Themes: / good versus evil / super-flu / post-apocalypse /
Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published. A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of -flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
I know, I just listened to Stephen King’s Carrie and now The Stand. I’ve found that reading one King book begets more just about every time. There’s something to these tragic characters that you need more and more of.
Now, I have to tell a quick story on this one and I promise this will (probably not) be the last time I tell it to intro a review for a Stephen King novel. This is THE novel I hated so I figure it has to be told here if anywhere.
A number of years ago, I was in Borders and that tells you it was a least a couple years ago. I hadn’t read Stephen King before this time, but you can’t help being an avid reader and reading King, it’s bound to happen at some point, he’s way too prolific. I was looking through his section and I decided I would either buy The Stand or The Talisman as I’d heard very good things about both. There happened to be a guy in the same section and I asked him to make the call. He enthusiastically pointed to The Stand and thus it was purchased. I was in the middle of a huge fantasy binge at the time, making up for lost time I guess since I was never a huge reader growing up. I had read The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia and a number of other fantasy books, but it was always sporadic at best and this was a HUGE binge I’m telling you.
I had just finished The Riftwar Saga and loved it immensely. I had The First Law sitting on my shelf and waiting to be read, calling to me even. But I was determined to read this book everyone was talking about – The Stand by Stephen King. I started reading and it was compelling enough. The super-flu, or Captain Trips was interesting and it was obviously creating this world change, but the characters were almost too real. I didn’t really like any of them, maybe Nick Andros (and how do you not like him?) and it seemed to drone on and on without anything really happening. Yes, there were the coughs in the theater, the slow spread of the flu is documented ad nauseum, but at 300 pages in, I still felt like nothing was ever going to happen.
I figured, if I’m not enjoying myself at 300 pages, then when am I ever going to enjoy this book? So I stopped. This was no easy decision, let me tell you. After all the praise, I don’t even think I’ve ever heard one poor word said about this book, I had to keep pushing and 300 pages in is really a lot since I can drop a book now after 50 to 100 pages without any qualms whatsoever.
Somehow, a couple years later I was drawn into Stephen King’s world again. This time it was The Dark Tower series with the good folks at Goodreads. Everyone seemed to be reading this series a couple years back and so I jumped in. I didn’t love the first book, but it has some great moments. The second book made me rethink my whole opinion on King because it blew my mind in so many ways. The third and fourth are two of my top ten books I’ve ever read, so you know I got to thinking about my problems with The Stand and how this fantasy fan couldn’t get into it.
Thus, the reread or more like “retry.” This time, things were completely different. I loved it from just about the first page. The way the super-flu spreads is genius – one accident leads to the cough that’s heard around the world. Then we have the characters. The first time, I could hardly stand any of them. But this time, I absolutely loved them. It was simply genius to put them in situations that seemed monumental to them at the time and you just know it’s about to become the smallest thing in the world. The girl who has to tell her parents she’s pregnant, the guy who’s just had his first hit on the radio and blows all his money, the guy who works at a failing factory, the kid who just got beat up and robbed. Simply genius.
Then there’s the “bad guys” who aren’t even all that bad, who in fact have plenty of redeeming qualities, but who happen to be on the other side. Again, genius. I can’t stop using that word.
And for some reason none of this clicked the first time I attempted reading The Stand. I do have some theories, so indulge me if you would.
- I don’t think I was read for King and all his King-ness. You’d think after having read George R.R. Martin I could take brutal reality, but that was more an exception at the time from all my other non-realistic heroes and villains reading that I just wasn’t ready for this kind of reality.
- I didn’t really get the fantasy part of the book. I KNOW! The fantasy fan doesn’t get the fantasy! What is the world coming too? But I didn’t get it at all. We had this very realistic situation with very real people and then all of a sudden there’s this “walking dude” who embodies pure evil and even sparks some supernatural events. It just didn’t gel for me at the time and started to pull me out of the story. I knew this was considered a fantasy novel, but that wasn’t the kind of fantasy I was remotely comfortable with so it didn’t work for me at the time.
- The characters. I don’t know if I’ve grown a lot as a person since then (I like to think I have), but the first time I thought Frannie was just being a brat and Larry was completely dumb. Now, I can’t even believe I thought those things of some of my favorite characters. Frannie’s giggling in awkward situations alone should have made me love her! But how else would you deal with such a situation? It was so great, I didn’t even realize it.
M-O-O-N. That spells didn’t even realize it.
Needless to say, I’m very happy I gave The Stand a second try. This is one amazing book that’s constantly compelling, especially witnessing the birth of a new civilization and the interactions of some of the greatest characters I’ve ever read. Really the only problem I had was that it felt a little too long and drawn out and that’s got to be the expanded version. For me, if there’s ever the choice between more editing and less, you should really go with less. I feel like a great book was made a little less great by adding back in what was cut in the first place. But then again … money!
I know that was the longest way in the history of anything to say, wow, what a good book. From the rise of the super-flu to the dawning of a new civilization and the ever-overshadowing and always looming confrontation, this was one epic read. Not for the faint of heart (or even close – The Kid, just think of The Kid!), but definitely an experience not to be rivaled.
Grover Gardner is just about the perfect narrator for this story. He has just the right amount of twang to his voice for the multiple southern accents and it’s gruff enough for the subject matter as well. There are plenty of characters in The Stand and he nailed every one of them.
4.5 out of 5 Stars (very highly recommended!)
Posted by Bryce L.
Though Edgar Allan Poe’s The Valley Of Unrest predates most post-apocalyptic ideas, this beautiful poem, about an empty valley, seems to me about exactly that.
Let me plant a seed for you, that may grow as you read it:
What are the azure towers if not skyscrapers?
The Valley Of Unrest by Edgar Allan Poe
Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sunlight lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless —
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye —
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:— from out their fragrant tops
Eternal dews come down in drops.
They weep:— from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.
First published in 1831, as “The Valley Of Nis” The Valley Of Unrest would take its final form in the April 1845 issue of the American Review:
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Katherine Amt Hanna; Performed by Ralph Lister
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (Audible)
12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / post-apocalypse / plague / influenza /
In a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic, former rock star Chris Price leaves New York and sets out on a long journey home to England. It’s been six years of devastation since the plague killed his wife and daughter, and Chris is determined to find out if any of his family has survived. His passage leaves him scarred, in body and mind, by exposure to humankind at its most desperate and dangerous. But the greatest ordeal awaits him beyond the urban ruins, in an idyllic country refuge where Chris meets a woman, Pauline, who is largely untouched by the world’s horrors. Together, Chris and Pauline undertake the most difficult facet of Chris’s journey: confronting grief, violence, and the man Chris has become. Together, they will discover whether the human spirit is capable of surviving and loving again in a world of unparalleled desolation.
All I knew about this book when I started it was that it was a post-apocalypse story, so I went into with no expectations except that maybe it would probably be a survival story with moments of action and horror. Instead, it was a beautifully written drama set in a time of global recovery after a massive influenza plague.
The plot itself is character-driven and more mainstream than I usually read, but I was drawn in quickly and hooked by the great writing, tormented characters, and dark setting. Katherine Amt Hanna tells the story from multiple characters’ points of view, and always from a very close psychic distance so you are dropped straight into the character’s thoughts and get to know them very well. The way the characters interact is so realistic (with all their personal triggers and subtext and unsaid things) that I wondered if the author had a psychology background. I couldn’t find anything about this when I checked her bio, so perhaps she’s just one of those very keen observers of human behavior.
I also appreciated how carefully she had thought through how a post-plague would look with the survivors cautiously rebuilding their societies and getting the most essential services like the post and transport running again. There were also some interesting thought experiments about what it would be like to be a survivor in a cut-off place with family and friends scattered in different countries but no electronic communications.
The narrator of the audiobook, Ralph Lister, reminded me a lot of Steven Pacey, who gave one of my favorite audiobook readings ever for Let the Right One In. I love his narrative voice, and even though a couple of the character’s voices bugged me (Brian’s perpetual enthusiasm felt a bit out of place at times, and Pauline’s voice didn’t always strike true for me), he had a massive task to express so many different voices (and if there was any major fault with this book, it was that there were just too many characters). The few voices were pretty minor things in an otherwise awesome reading, and his great narration was one of the reasons I was always looking forward to getting back to this audiobook.
Since this story is character-driven rather than plot-driven, it moves at a very leisurely pace that might be too slow for some people, but the writing is beautiful and there is this quiet dramatic tension through the whole novel, like something terrible could happen at any moment. I love that is a first novel and independently published. This is one of those books that proves self-published titles can be just as professionally written as traditionally published works. It was a memorable read and I recommend it if you’re looking for something gentle but dark, and a little out of the ordinary.
Posted by Marissa van Uden
World War Z
By Max Brooks; Read by Full Cast
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: September 12, 2006
[ABRIDGED] 5 discs – 6 hours
Themes: / post-apocalypse / zombies / military / oral history /
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
I’ve broken my cardinal rule for reading books just before the movie comes out. My rule is not to read the book directly before the movie (at least 1 year before or it must be read after or just wait on the movies). The reason for this is that I want to enjoy the story through both mediums and if you read the book just before the movie, you’ve set yourself up to be a critic – analyzing everything and complaining about every detail that’s inevitably left out, but which is more often than not necessary for the medium. If you read the book at least a year before, at least with my shoddy memory, the movie becomes a happy time of fond remembrances. Oh yeah, I remember that part, so cool! Yay! Happy! In this instance, I hear the movie doesn’t quite follow the book exactly and what else can that mean than that it’s a typical zombie movie. I don’t think I’ve ruined much here.
You know, it could have been partly because of all the hype, but I didn’t love this book. I didn’t hate it either, which makes these the hardest reviews to write, but I think I have a few ideas why World War Z just didn’t work all that well for me.
Doesn’t really exist. Yeah, there’s a loose series of events that defines the book, or the Zombie War, but it’s told through interviews with different survivors from different countries. And they’re short too, I even checked this with the book (paper-form). Each interview amounts to a page or two, maybe 5 max. Each tends to discuss a certain important event, which ends up getting referred to by characters later in the book and often mentioned by the one directly following. It’s extremely clever and lets you see how well developed this whole idea is.
It’s extremely clever
Max Brooks has literally thought of everything when it comes to a war against zombies. I thought the same in my reading of The Zombie Survival Guide, and it goes just as well here. EVERYTHING! He goes into why tanks are all but useless against hordes of zombies – because you have to take out their heads! Anything else, and they’ll still shamble and probably even become more dangerous when you trip over them on the ground. The airforce is just as useless because it’s so much money and effort for such a little amount of good. Better spent on a bunch of soldiers with tons of ammo. He even goes into better strategies for fighting this war, why the zombies are such a good enemy – because they don’t need to be bred, fed, or led.
Very clever and not even pretentious about it. Just captivating. And this isn’t the only thing I liked although we’re getting into the middle ground because I didn’t love the audio either.
One of the things that got me excited to listen to this on audio was that it’s read by a full cast. That means they’re trying REALLY hard and that tends to be a good thing, especially if you don’t like one or two of the voices, it’s okay, it’s only temporary. With just one narrator, that can really kill a book. I mentioned that this is told through many different people in different countries and they have actors like Rob Reiner, John Turturro, and Mark Hamill. Even Max Brooks himself plays the part of the interviewer. Very cool…just up until the point of distraction. There are so many different countries represented that the accents started to distract heavily from the story. I found myself pondering why the German guy had such a heavy accent on his “R’s” and yet could perfectly pronounce “TH” every time. And this was just the one guy. One of the benefits of a single narrator is that even when they do an accent, it’s easier to understand because English is their primary language.
The audio’s great for the most part, outside of that little niggle about the accents, but one thing I absolutely HATE about it is…it’s abridged!
I would probably never forgive myself if I listened to this abridged audio version and never actually read the entire book if I actually thought that mattered. Maybe others are better sleuths than myself, but I can’t find a reading of World War Z that’s not abridged. At the same, after having read the book, the abridged version seems to do enough justice to the entirety of the novel, what with how it is organized, that it just cuts out a few of the interviews. Normally this is heresy, but I can live with it for this one time only.
What I didn’t like
I think the thing that just makes this an okay to good book for me is that while it’s style and organization is unique and highly clever, it also takes away from my ability to care. Without just following one person or a group of people, there’s no attachment to any specific person.
After writing the above, I actually do think the movie will make it all better. It seems like it will be following one single person and that’s what this reader needs. The movie comes out in June of this year.
In the end
Let’s just say, if we ever do get into a Zombie War, you better have a copy of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide on you. Someone’s already gone through the effort of thinking up EVERY situation that can occur, what’s effective, what’s not and put it down in words. No sense reinventing the wheel. While an entertaining idea and clever execution, these were the exact things that made World War Z a book only a mother could love I could never love. It’s worth a read if only to see how in-depth you have not thought about zombies.
3 out of 5 Stars (Recommended with Reservations)
Review by Bryce L.
A new five part abridged reading, with added sound effects, of the first part of A Canticle For Leibowitz, “Fiat Homo”, begins here:
A Canticle For Leibowitz
By Walter M. Miller, Jr.; Read by Nigel Lindsay
STREAMING AUDIO – [ABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 Extra
Broadcast: November 26, 2012
Set in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man’s scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.
First published in 1959.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #176 – The Cleansed, Season 1, Episode 1 by Fred Greenhalgh. This is the complete first episode of the Final Rune audio drama series by Fred Greenhalgh followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Tamahome and Fred Greenhalgh himself.
Talked about on today’s show:
Eight episodes in season one, clothing in the apocalypse, Tamahome believed everyone was naked, field recording and all-present cast, portable recorder in South Africa, “audio postcards”, Fred’s past audiodramas, The Most Dangerous Game, Waiting for a Window, “either biblical or Star Wars”, Bruce Willis and Armageddon, conflicting world-views, “is that a turkey there?”, Fred knows how to live off the grid, The Long Walk, Fred loves Stephen King, The Stand tv version, when will we find out what ‘The Cleansed’ refers to?, violence and ideologies, Chatterbox Audio Theater on The Cleansed, like Stephen King, Fred doesn’t believe in a lot of plotting ahead or describing clothes, artist Simon Adams helps, “Paul with a P”, “The Republic is the 1%’ers”, The Cleansed Kickstarter campaign, where does Fred get his food?, the best of both worlds, a post-apocalypse for today
Posted by Tamahome