding, but he doesn’t really show it. I was also disappointed that we never got back to how badly messed up you can get by becoming a cannibal. As I mentioned earlier, the novel starts off with, “They ate Jorgensen first,” and ends with one of the central characters just kind of feeling bad that he resorted to eating people as a way to survive.
Anyway, this book was a major bust for me. On to the next story now.
I take pride in finding lists and conquering them, especially when it comes to books and movies. My informal quest to read through The List on The Mixed-Up Files of Phnuggle and the Top 10 Post Apocalyptic books on ApocalypticMovies.com just got a little more interesting.
io9.com has a regular series, Blogging the Hugos,” where writer Josh Wimmer reviews Hugo Award-winning books in chronological order, beginning with the first award in 1953 for The Demolished Man. Fortunately, the regular column in biweekly, and only began in October 2009.
So far, Wimmer has reviewed 17 books. Here’s the link to the list of books he’s read. I’m so glad there’s a bit of criss cross between this list and the other lists I’m slowly working my way through.
Ten-fifteen. The garden sprinklers whirled up in golden founts, filling the soft morning air with scatterings of brightness. The water pelted windowpanes, running down the charred west side where the house had been burned evenly free of its white paint. The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball,and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down. –Ray Bradbury
This story is a fantastic read, touching on life for a house after some unspecified nuclear disaster 16 years and two months from today. “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” is part of Ray Bradbury’s short story collection, The Martian Chronicles. The story’s real success lives in the details. Bradbury uses rich, vivid description to make the house seem alive, and for all intents and purposes, the house is a living sentient being struggling with the loss of its owners in the wake of an awful calamity. By the end of the story you care about the house and want it — automated, mechanical parts and all — to succeed.
That’s exactly what Toxic Skies bills itself as, and it’s exactly what it delivers. Dr. Tess Martin, played by Anne Heche, is called in to find out how to stop a mysterious virus giving the people a killer dose of avian flu and bubonic plague before it takes down Spokane, Wash., along with the rest of America. While Martin investigates how to stop and eradicate the disease, she uncovers a plot between a major pharmaceutical company and the military, and it’s up to her to get the word out. So allow me to ask again, who doesn’t love a good sci fi, conspiracy made-for-television, straight-to-DVD movie?