Solon, OH, United States
The Postman is an insightful and inspiring story of a man in his quest to protect the flickering flame of civilization from the imposing dark ages of a post apocalyptic world. As Gordon Krantz makes his way across the apocalyptic wasteland, barely surviving among the ruins of civilization, he stumbles upon an old United States Postal vehicle that forever changes the direction of his life. What starts out as a lie to simply gain shelter and food becomes an idea that ignites a revolution. This is a story more about ideas that any particular ideology. In fact, David Brin often presents ideology as being part of the reason for civilization’s demise. For instance, the term “survivalist” becomes derogatory as some radical elements of the community have embraced the fall of civilization as an opportunity to subdue, pillage and conquer. Don’t fret preppers: The Postman was written in 1985, before the more recent, positive culture of self-sufficiency and permaculture which has become more widespread in recent years spreading through good people like Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast. The power of ideas should not be underestimated. While it is easy to focus on the more negative examples of crooked idealism gone astray such as the case with hitler and the nazis (disrespect intended), Brin proposes that ideas can have an equally positive effect as he presents the United States as a successful society structured upon ideas that actually lead to a decrease in human suffering. Civilization is presented as an idea or a collection of ideas rather than a physical manifestation. The Postman is a substantial work of fiction that will provide you with considerable grist for the mill of contemplation, if you are so inclined. Alternatively, if you are simply seeking a great story with likeable characters, you will not be disappointed.
Originally written in Spanish by Manel Loureiro, Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End vastly exceeds all expectations that one may have for a zombie apocalypse novel. Apocalypse Z is a harrowing story about a man and his cat Lucullus as they struggle to survive the first months of the zombie apocalypse. This apocalyptic book is flat-out awesome! Apocalypse Z is literally jammed packed with the most terrifying, vividly horrific scenes straight from the end of the world, zombie apocalypse hell. From the larger cities to the Spanish countryside, Spain has become a massive graveyard haunted by the most vicious zombies ever imagined, existing only to tear the living to shreds. The protagonist is a mild-mannered man who lives with his most faithful, loyal companion, Lucullus, the neighborhood tomcat, after he recently lost his wife to a horrible car accident. He is no hero. In fact, he’s a paper pushing lawyer and he’s absolutely scared out of his mind. He might have followed the herd to the slaughter in the so-called “safe zones” if it weren’t for the fact that they didn’t allow pets. Facing incredible odds from the start, he is pushed way beyond his limits. “…a def ear to fear.” Love and loyalty overcome paralyzing fear of hell on Earth. He doesn’t get many breaks and he makes plenty of mistakes. Indeed, he is an unlikely survivor. He is not an ex-special forces commando. He has limited experience with weapons and killing, or re-killing the undead, which is certainly not something that comes easily for him. (***NOTE: if you are a “mall ninja” who thinks you are going to shoot your way through the end of the world this book might not be for you…and by the way you’re an IDIOT…yes you…)
Apocalypse Z is a uniquely human story. In a world overrun by the living dead, humanity is rediscovered. A rarity for the genre, Apocalypse Z evokes real emotional response. It made me so angry that I wanted to grab that Ukrainian ship captain and hang him up from a crane by his balls (don’t worry, he gets what he deserves in the end). It has moments of despair as well as some great laugh out loud moments. A book that creates a visceral response is rare. Perhaps that is what separates a good book from a great book. Even if zombies aren’t your thing, Apocalypse Z is an excellent story and in my opinion is an absolute must read.
On the Beach, written by Nevil Shute and published in 1957 is a somber post apocalyptic novel that follows survivors in Australia after a nuclear war and subsequent radioactive fallout has contaminated most of the world. Much of the story revolves around an American nuclear submarine, the last of the US Navy, docked in Melbourne and under the command of Captain Dwight Towers. The post apocalyptic world has been contaminated with high levels of radiation stemming from the use of cobalt bombs by the Russian and Chinese military forces. This story is character driven, focusing on the struggle for people to maintain some sense of purpose in spite of their doom. It was slightly disappointing that most of the people in On the Beach basically give up and passively accept death. Why didn’t they attempt to create a shelter in which some people could survive until the levels of radioactivity decreased? (scientists mention several times that the radioactive cobalt has a 5-10 year half-life) Released at the height of the Cold War, On the Beach has elements of a warning or cautionary tale and is clearly written with some political intentions in mind. While On the Beach is a well written novel that explores some important ideas worthy of consideration, it is slow-paced and uneventful at times. If you are looking for excitement and entertainment you may want to look at some other reading options.
Over the years, Stephen King has created a number of fascinating apocalyptic tales. Indeed, most of his stories lead to the end of the world for somebody. It is as though he has some unworldly insight into the apocalyptic realm. Though the specific circumstances may change, his novels frequently share in his apocalyptic vision. For example, Randall Flagg, a character that appears in many of Stephen King’s stories, has a mysterious involvement in the apocalypse. While Randall Flagg is not a specific character in Cell, Stephen King once again shares his unique vision of the end of modern civilization through one of mankind’s most prized possessions, the cell phone. An event that comes to be known as “the pulse” somehow wipes clean the minds of those using a cell phone and transforms them into a type of telepathic zombie that is intent on eliminating those that have been left unchanged. The zombies in Cell share the viciousness of your typical zombie but are able to communicate telepathically and seem to be developing a common agenda. Cell is certainly an enjoyable read and will be quite satisfying for those of you that share in this strange apocalyptic preoccupation.
Perhaps one of the best known post apocalyptic novels, Alas, Babylon, written by Pat Frank and released in 1959, paints a grim picture of what life might be like after a full-scale nuclear war between the US and former USSR. The protagonist, Randy Bragg, a relatively carefree bachelor, is forced to take a leadership role in the survival of his Florida town, Fort Repose, which narrowly escapes destruction from the ultimate in nuclear catastrophes. Surprisingly, many of the issues presented in Alas, Babylon, over 50 years ago, are still very relevant today. For example, Frank’s writing is clearly influenced by the Civil Rights movement that was gaining momentum during the time that this book was written. Alas, Babylon frequently references the still widespread segregation and racist sentiment that still existed in parts of the southern US during the 1950′s. The book portrays the complete collapse of civilization as the ultimate “leveling” of human beings, as each survivor shares in the struggle to stay alive, regardless of skin color, ethnic origin or social class. Though the Civil Rights movement has certainly altered the landscape of the US in a number of ways, racial tensions continue to be high today, especially with the recent death of Trayvon Martin. From a survival perspective, the issues associated with a total breakdown of civilization remain the same. Without electricity, public water, law enforcement, medical treatment, transportation, fuel, etc, people are forced to accept more personal responsibility for the safety and survival of their families. Nuclear tensions have changed in some ways since the end of the Cold War but with more countries in possession of “the bomb” than ever, the risk for a nuclear conflict continues. Alas, Babylon may be a little optimistic in terms of its somewhat “happy ending” but it serves as a reminder to us that we were once very close and that we are never very far away from the ultimate destruction of civilization.
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