Walking out on Civilization

34956706One of my goals over the last two years was to expand my reading into areas that I might not have gone looking for before. And while I have read books on climate change, they have been primarily in the science field, by writers like Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction)

But Walking on Lava is not a science book about climate change. Instead, it is a more literary look at the world, climate change, and destruction of the environment. Artwork, poetry, stories, memoirs, and essays collected from the Dark Mountain Project magazine (which I had never heard of before

Honestly, I may not have been the ideal target for this book. On the one hand, I admired the writing as I was reading, but I also wasn’t really buying the message. There was a lot of talking about the dangers of civilization, and how it is destroying the world, over and over again. Instead, we should go back to living in harmony with the world, like our ancestors. But no one mentions the elephant in the room: to make that workable, you would probably have to get rid of as much as 3/4 of the world population. There’s just too many people to live local and on subsistence farming. And even if we did reduce the population, humans tend to breed at a growth rate, especially if you are trying to grow enough food for the local area (someone has to work the fields, after all). From all the history I’ve read, overpopulation isn’t the fault of civilization, it that civilization came about due to overpopulation to deal with the friction that resulted.

Still, the writing was (for the most part) lovely, and did make me think in places, even when I disagreed. ‘Shikataganai’ in particular, near the end of the book, affected me deeply.

War of the Worlds I and II

33269113I recently got the chance to read The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, from NetGalley. It is written as a direct sequel to HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, using the very same characters, but setting it in 1920, when the second Martian invasion arrives.

To really get the feel for this, I got the audiobook of the original novel from the Library and listened to it in between reading the new book, and I am impressed at just how well Baxter echoes the writing style of the original. The original only fleshes out the character of the narrator, who is a rather unlikeable type. Other than a brief switch over to a different character, the narrator is the only point of view character in the whole (short) novel, and only a handful of other characters (and only a couple of the survivors) even get names. One of those few named secondary characters is the primary character in The Massacre of Mankind (a title that also comes from a line in the original novel).

In the original classic, a series of explosions are seen on Mars. Sometime later, metal cylinders land on Earth in the area immediately around London. When they open, Martians emerge and starting building machines that allow them to move around in the higher gravity of Earth, and defeat all attempts to resist them. The narrator is trapped inside the invasion zone, and meets a number of other survivors, and spends a period later in the book trapped with a curate in a half-destroyed house right next to the pit where a later cylinder landed, unable to escape. When the increasingly deranged curate endangers them both, he has little choice but to kill the man to save himself. Finally, when the noises of the Martians disappear, he emerges from the house and heads into London, where he finds the Martians dead or dying, killed by Earth bacteria. He then covers a little of the start of recovery, including the fact that the narrator is clearly suffering from PTSD, which surprised me, since I thought awareness of this only began with the first World War, and this novel was published more than a decade before that war.

The Massacre of Mankind begins more than a decade later, when the Miss Elphinstone who appears in the original novel, is a reporter in the US. She is summoned by her former brother-in-law Walter (the narrator of the original novel) to Berlin. History has much changed as a result of the original invasion. WWI did not happen, since when Germany started invading their neighbours, including France, the rest of the world was not inclined to fight back after rebuilding from the Martian war.

The reason for the summons is that a new fleet has been launched from Mars. Instead of one canon shooting cylinders, now there are ten, shooting even more of their vessels. And the Martians learned from their previous failed invasion, so while the military expects the same timeline as the previous invasion, they are quickly overwhelmed by the new tactics. The Martians are able to set up a foothold in England, with people trapped inside the zone of control, making do with their situation, while the people outside work on coming up with a new biological weapon. This is followed by a second wave that spreads out from England, with snippets about the invaders hitting the US, South Africa, Germany, and other parts of the world. The new, female, narrator becomes an integral part of the attempt to stop the Martians from taking over the entire world.

While the original novel feels rather dated, the new novel was fantastic, while preserving the feel of the original (including the ridiculous ideas about the evolution of the solar system). The change to a female narrator gives a different slant on the story, since sexism. Beyond her, there are other strong women, heroic characters, characters that are anything but. And the ending wraps things up, while leaving everything on a note of uncertainty that means that if there is room for a follow-up, but if none appears, we have a satisfying ending.

When Security Fails

25810610Security, by Gina Wohlsdorf, is one of the better first novels that I’ve read in a while, despite a few annoying minor flaws, and I would definitely recommend it to suspense fans.

Manderly Resort is a new operation, about to open. Tessa is the manager driving the project for her rich boss. She’s the product of the foster system, and her foster brother/crush, an extreme biker star, has shown up to see her for the first time since the death of his twin brother. She doesn’t really have time to deal with him, since she’s trying to wrangle a temperamental chef, married staffers having a rough patch, a cleaner who has issues with men, and a lover who is chief of security, up on the twentieth floor where no one except security even knows how to get to.

Oh, and there is a pair of killers lurking in the building, killing people off, one by one, but no one knows that they are there, other than the narrator of the book.

I did find the apparently omniscient narrator to get a handle on at the start of the book, but when you reach the point where you find out the truth about the narrator, I went ‘ooooohh, now I get it. That’s clever.’

There were some characters that I really wanted to survive (the previously mentioned cleaner who turns out to be tougher than expected was top of my list, not Tessa or her foster brother/crush). There were other characters who I would have cheerfully killed myself (the married pair were top of the list).

But as much as I enjoyed the book, there were some sloppy parts that had me gritting my teeth. The worst was the point where there is a smell that has a character investigation, opening door after door, only to be called away before opening the door where he would have seen a dead body, giving away the game. He never bothered to go back, which made me want to smack him.

There’s also the danced around conversation between Tessa and her brother that keeps being put off, which made me want to knock their heads together.

And seriously, a glamorous resort, but members of the staff are using the penthouses as their homes away from home? That seems a little iffy.

SPOILER. Finally, who were the damn killers? Since the narrator turns out to be very limited, we never find out more than his speculation of who they are or why they are doing this. As well, if they are planning on killing everyone, why did they let all the sous-chefs and kitchen staff leave to go home, even after the killing has (quietly) started. Plus, the security staff were pretty damned ineffective, considering they were killed with little to no effort./SPOILER

The final action sequence definitely saved the book for me. At the end, despite unanswered questions, I was very satisfied with the book. I will say, though, it feels like instead of a book, it should have been a kick-ass summer thriller movie. I look forward to seeing what the author does next.

What I’m reading (the summer doldrums)

It’s summer time, and my reading has slowed down a fair bit. And this week I was on vacation, which leads to even less reading. I know this goes against the usual wisdom, but that’s the way it is in my world. Well, with one exception. When my brain is looking for fluff, I read fanfiction.

Still, I am reading.

I am currently *nearly* finished The Massacre of Mankind. At over 500 pages, it has taken me a while, but I’ve been really enjoying it. Certainly, in the last 150 pages, it has really cranked into high gear as the Martians move on the rest of the world, not just England.

I didn’t finish Lincoln in the Bardo before it went back to the library, but I’ve reserved the audiobook again to find out how the last 15% of the story ends. I’m still not sure I enjoyed it, but I want to know what happens in the end. Instead, I am now listening to an audiobook version of The War of the Worlds as a companion to The Massacre of Mankind. I’m two thirds of the way through, and it’s interesting seeing some of the characters from the Baxter sequel turning up.

I’m about halfway through Walking on Lava from the Dark Mountain Project, via NetGalley. It’s interesting, but I do find elements of it annoyingly intent on ‘technology bad, back to the land good’. The old ways were just as damaging to the world as modern ways, plus the fact that the population would have to drop drastically to make it work hasn’t been addressed.

I did finish the Stony Man book, so my new paper book for the bathtub is Run by Blake Crouch. He is the author of the trilogy that became the TV series Wayward Pines. Crouch started out as a self-published author before being picked up as part of Amazon’s publishing wing, focusing on mostly sort of SF horror thrillers.

But I have to get cracking, because I have a huge lineup of NetGalley books to tackle. I certainly can’t request any more until I get through them. Besides the two I am currently reading, I’ve got Girls Made of Snow and Glass by┬áMelissa Bashardoust (coming out in September), Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress (coming out next week), The Emerald Circus collection by Jane Yolen (coming out in November), Giant Creatures in our World (a non-fiction book about Kaiju coming out in November) and Pardox Bound by an old favorite Peter Clines (coming out in September).

I also have a few blog posts/reviews to actually write. I should have one out tomorrow, with any luck.