Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic #1)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 38 minutes
Themes: / post-apocalypse / snow / zeppelin / steampunk / airship /
In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, eighteen-year-old Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California—before it was devastated in the alien war—Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.
Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders is a wonderful example of why books should never be judged by their covers. Because while the cover looks polished and interesting with a mysterious but kick ass hero, the story is actually pretty boring. It reminded me of the movie The Expendables. It throws in everything that typically makes an exciting steam punk adventure, but doesn’t use any of the elements to their advantages which just leaves a lot of forgettable explosions.
From the start I felt lost, like maybe I had actually started listening on the second disk because the story starts in the middle of things. Not in the middle of a fight or a heist or a battle. In the middle of the plot. Captain Buckle and crew are flying to the City of the Founders (formally Los Angeles) to break his father out of prison where he is being kept by the nefarious and secretive Founders clan. After all, why have boring Act I world establishment and character building, when you can just start at the beginning of Act II action and fill your readers in on things only as needed? As a result, I never really understood the day to day of this post-war future. In fact, the only things we are told is that civilization has devolved into family clans, all of whom specialize in a trade but none of whom really get along. At some point aliens invaded earth and mingled with humans long enough to leave half-alien children behind, but they are gone now. And humans may or may not be limited to Southern California. The elusive Founders Clan, who has been kidnapping people from other clans, seems important and everyone seems wary of them but I was never really clear on their role in society. It is defiantly not a world in which you can lose yourself.
But I can forgive mediocre world building for some great swashbuckling characters. After all, our hero is named Romulus Buckle and captains a zeppelin. But don’t have your heart set on Errol Flynn, because Buckle, like the rest of the cast are all straight from a mold. Buckle is dashing, brave and heroic because we are told he is, not because we are shown it. His half-alien stepsister is aloof because she’s an alien. There are goofy, well-meaning sidekicks, wise, old mentors, and mustache twirling villains, but none of this paper doll cast has the panache to hold my attention much less carry a story that is ninety percent action scenes. I’m not sure Preston would have bothered with the dialogue necessary to string the action together if it wasn’t the only way to publish a book. It was not until the last chapter that sets things in motion for the sequel that things became more interesting.
Overall, this is a pretty mediocre book that will a appeal more to teenage boys and diehard steam punk fans. Luke Daniels, the narrator, has a nice, manly voice that does the tone of the book justice but I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening when listening to lengthy action scenes. This is Preston’s debut novel and it feels like it, so be prepared for some clumsy storytelling.
Posted by Rose D.
Themes: / global warming / post-apocalypse / apocalypse / survival / floods / eco-disaster /
It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.
Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast—stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border—has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.
Cohen is one who stayed. Unable to overcome the crushing loss of his wife and unborn child who were killed during an evacuation, he returned home to Mississippi to bury them on family land. Until now he hasn’t had the strength to leave them behind, even to save himself.
But after his home is ransacked and all of his carefully accumulated supplies stolen, Cohen is finally forced from his shelter. On the road north, he encounters a colony of survivors led by a fanatical, snake-handling preacher named Aggie who has dangerous visions of repopulating the barren region.
Realizing what’s in store for the women Aggie is holding against their will, Cohen is faced with a decision: continue to the Line alone, or try to shepherd the madman’s captives across the unforgiving land with the biggest hurricane yet bearing down—and Cohen harboring a secret that may pose the greatest threat of all.
In a near-future apocalyptic Mississippi, hurricanes and flooding are so frequent (nearly constant) that the government has redrawn the southern border of the country above the disaster zone. Anyone living south of The Line has no government assistance, no security, and must fend for him or herself. This setting is one of the most realistic apocalyptic worlds I have read. I’m intentionally not using the word “post” because throughout the novel, destruction continues. People are trying to survive below The Line, but hail and winds and rains are still a bigger enemy than the sprinkling of humans trying to create lives for themselves.
Cohen is a man who holed up in grief until he goes against his instincts and gives a ride to a man and woman on the road. Various events force him to make the next moves in his life in order to survive. I was quite interested in the story in the first half and in the end, but the middle almost lost me as Cohen seems to wander more in his memories than in solving his problems.
I listened to the audiobook read by the author. I didn’t realize he was the reader until the end, and thought he must just be a voice actor I hadn’t heard before. His accent is subtle but places the listener within the region, and he sounds slightly worn, slightly tired, which fits the character completely.
Posted by Jenny Colvin
The Scarlet Plague
By Jack London; Read by Drew Ariana
Approx. 2 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dreamscape Audio
Published: August 20, 2013
Themes: / Science Fiction / San Francisco / Plague / Post-Apocalypse / Disease / Philosophy / Politics / Class Conflict /
The year is 2013 and plague has struck. Not a wannabe killer like SARS or the Spanish flu, but a tsunami type devastation that swallows every living thing, check that, every person, in its path. Its nickname is the red death because at its arrival the first thing that happens to the infected person is they start sporting a red face – like a beacon for everyone else around them to – RUN. The next thing that happens is they die. Well a little more goes on in between, numb feet, numb hands, a heart so numb it stops. All within an hour, or a few hours if the person is lucky/unlucky enough to have it drag out that long. Then for fun what’s left of the numbed, red faced, ex-person, immediately starts decomposing, falling apart before the eyes of anyone still around to witness it, practically shooting decomposing germs into the air like a plant shooting its spores. There are two classes of people, the ultra rich and everyone else. As the ultra rich jump into their airships to get as far away as possible, they just carry death with them – first class. Everyone else simply falls down and dies where they are. The devastation’s full name is Scarlet Plague. Sixty years into the future when the very few last contenders of what was once the mighty human race hear tell about it, they can’t even decipher what scarlet means because language (like life) has degraded to the point of only holding on to what’s necessary. Scarlet is red. Counting only needs to go as high a ten. The squiggles on money and books are meaningless, but that’s of no consequence because neither books nor money are in use anyway. Apologies, I’m getting ahead of myself. About 160 years ahead.
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, published in 1912 is about the plague that will strike 100 years from his time, told from a perspective 60 years hence by the last man alive who’s ever seen an airship or read a book. 2013, a hundred years into the future for Jack London, is today and yesterday, this week. Hearing this story now, is like what it was to read (or re-read) 1984 in 1984. Sort of surreal. Interestingly 1984 is a year that was mentioned in the story of the plague. Did George Orwell choose that year with a tip of his hat? Probably. I’ve heard George was a fan.
Back to Jack. What did he get right? What did he miss? Commercial airships? Instant wireless communication? Check, check. About 8 billion people planet wide? Check. The ultra rich and everyone else, hmmm, not that far off the mark, probably pretty close considering he was most likely exaggerating a little to make a point. The work didn’t actually feel like science fiction, it felt contemporary, the section that describes this part of the century anyway. Like his projection to 2073 started from here, not from a century ago. Because the today part of the story is so right, it makes the rest of the story worse.
Not worse as in it’s a bad story. It’s an excellent, superbly imagined, tangible story. Worse in regards to how Mr. London judged the human condition. 60 years from now, 160 years from when the book was written, James Howard Smith or Grandsir, is telling his three grandsons the story of the plague. A story that was in great demand 20 or 30 years before, is quickly becoming lost – now of passing interest to two of the boys, and of real interest to only one. For one thing Grandsir’s sentences are way too complicated, especially when he goes off into his memories and starts speaking as he used to do when he was professor of English literature at Stanford. Speech has become staccato and minimalist, the niceties of language having died off with everyone that had time for that sort of thing. The other problem is the things Grandsir talks about make no sense to the boys. Cities, cars travelling by air, exchanging things with money, wasting time with written markings, all of it is so outside of what the boys know it might as well be make believe. The ramblings of a deranged, lost, old mind. With an estimated world population of less than 500, life has become a question of survival. If you want to eat then you have to go out and kill yourself some dinner. Grandsir calls his grandsons savages. When he was a boy (one of his constant refrains) there were those who gathered food and those who ordered its gathering. His progeny has been reduced to food gatherers. Interestingly Grandsir’s still got them gathering food for him. Old habits die hard I guess.
So why was this professor of classical literature spared to help re-forge humanity? No reason. One in every few million just didn’t get red faced. Maybe death momentarily blinked as it passed them by or got distracted by the particularly amusing scene of the mountains of bodies piling up at its feet. A couple of feeble minded, the very richest most splendid woman in America, a violent, vile, wife beating chauffer who made himself her husband, our friend the professor – just a few random cards in the deck. Life’s like that. You build your magnificent cities, you spend your time creating art and pondering the great questions, and life responds by carelessly wiping itself out. Careless in that it doesn’t quite finish the job. But no matter, because life will make its way forward again.
And now we come to the worst part of the story. It’s not the plague and what happens in the aftermath. The author makes it clear that ultimately, in the long run, humanity will rally back. They’ll rebuild and create again. The worst part is what Mr. Jack London sees after that.
Drew Ariana who read the story in this recording did a good job. My only issue was the character voice he assumed for Grandsir. I didn’t have a problem with the voice, the problem was, so much of the story was told using this voice it became a little distracting. Otherwise, an easy, pleasant listen.
By the end of the book, awash in dystopia, I was seeing a little red. Too delightful not to share, here’s a little red (or Scarlet) for you. “All man’s toil upon the planet was just so much foam. He domesticated the serviceable animals, destroyed the hostile ones, and cleared the land of its hostile vegetation and then he passed and the primordial flood of hostile life rolled back again, sweeping his handy work away.”
Posted by Maissa Bessada
MaddAddam (MaddAddam #3)
By Margaret Atwood; Read by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter and Robbie Daymond
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 3 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 23 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / post-apocalypse / survival / religion / genetic engineering / megalomania / mythology /
Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.
Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.
“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
Preach, Mother Atwood. This past week has had me reimmersed into the MaddAddam trilogy, starting with a fifth re-read of Oryx and Crake since we discussed it for a readalong.
When you read all the books of a trilogy close together, and you already know the story having read each of them at least once before, it is a lot easier to fill in the gaps and see the intricate detail that Atwood has built into this world. It isn’t just the Waterless Flood causing the dilemmas the Crakers are born into, the world was going to hell for decades before that. This book tells more of that story. While Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood were parallel narratives, MaddAddam starts from where those books end, and then traces back around to tell the story of Zeb. His story is told largely by Toby, to the Crakers, in the form of myth-like bedtime stories. What is the power of myth? The minute someone tells it, it has a high likelihood to change, whether that is to protect the listeners or to make it easier on the storyteller. There is so much about story in this novel.
“People need such stories, Pilar said once, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void.”
I scanned these books for questions I had from the first novel, and I won’t include my discoveries here, but there are definitely answers in this novel. And more questions.
The audiobook is a real treat – the three narrators do not share the job evenly, and by the time the third narrator comes along, there is a wonderful reason why he has waited so long. Highly recommended, but do start with Oryx and Crake!
Posted by Jenny Colvin
Talked about on today’s show:
Where’s Jesse?, Eric S. Rabkin, SPOILER TERRITORY, Jenny loves post-apocalyptic dystopian novels, it ends with more questions than answers, a man wandering on the shore, a back and forth structure, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, big disease, a week, Jimmy’s story, the story of the apocalypse, pigoons and rakunks, The Year Of The Flood, corporate compounds, New New York, dystopia, a future world and then an apocalypse, Octavia Butler, religion, Parable Of The Sower, a parallel story with backstory and humor, a sermon and a hymn by God’s gardeners, the audiobook, a planned trilogy?, the Culture series by Iain M. Banks, extinctathon, Madadam, expert splicers, a hacker genius, the world’s best ever minds, the floor model crakers, war is misplaced sexual aggression, they could eat their own poop, it seems like Jimmy survived through the plague because he wasn’t entirely human, he doesn’t have the right smarts, creating a creation myth, the blood and roses game, nothing was a mystery anymore, yup and tick, Quicktime Osama, Civilization V, is Oryx really Oryx?, SPOILER, “I’m counting on you.”, “If only he’d paid attention to his fridge magnets.”, the way that Jimmy comes to conclusions is kinda different, “he knew why he picked Oryx”, the First Law series, Joe Abercrombie, the music at the end of the audiobook started way too early, narrator Campbell Scott, Jenny hates the convenience of canned and frozen food, wolvogs, any other complaints?, Luke really didn’t like reading about people getting off on child pornography, Jimmy is obsessed with having people tell them stuff while he’s having sex with them, Atwood’s larger point, nighty-night.com, satire, in other parts of their brains and gonads, a big turn off, do I really have to listen to this now?, why is Crake destroying humanity?, neuronormative, there will be no child abuse, random levels of technology, a good novel, good Science Fiction?, technology, DVDs, most SF writers know, Colossus: The Forbin Project,
“Although ‘MaddAddam’ is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies that do not already exist, or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.”
it didn’t feel intentional, it felt clunky and badly thought out, Margret Atwood doesn’t want to call it Science Fiction, she’s just not interested, a lot different in tone and feel than most SF, the Booker prize list, this is a book about humans, super-reductive, what does it tell us about humanity?, social Science Fiction, this is pretty bad Science Fiction (but a good novel), the Science Fiction falls out of Crake’s brain, J.G. Ballard, Jenny’s book club experience, boycotted, people refusing to read Oryx And Crake because it is SF, SF lumpers try to deny, Star Wars isn’t SF, a literature of ideas, “the fear of this battlestation”, a perfect description of SF, literary fiction that’s SF, Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Luke doesn’t like sub-genres, gmail has tags, assigning, where do you shelf it?, in the modern world a book can be shelved in many shelves, Goodreads, own-poetry-unread, STAR RATINGS!, the Force is a fantasy element, “oh, here’s another Death Star.”
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / fantasy / apocalypse / post-apocalypse / eco-horror / mysterious figures /
It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying. It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world. In each era, a child shall be chosen. Their task is to find a dark messiah known only as the Crowman. But is he our saviour – or the final incarnation of evil?
Black Feathers is the first in the Black Dawn series by eco-horror writer Joseph d’Lacey. It follows two timelines, one about a present day boy Gordon Black whose birth marks the end of the world and one about Megan Maurice who lives in a post-apocolyptic future. They are connected in their search for the Crowman, a mysterious figure who will either save the world or destroy it. And if you were hoping to find that out, or anything else for that matter, you’ll have to wait for the next book.
This book sets up tone really well. It’s moody and dark and a little bit creepy without being cheap. And as great as the idea of the Crowman and the parallel timelines are it all falls apart in the lack of plot. After all, just because I will watch a movie with a shirtless Jude Law doesn’t mean I want to be forced to spend a day with him. And that was kind of how this was. After a while I was just waiting to see if anything would happen that would be more than a “previously on” could sum up. The answer is no. Not even in the last chapter. This is probably also because I had trouble connecting with Gordon and Megan. We are told that they are special and important without being shown. Why does Gordon’s coming mark the end of the world? Why do crows follow him around wherever he goes? Why was Megan chosen by the Crowman to receive visions when no girl has been chosen before her? It’s a mystery! But we know that all this has been foretold so that makes them special. Unfortunately, they are not special enough for me to want to stick around through Gordon wondering what to do when his family is taken away and meeting some random strangers in the woods. Or to see Megan wandering around a forest while her teacher whispers enigmatic things at her.
Along those same lines, this book also commits the cardinal sin of being worthless on its on. Without a sequel, this book does not have a complete story. There is not a single resolved plot element or character arc which makes the whole thing an overly long set up for the next book.
As a side note, d’Lacey takes the eco part of his chosen genre seriously. There are times when it gets a bit preachy about how we have destroyed the earth and we are horrible, irresponsible creatures. This actually gives it a bit of a Happening feel. Anyway, if you enjoy composting on your days off, this is the book for you.
The audiobook is narrated by Simon Vance who was amazing and perfect for this book. He loans it an almost storybook quality that enhanced the overall tone and emphasized the youthfulness of the protagonists. Even if the book is mediocre, I could listen to him for hours. Which is, in fact, exactly what I did.
Posted by Rose D.