Archive for the ‘Post apocalypse’ Category

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I felt the need to scratch that post-apocalypse zombie itch (again) and remembered I had Monster Island sitting on my bookshelves. Unread. Published in 2006, David Wellington was definitely one of those authors at the forefront of the zombie resurgence but I was happily surprised by what I discovered as I read this fantastic novel.

Kicking off by introducing one of the main protagonists, Dekalb, a UN worker caught up by the apocalypse in East Africa, Monster Island continues to make interesting and inventive turns and twists throughout. Under the ‘protection’ of a Somali warlord, Dekalb is offered the opportunity to keep his daughter safe; all he need do is find enough HIV/AIDS medication to keep the warlord alive. Unfortunately, it’s a far from easy task and, along with a squad of teenage girl soldiers, Dekalb is soon expanding his search all the way to New York.

Here, things truly turn. Dekalb meets our main antagonist Gary. A former medical student and self-made undead, Gary realised that zombification was inevitable but, if done on purpose and with some thought, might result in reanimation without total brain damage and, therefore, loss of personality. However, Gary is still a zombie and his hunger, and situation, can’t be overcome. New York is now the battleground as Dekalb and his girl warriors strive to survive and complete their mission against teeming odds.

What I found interesting is that David Wellington uses the zombie genre as a fantasy setting. It allows him to introduce ideas and characters way outside of the accepted apocalypse tropes. Whilst we still have armed survivors making a stand, military assets being deployed and zombie hordes, others join the fray including a long-dead Scottish Druid with magical powers. It’s a heady mix of fantastical undead proportions and makes for a tumultuous landscape against which Dekalb tries to do the right thing whilst trying to get back to his own daughter.

In the end, Monster Island retains its brutality. It is both fantasy and zombie apocalypse and though there are sparks of humour and touches of character introspection, the conclusion is quite terrible in its honesty. Like all good zombie fiction, Monster Island isn’t just about cracking skulls and drinking toilet water to stay alive; it’s about the cost of the choices made in the desperation to survive that reveals so much about humanity.

My copy
Published by Snowbooks Ltd

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If you’ve ever read any of Gavin G. Smith’s work before, you’ll understand why his latest offering jumped to the top of the reading pile. First, I’m going to give you the blurb that hooked me and then try to review the book without giving too much away..

1987, THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. For Captain Vadim Scorlenski and the rest of the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, being scrambled to unfamiliar territory at no notice, without a brief or proper equipment, is more or less expected; but even by his standards, their mission to one of the United States’ busiest cities stinks…

World War III was over in a matter of hours, and Vadim and most of his squad are dead, but not done. What’s happened to them, and to millions of civilians around the world, goes beyond any war crime; and Vadim and his team – Skull, Mongol, Farm Boy, Princess, Gulag, the Fräulein and New Boy – won’t rest until they’ve seen justice done.

Reading the synopsis reminded me of all those 1980s survivalist/post-apocalyptic pulp novels I read as a kid. I’m not going to lie, it excited me and the opening gambit certainly lived up to expectations. Gavin G. Smith knows his way around the fast paced, ballet of violence that an action novel requires. Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is wild. Adrenaline fuelled fire fights against gut wrenching odds are packed into a story that manages to remain grounded and considered despite the full-bore craziness of a post-apocalyptic background.

The squad led by the protagonist Vadim are a fantastic cast and the banter and comraderie is brilliantly wrought. The fact that Smith is able to include some moral philosophising amongst the blood bath battles is impressive, adding yet another layer. It’s the best of survivalist pulp fiction added to a strong plot and exceptional writing.

Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is pure, unapologetic, full-throttle, action packed awesomeness. Beginning to end, the atmospheric ride is an absolute firestorm. There’s so much more to say but I don’t want to spoil anything too much. Safe to say, Vadim and his squad end up as both enemy and protector in a world gone mad. Plus, there’s the all out slaughter of a group of racist, neo-nazi, war re-enactors which is just the icing on a brutal cake of an exceptional book. Obviously, the author had too much fun and I hope, somehow, he revisits this world again.

Review copy
Published by Abaddon Books

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My wife and I had to take a break in the middle of season 6 for reasons I’ll lay out a bit later, so it took us until a week before the start of chapter seven to catch up. Being slightly obsessed with the show, I felt a proper, continuous rerun was in order for me to fully deal with the fallout from that most shocking openining episode.

Season 6 frustrated me for a number of reasons. Rick and his group came into Alexandria as wild, hardened survivors. The meek residents of the compound knew nothing of the outside world and it’s horrors and Rick was determined to show them that he and his crew were the top dogs. However, a number of mistakes were made, essentially weakening Alexandria and allowing it to come under attack.

Whilst I recognise that many of these ‘mistakes’ are plot devices, in the logic of The Walking Dead world, these errors display a persistent softness in the group. In season 5, Daryl gets caught up in a trap set by the truly feral ‘Wolves’ thereby (accidentally) revealing the location of the compound. Later, he again gets caught by another desperate group on the run from the ‘Saviours’ (who we subsequently meet). Both times he has allowed himself to be tricked and both times it has resulted in dire consequences. As the group’s tracker and most rugged survivor, letting his guard down this often begs the question. Similarly, Ricks weird obsession with Jessie, which ultimately puts his own family in huge danger, displays a serious lack of consideration. As a final example, there is Glenn’s choice to cover for Nicholas and protect him; again this failure to eliminate an issue has seriously bad results (and this is where my wife and I stopped watching as we thought Glenn had been killed, and in such a pointless and frustrating manner).

I could go on. The point is, at the core of Rick and his group is a tendency to help, to try to retain their humanity, to perceive themselves as the good guys and, therefore, able to defeat evil. And I think this is the crux of the matter.

The group has overcome the Governer; they escaped and eliminated Terminus. They are good people who’ve had to do bad things but that’s the problem. They are still holding on to the things that make them vulnerable or that make them hesitate when they should act.

It’s the reason why Carol broke so badly that she felt the need to leave the safety of the group. It’s the reason Morgan sees all life as precious but incessantly puts people in danger due to his personal ethos. The reason Glenn and Daryl hesitate and then pay the consequences. They aren’t as bad or as tough or as hardened as they think they are. It leads to stupid decisions, especially the idea that they can take on the Saviours.

What is so frustrating is the fact that they should be smarter because of everything they’ve done. They should recognise that there are no good guys left; everyone has done necessary evils to stay alive, especially Rick’s group. But they haven’t learned to let go of the things that make them weak. A great example of this is when Carol and Maggie were captured. I thought Carol was faking her fear as a ruse to lure the Saviours into a trap (my wife thought otherwise and she was right). Carol didn’t want to kill anymore because of her own guilt and remorse but she also couldn’t bear to see Maggie hurt – she broke in the worst way because it all became too much. Her tormentor, on the other hand, had given in to the logic of the apocalypse and this counterpoint highlighted a fundamental flaw in our protagonists.

It’s exactly this flaw that continues to see Rick and his group dominated by other survivors. Whilst the idea of the family unit is what makes the group so strong and capable of overcoming hardships, it is also what makes them so vulnerable. Caring for people means that it can be used against you. Similarly, holding on to old ideas mean that you’ve yet to accept the reality of the situation – one which is absolutely brutal.

And, this is none more so portrayed in the gruesomely terrifying opening episode of season 7. I’ve yet to watch the rest of the series but if that was a starter of things to come, it’s going to be rough for our protagonists.

Season 6 is an odd one, basically it sets up the introduction of the Saviours and its impact by allowing us to think that Alexandria is, perhaps, the end of the journey. That, though the apocalypse rages on, the group had survived and found a place to fortify and settle. Yet, much like the prison, threats abound. Once again, it let’s hope in, only to have it smashed to pieces with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat.

Now, all I need to do is find the time to watch season 7…

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I’ve just noticed that the last few books I’ve reviewed have all been in the post-apocalypse genre. Each and every one has been vastly different explorations of how humanity deals with disaster and Into The Guns is another, distinct take on the theme. The beginning stanza in a new series, titled America Rising, William C Dietz has produced an action packed, barnburner of a novel.

Into The Guns doesn’t dally. A mass meteor strike sets off a series a catastrophes, from tsunamis and earthquakes to missle attacks from China. America is in disarray and within weeks armed gangs and drug lords are creating fiefdoms. The government is shattered and its armed forces left without a chain of command. Everyone is fighting for themselves.

Including each of the characters in this ensemble cast. Sam T Sloan, Secretary of Energy, was in Mexico when the meteors struck and in the middle of escaping a kidnap attempt. Alone and far from home soil, Sloan quickly proves how resourceful and resilient he is, appropriating a canoe before undertaking a 300 mile journey. Yet just as he reaches the USA, he is captured though by different people with a totally different purpose.

Meanwhile, First Lieutenant Robin ‘Mac’ Macintyre is tasked with leading a group of refugees out of the disaster zone. However, though she and her squad survive a landslide, her caravan of citizens are buried under a mass of rock. Cut off from her base and with no commanding officer, Mac sets about making sure her team survive.

In the intervening weeks, post- catalyst America becomes divided. Mac and her team become mercenaries whilst Sloan makes good on a daring escape. Civil war looms large as a group of enterprising entrepreneurs in the South form a new government based on pure capitalism.

As this is the set up in a trilogy, a number of pieces are put in place; namely Sloan’s promotion to President and the plot line conflict between Mac and her sister (an Army Major) and father (a General). Both have sided with the South in this new Civil War against Slone and the North. This is a blockbuster, big budget novel and the action is relentless – a President fighting on the front lines, a country torn apart and divided and a family at war, echoing the greater battle.

into The Guns is hard military sci-fi in a post-catalyst American wasteland at its explosive best. Here’s looking forward to the next in the series.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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They took everything — killed his wife, enslaved his daughter, destroyed his life. Now he’s a man with nothing left to lose … and that’s what makes him so dangerous.

This is a tale of revenge and attrition; of just how far a man will go to avenge the loss of his loved ones when all he has left is grief fuelled anger. Yet, it is also a thoughtful consideration of what happens when that violence becomes too much; when, amongst all the blood and death, the initial reasonings become lost and only insanity is left; and, whether one’s humanity can ever be regained.

Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape twelve years removed from the event, Wolves is a brutal journey full of gunsmoke, survival and retribution. A hugely atmospheric read, DJ Molles has blended the feeling of the Wild West with post-disaster mentality. It’s a cruel, gritty world where a man can be slaughtered for a drink of water. Technology has reverted to farming, horses and homesteading communities. But, there’s a dark side – the slavers plying their trade mercilessly.

Huxley, our protagonist, is all but dead when he meets Jay in the desert of the wastelands. And, so begins, an uneasy partnership based on vengeance, one that sees them taking the horror and pain inside them to the very people who caused it, supported it or endorsed it. Along the way, the two form a rag-tag band of freed slaves and other survivors, cutting a murderous path into the burgeoning society built on the back of the slave trade.

However, the purpose of their revenge is soon cast adrift as the murdering and havoc takes on its own meaning. Huxley realises that he has become unrecognisable to the memory of those very people he seeks retribution for.

In fits and starts, the contrast between Huxley and Jay becomes more obvious. Huxley can’t give up his memories of his wife and daughter, slowly understanding that to lose the idea of them would be to give up the very grounding of his being; it is a fate worse than death.

One the one hand, Wolves is a fantastic post-apocalyptic tale of unbridled revenge; of adrenaline fuelled shoot-outs and vicious fury in the best wild-western-esque setting. On the other, it is a quiet consideration of how memory, especially of family, makes us human, giving us compassion and empathy for our fellows. When everyone has lost something, all becomes unhinged. Yet, sometimes there is a way back as Wolves poetically and unobtrusively shows.

Review copy
Blackstone Publishing

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I’ve not read any of the Hooded Man books in the Afterblight universe but, if Paul Kane’s contribution to this collection is anything to go by, I really should. Flaming Arrow is quite a different prospect from the other stories collected in End of the End. Rather than the insidious psychosis that resides in Children of the Cull or the equally brutal and harsh landscape of a fractured Britain in Fall out, Kane spices his chapter in this shared-world series with the addition of magical mystery.

Drawing on the stories of Robin Hood and the legends surrounding the man, Kane infuses his post-apocalyptic tale with the idea that Sherwood Forest imbues certain figureheads with a supernatural power; to heal, to fight against evil and to help the downtrodden. In Flaming Arrow, we are introduced to this idea via an old man retelling the story of the ‘Hooded Man’ to a young scavenger.

It’s an interesting bookend that frames the narrative, one which offers an incomplete snapshot of a frightening scenario. In a way it feels like the set-up to a much larger novel – one which I hope gets written. Because, though it gives no conclusions, it suggests so much. Under the guidance of the Hooded Man, the Rangers have made Britain a safer place yet there are still threats at home and abroad eager to strike.

It’s a slow burn to start with but Flaming Arrow culminates in a monstrous showdown – one that implies a very serious ending to this harsh end times.

Review copy
Published by Abbadon Books

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Children of the Cull by Cavan Scott brings together two characters from the original Afterblight books; namely Si Spurrier’s lead from The Culled and Rebecca Levene’s earnest but bonkers scientist from Kill or Cure, reviewed here. Once again entrenched within a research facility, Jasmine, however, isn’t struggling with her addictions this time. Instead, she’s running experiments and tests on a group of children in what seems, at first, to be compassionate circumstances but soon unravels to reveal a more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, the soldier is staking out the facility in question, observing a series of failed, amateur attacks. He ends up embroiled with the would-be raiders, hiding his true purpose but using their numbers to achieve his end. Much like Kill Or Cure, this novella slowly peels away the veneer to expose the darkness at its heart.

Scott does a brilliant job, retaining the voice of Jasmine, the research scientist whose ‘cure’ results in a less than stable mental state. Interspersed by the story of the nameless soldier who is desperately trying to find her, the book brings both together in a blistering conclusion. The action is expertly paced and there are a number of plots at play that make for a truly engaging read.

Review copy
Published by Abaddon

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Abaddon Books have produced another, fantastic collection of novellas in their shared-world setting of the Afterblight. After the awesome Journal of the Plague Year which I reviewed here and here comes End of the End, a collection of stories detailing the post-apocalyptic landscape years after the ‘Cull’.

Each story revisits some of the best works in the series, and first up is Fall Out by Simon Guerrier taking up the story begun in Scott K Andrew’s School’s Out. Guerrier lands us solidly into the wild and brutal place that England has become as protagonist Jack Bedford and his companion Jane, travel to Oxford to consult with the new government forming there. Touching on Jack’s past, Fall Out stands squarely between doing what is right and what is politic. In a series of power plays and double blinds, Jack and Jane find themselves coerced into decommissioning a nuclear power station.

As the rightful ‘King’ of England, Jack understands he has no choice; cowardice would destroy his place in the emerging society and result in probable death; entering a power station about to go into meltdown is equally fatal. For Jack, the idea of the King is to unite a fractured, warring country; to help restore peace under a common idea. It is about legacy, about the image of a King’s duty but little is as it seems. The journey is fraught and treacherous, and the writing fast paced and action packed. In the end, Fall Out is an exacting test for the young Jack, one that leaves little space for respite. The post- Cull world is a savage place where hope is crushed and defiance strangled, and Fall Out is a brilliant addition to this excellent series.

Review copy
Published by Abaddon Books

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The film-fest continues, this time with Mad Max: Fury Road and, much like Terminator, it’s another of my favourite movie franchises from my youth. However, considering the development hell this feature went through, it’s an absolutely amazing reboot of the Mad Max series.

Like previous stanzas, Mad Max: Fury Road is a tale of survival in an apocalyptic wasteland of epic proportions. From the outset, it’s mental and I mean, as completely and utterly mental as a bag of frogs. Max, captured by the War Boys,the crazed army of Immortan Joe, tries to escape his fate as a blood bag (blood donor) in a scene that sets the tone for the whole film; fast, vicious and insane.

His eventual emancipation comes about as the War Boys try to stop Imperator Furiosa who, herself, is making off with the aforementioned Joe’s favourite breeders. Reluctantly, Max ends up joining forces with Furiosa and, in parallels to some of the great westerns, so begins a tale of vengeance, redemption and, ultimately, compassion.

Chased across a desolate wasteland, Max, though hardwired to his most basic instinct to survive, can’t help but give in to his better self. Amidst so much chaos and hatred, Max’s altruism sees him helping Furiosa to return to her childhood home and even taking in one of the War Boys, Nux, in a display of humanity starkly contrasted by the suicidal tendencies of those futuristic soldiers.

In a way, it’s a great allegory of how humankind retains it’s kindness and benevolence in the face of total apocalyptic destruction. On the other hand, it’s a rip-roaring, balls to the wall, totally bonkers sci-fi action movie.

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Recently, I was afforded the time to watch a trifecta of epic sci-fi films. First up, Terminator Genisys.

As a big fan of the franchise, I really wanted to like Terminator Genisys and, in the main, I did. I was excited about a new chapter in the cannon and with Arnie back on board, I had high hopes. Personally, I thought the opening scenes paying homage to the original was brilliant and the T-800 versus T-800 was a great way to show the new direction this film was about to take. A new timeline and a different past/future was a good move to make.

Again, in the main part, this worked well. Changing Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems away from physical robotics to the virtual software programs and media networks we so rely on nowadays was a smart idea. Equally, pitching John Connor as the antagonist was another clever shift in the paradigm; he remains a saviour but this time for Skynet, not humanity.

Whilst Terminator 2, 3 and to an extent Salvation followed a timeline, this reboot had some serious potential. The opening homage, the continuity of elements and details such as the scars on John Connor’s face, all recognised the previous chapters whilst stating that this was a definite new beginning for the franchise.

But. Firstly, Genisys was kind of ‘lite’; a diet version of the gritty, cyborg-machine apocalypse of the original. Though Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney were both solid, neither was gnarly enough for the roles. Clarke didn’t seem to have that unhinged factor that Linda Hamilton brought to the second film; she wasn’t meant to be a terrified waitress but neither was she a prepped warrior. Likewise, Courtney was almost too soft and bewildered compared to the sinewy, hard-as-nails Kyle Reese from the first Terminator; he just didn’t seem to have the readiness nor adaptability of someone forged in the ruins of humanity.

Lastly, the ending. Equally ‘lite’ and definitely confusing. Time travel usually is but to have Kyle met his younger self to tell himself to remember to do a something he’s clearly already done (else his younger self wouldn’t be with his parents and Judgement Day would have occurred) is a weird paradox and, seemingly pointless. I expect there were a few elements left unanswered, such as Arnie’s character, that were waiting for the next film. Whether that happens or not, or the rights get sold again, I hope the central concept behind Terminator remains as it important as it is just like a futuristic CPU picked out of the wreckage of a destroyed factory.

Terminator Genisys was a good effort. I know I’ll definitely watch it again because, like I said, I’m a big fan and there’s nothing better than a marathon viewing of your favourite franchise.