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October 17, 2020

Reading Post-Apocalyptic Fiction During a Pandemic

by Donna Huber


My post-apocalyptic book club has continued to meet. We had already met in March before everything started to shut down and we quickly pivoted to meeting via Zoom in April. We've even added a mid-month meet up to just chat about life which has been a great opportunity to get to know each other as our book club meeting is really focused on discussing the book (I know some book clubs are more social at their meetings but we spend the entire hour talking about the book we read). You might think we wouldn't want to read post-apocalyptic fiction while it seems like we are living through an apocalypse, but I'm really enjoying these books. And, for me at least, our current experiences help me understand more how the fictional society could get to the point they are at. Also, one of the reasons I've always liked about post-apocalyptic fiction is that there is hope - the world has collapsed but at least a few have survived and try to create a life for themselves in the "new normal". 
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Last year I shared what my book club was reading and I realized that I hadn't done that yet this year. As each member gets to suggest titles and then we "vote" on what to read there is usually a wide variety (and we have a broad definition of post-apocalyptic fiction). Since we are meeting online (we usually meet at the library but it hasn't fully opened yet), if you are interested in joining one of our meetings, let me know and I will get you the Zoom link.

As we follow the academic calendar, we set our schedule in July which means we've already read 3 books this year. I'm including them in case you enjoy this genre but have trouble finding titles to read (it is one of the reasons I joined this book club because I had trouble finding books in this genre to read).

The Word For World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Word for World is Forest
According to Goodreads, this is book 5 in the Hainish Cycle. This may explain why I had the feeling that I was dropped in the middle of the story, but it works okay as a stand alone. It felt a bit like a space western. When I finished it I wasn't sure what I had just read. I struggled with the writing style but I eventually became use to it. As a novella, it is a short read but it also may have caused that "dropped into the middle of the story" feel. It was kind of uncanny how much the main character's personality resembled a prominent political leader.

When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, their existence is irrevocably altered. Forced into servitude, the Athsheans find themselves at the mercy of their brutal masters.

Desperation causes the Athsheans, led by Selver, to retaliate against their captors, abandoning their strictures against violence. But in defending their lives, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back. (Goodreads)


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road
The audiobook was well done. Parents are struggling right now on what is best for their children amidst a pandemic. What would you do if all you knew was gone and normal was never coming back? That is what this man must decide for his son. While there is danger, the story does not have the tension of a thriller. Instead, there is the steady plodding of the two characters who must keep putting one step in front of the other. This is probably the bleakest book we've read, but it made a good for a good discussion.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. (Goodreads)

Buy The Road at Amazon

Severance by Ling Ma

Severance
My hold didn't come in until the Monday after we met (even though I had it on hold since August) so I missed the discussion. I'm currently reading it and I am having some trouble getting into it. I tempted to not finish it but I will probably plow through as I hate not finishing a book. Plus it was on my list of pandemic fiction to read

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers? (Goodreads)

Buy Severance at Amazon

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Hollow Kingdom
I'm leading the discussion of this book for our November meeting. I've wanted to read this book since MK reviewed it last summer. I think having a book narrated by an animal will make for an interesting discussion. I find it kind of ironic that I'm leading a discussion for a zombie book. I would never read a zombie book if it wasn't for this group.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education. (Goodreads)

Buy Hollow Kingdom at Amazon

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic
I'm looking forward to reading this book. I've been trying to read more translated fiction. We read mostly American or British authors so it will be interesting to get a different perspective on the genre. I've read some Russian short stories which I didn't really enjoy. I'm hoping it was because short fiction isn't something I enjoy often and not because it was Russian. I guess we'll see if I like Russian literature when I read this book.

Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems. (Goodreads)

Buy Roadside Picnic at Amazon

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

The Salt Line
It has been compared to Station Eleven which I enjoyed. I don't have any thoughts on this book yet but the description sounds good. I love this cover.

In an unspecified future, the United States' borders have receded behind a salt line--a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what's left of nature. Those among the latest expedition include a popstar and his girlfriend, Edie; the tech giant Wes; and Marta; a seemingly simple housewife.

Once out of zone, the group find themselves at the mercy of deadly ticks--and at the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors determined to protect their hardscrabble existence. As alliances and friendships shift amongst the hostages, Edie, Wes, and Marta must decide how far they are willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line. (Goodreads)

Buy The Salt Line at Amazon

Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Andromeda Strain
I don't think I've ever read a Michael Crichton novel. I think I've seen a movie based on one of his books. It looks like it should have been on my pandemic fiction list.

The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.

Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to collect organisms and dust for study. One of them falls to earth, landing in a desolate area of Arizona.

Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town's inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.

Buy Andromeda Strain at Amazon

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow
I'm really kicking myself for not checking Netgalley when I started seeing bloggers mention this book. Of course, now it isn't available to request. Maybe my digital library will get a copy.

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision. (Goodreads)


The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Second Sleep
Another book that I don't have an early opinion on. I don't usually like books set before the 1800s so this could be a struggle for me.

All civilisations think they are invulnerable. History warns us none is.

1468. A young priest, Christopher Fairfax, arrives in a remote Exmoor village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor. The land around is strewn with ancient artefacts – coins, fragments of glass, human bones – which the old parson used to collect. Did his obsession with the past lead to his death?

As Fairfax is drawn more deeply into the isolated community, everything he believes – about himself, his faith and the history of his world – is tested to destruction. (Goodreads)

Buy The Second Sleep at Amazon

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker
We read The Water Knife by this author which turned out to be better than I expected so I'm looking forward to reading this book.

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. (Goodreads)

Buy Ship Breaker at Amazon




I think we have selected 10 awesome books. I know some will pull me out of my reading comfort zone but that is one of the reason I joined this book club. We don't meet in January because we meet on the first Thursday of the month and it is too close to the holidays. We use our July meeting to plan the next year. I'm always looking for books to suggest so if you've read a great post-apocalyptic novel, please let me know.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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