Feb 22, 2016

Mort(e), by Robert Repino

The apocalypse is upon us, and it is cute and fluffy. After millennia of mistreatment, the ants have had enough. Systematically gathering knowledge and information to herself, the Queen sets in motion a plan to end the scourge of humanity. To help in her dark endeavor, she releases a hormone into the water supply that turns all animals into sentient beings, makes them human-sized, and gives them opposable thumbs. Pets rise up and kill their masters as armies of enormous ants rip any human they find to shreds. Sebastian, a neutered house cat, has recently found happiness and friendship with his neighbor's dog, Sheba. But upon the uprising, Sheba has run away and Sebastian, now known as Mort(e), is left to wander a broken world, forever looking for her. As the animals battle a bioengineered disease known as EMSAH and hunt down the last remaining humans, Mort(e) wraps himself in loneliness, wanting only his old friend with whom to share his new life.

This is a pretty action-packed book, and would make a killer movie. It reads quickly and easily, while presenting some interesting deeper themes - religion, the afterlife, whether there is such a thing as munificent domination. It reminds me of The Bees, in its description of the ants. It's a great book for anyone looking for a slightly different kind of apocalypse page-turner.

Feb 15, 2016

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This is another one of those books that consistently pops up on "best of" lists, as well as "funniest" lists. Though there are quite a few funny parts, I wouldn't call this a comedy; this book is very dark satire, and Miller clearly takes a dim view of human nature.

It quickly became clear why people have been suggesting this novel to me for years: though it takes place in a post-apocalyptic (post-nuclear) future, humanity has been blasted back to a medieval way of life, and the keepers of knowledge are monks of the Catholic church. Sci fi AND medieval history? This book has me written all over it. My only real complaint is that anyone who doesn't have at least a vague understanding of Latin is going to be pretty easily lost, unless they're very good with context.

In Miller's depressing (and depressingly realistic) future, mutually assured destruction wasn't enough to prevent mankind from nearly obliterating itself. Enraged by the death and destruction wrought by men of science, the survivors ritually murder all people found guilty of possessing knowledge, even literacy. The only hold outs are Catholic monks, who lock away and salvage any scraps of humanity's past that they can find. Centuries pass, then millennia - has humanity learned from its gravest mistake? All I can say is that Miller doesn't have much faith in us, and the weaknesses he skewers are readily recognizable in our society today. So the book is funny, in parts, and absolutely brilliant throughout, but also pretty demoralizing and sad.

Feb 3, 2016

Memphis Afternoons, James Conaway

James Conaway, of Napa fame, is a beautiful writer. This self-published book of autobiographical essays transports the reader to the Memphis, TN, of Conaway's childhood and adolescence. A child of the Depression, his parents and grandparents are related lovingly yet unsparingly, revealing the devotion of a son married to the outsider's adult understanding of human nature. As the daughter of a Nashville-raised mother from around this period, I recognized elements of the southern temperament and social standards people held incredibly dear in those days. The country clubs, debutantes, high school fraternities, are all there, as is the excessive drinking, corrupt politics, and obsession with reputation and the "right people." Conaway's descriptions of his days catching fish in the muddy Mississippi and getting in fights with his frat brothers while discovering a love of language and literature that would soon take him away from the city of his birth, are hypnotizing and enthralling. His Memphis is not idealized, nor is it dissected. It is simply what it is.