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July 28, 2022

After the End Book Club: 11 Books to Read

by Donna Huber

5 years ago I joined a local library's post-apocalyptic book club After the End. I can't believe it's been that long. We read a wide variety from the dystopian, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, speculative fiction, and alternate history genres. A lot of these books are outside my comfort zone, but I always enjoy the lively discussion. Since I live in a university town, we run on an academic calendar schedule, which means we are kicking off our new year in August. These are the 11 books we have chosen to read.

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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

book cover of post-apocalyptic novel Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

is our August book. Since we set the schedule in July we always choose a short book for August. It is under 200 pages. I listened to the audiobook and it is about 6 hours long. I'm not a big VanderMeer fan, but many people in the book club are so I've now read 3 of his books. This one isn't my favorite (that would be Bourne) and it isn't my least favorite (that would be Dead Astronauts). I just didn't really connect with the characters.

From Goodreads: Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

During the pandemic, we met by Zoom and when we were able to go back to meeting in person we decided to go with a hybrid meeting so that no would have to miss if they didn't feel comfortable meeting in person or were sick. This has also allowed people from outside our local area to join us.  If you would like to join us, we meet on the first Thursday of the month for 1 hour starting at 7:00 pm ET. Let me know if you would like the Zoom link.

Buy Annihilation at Amazon

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

book cover of dystopian novel On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

One of the things I really love about my book club is the diversity of the authors we read. It would be easy to read just white guys. 

From Goodreads: Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in.

On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee's elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in.

In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class - descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China - find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.

In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan's journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.

Buy On Such a Full Sea at Amazon

Dustborn by Erin Bowman

book cover of young adult post-apocalyptic novel Dustborn by Erin Bowman

I suggested this book to the group and will be leading the discussion. It is outside my comfort zone as I think it will be a bit more sci-fi than I usually enjoy but it was well reviewed by MK French, We had read another book she recommended a few years ago and loved it so I hope we have another winner.

From GoodreadsDelta of Dead River sets out to rescue her family from a ruthless dictator rising to power in the Wastes and discovers a secret that will reshape her world in this postapocalyptic Western mashup for fans of Mad Max and Gunslinger Girl.

Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her. 

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

Buy Dustborn at Amazon

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

book cover of thriller Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I'm looking forward to this book. It sounds much more like a thriller than necessarily post-apocalyptic. It should be an interesting read.

From Goodreads: A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis. 

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

book cover of science fiction novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I feel like this is a novel that I should have read at some point so I'm glad that the book club chose it.

From Goodreads: In Anthony Burgess's influential nightmare vision of the future, criminals take over after dark. Teen gang leader Alex narrates in fantastically inventive slang that echoes the violent intensity of youth rebelling against society. Dazzling and transgressive, A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil and the meaning of human freedom. This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition, and Burgess’s introduction, “A Clockwork Orange Resucked.”

Buy A Clockwork Orange at Amazon

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories

book cover of horror short story anthology Taaqtumi

This is another book I suggested, but I'm not leading the discussion on it. We haven't read true short stories so I thought it would be interesting to see how authors handle the world-building in post-apocalyptic short fiction. I discovered this book while looking through a diversity/inclusivity challenge that another library in our state recently got funding for. I don't like horror and I'm not a big fan of short stories so I'm not so sure about this book.

From Goodreads: “Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means “in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be. A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan.

Buy Taaqtumi at Amazon

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

book cover of alternate history novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

This an alternate history novel that I've been told has several funny moments. I think it's been a while since we've read an alternate history story so I'm looking forward to it.

From Goodreads: For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein

book cover of time travel novel Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein

We have read a few other books that have an element of time travel and I really like time travel stories. I'm looking forward to this book.

From Goodreads: Hugh Farnham was a practical, self-made man and when he saw the clouds of nuclear war gathering, he built a bomb shelter under his house. What he hadn't expected was that when the apocalypse came, a thermonuclear blast would tear apart the fabric of time and hurl his shelter into a world with no sign of other human beings.

Buy Farnham's Freehold at Amazon

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

book cover of pandemic fiction novel The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

I do love reading pandemic fiction and now that I've lived through one I enjoy them even more because I have knowledge of whether it is realistic or not.

From GoodreadsA terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.
With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

Buy The Flame Alphabet at Amazon

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

book cover of science fiction novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Isn't that a great title? I think I voted for it solely because of the title. Hopefully, it will be a good read.

From Goodreads: Before becoming one of today's most intriguing and innovative mystery writers, Kate Wilhelm was a leading writer of science fiction, acclaimed for classics like The Infinity Box and The Clewiston Test.

Now one of her most famous novels returns to print, the spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity, and rigorous in its science, Where Later the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic and "hard" SF, and won SF's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication. It is as compelling today as it was then.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is the winner of the 1977 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

book cover of dystopian novel Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

We have read a couple of books with forest in the title and they have been so-so. I think this is the book I'm most apprehensive about. 

From Goodreads: Set in the near-future, Into the Forest is a powerfully imagined novel that focuses on the relationship between two teenage sisters living alone in their Northern California forest home.

Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbor, Nell and Eva struggle to survive as society begins to decay and collapse around them. No single event precedes society's fall. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas is nowhere to be found. The sisters consume the resources left in the house, waiting for the power to return. Their arrival into adulthood, however, forces them to reexamine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and each other.

Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, Into the Forest is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking novel of hope and despair set in a frighteningly plausible near-future America

Buy Into the Forest at Amazon

Have you read any of these books? Which book would you be most interested in reading? If you would like to join us (either in person or via Zoom) let me know. We meet on the first Thursday of the month from 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm. We use the whole time for discussing the book and we start and finish promptly.

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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