Archive for the ‘Post apocalypse’ Category

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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.

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Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a real-world apocalyptic adventure. By ‘real-world’, I mean that it references pop culture and celebrities just as much as it builds up the fantastical disease (dragonscale) that is ravaging humankind and driving it to extinction. Reading about JK Rowling being executed by firing squad whilst the protagonist finds inspiration from Mary Poppins gives the novel an interesting grounding that only adds to the engrossing story.

Revolving around a dysfunctional ‘family’ of Harper Willowes, John Rookwood, and siblings Nick and elder sister Allie, The Fireman, hits a number of peaks along it’s way. Detailing the start of the dragonscale disease, Harper, our central character in this ensemble, is a school nurse enlisted to help those infected. Eventually she catches the disease and the true nature of both the dragonscale and her husband are slowly revealed.

Affected by the illness that causes it’s victims to combust, Harper’s husband shows his true colours and tries to kill her. In a way he symbolises the fear and hatred of the disease – spontaneously combusting and burning down swathes of civilisation will do that, I suppose. But, Harper doesn’t combust and soon meets others who can control the dragonscale as well.

Yet, here, another type of conflict arises within the camp of the affected between those embracing the illness with an almost religious zeal and those with a more practical outlook. Amongst those is John Rookwood, the eponymous Fireman; able to control and manipulate the fire, he helps the affected escape vigilante forces and murderous cremation crews.

Adding more friction to the plot, Harper is pregnant and as she comes to term so does the tension in camp. It’s a storm of antagonists as ex-husband, cremation crews and camp zealots all combine in a self-destructive showdown. Whilst the final part of the novel was a taut, gripping read, I was expecting a more brutal conclusion.

That’s not to say that the novel wasn’t both fantastic and satisfying because it definitely was. The characters are brilliantly written and highly relatable and the story flows along at a vibrant pace, whilst the dragonscale is cleverly developed. Featuring a number of conflicts, each of which could have made a story in itself, The Fireman is an exemplary apocalyptic thriller.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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Re-watching The Walking Dead has been an interesting exercise for me. Not just from a pure entertainment point of view but also for all the nuances and details that I missed the first time around. Perhaps, with some of the shock and horror taken out of the series, I’ve been allowed to peek over the metaphorical cushion a little more, to watch a bit more observantly. And so, with great mental fortitude, I revisited season five..

This is, in my opinion, one of the most brutal seasons of the series so far. Not only are we confronted from the outset by some truly hideous scenarios, we also see a number of great characters lose their lives. Season five is one of change; almost a paradigm shift from ‘what was’ to ‘what is’. By that I mean, it’s a move away from the last vestiges of civilised society to one that is explicitly premised on survival, and one that all but removes any ideas of hope.

The opening episode sets the tone for much of the fifth season. Terminus, that beacon the group strived so hard to reach, hides a secret more horrifying than anything encountered in the series. Confronting a group so warped that they’ve resorted to cannibalism displays in stark relief how possible it is to give in to the insanity of this new, post-apocalyptic world.

On the other hand, Beth is trapped in an equally bizarre camp where humans are commodities, kept to be used or abused as those in power see fit. Both Terminus and the hospital exhibit an exterior of safety and sanctuary but, underneath, each is a twisted reflection of people’s degeneration (a lesson that will stay with the group, affecting their reactions to Atlantis).

These story arcs both culminate in a number of losses for the group as Beth, Bob and Tyresse are all killed. But these deaths aren’t just used for shock value. All these characters embodied hope, positivity and the possibility of a future and each death serves to reinforce that idea of hopelessness that this season is so concerned with.

These factors all bleed over into the Atlantis portion of the season. The group have become wild, almost feral due to their experiences. But, and this is the heart of it, only the strong are left now and whether they are cannibals, psychos or a group like Rick’s, they are all steeped in violence. There is no room for weakness or softness or compromise or hope. They trust no-one as evidenced by their reaction to Gabriel. They leave no threat able to act against them.

Atlantis poses a different but no less dangerous threat. The people are weak, scared and inexperienced fighting against both zombies and survivors. In The Walking Dead cowardice and fear get people killed, as we see with Noah. It’s another example of lost hopes and also the first time we see Glenn crack.

Season five has forged Rick and his group into battle-hardened survivors. It has wrought irrevocable changes on them all and the question of whether they can find themselves again or start afresh remains at the forefront. The fact remains, however, that to survive you must be prepared to do whatever it takes.

Season five is no-holds-barred and the finale is the nail in the coffin for any notion of returning to life as it was. My wife and I are currently halfway through the sixth season and it seems like there’s little let up. I’ll admit, I’m obsessed with the show but it is amazing viewing.