Archive for May, 2011

My favorite end-of-the-world books

May 20th, 2011 2 comments

As we all know, the world is coming to an end tomorrow (and if you’re reading this after May 21, then you obviously weren’t good enough to make the Rapture), so why not kick back and spend the last few hours on the earth reading a good post-apocalyptic disaster novel? I’m a fan of the genre, and these are a few of my favorites, organizaed by the means to mankind’s demise….

Flood and Ark by Stephen Baxter.

Water wells up from below the oceans, inundating the world.

The Stand by Stephen King

Bio-engineered flu wips out humanity.

Blood Music by Greg Bear

The original “grey goo” novel.

The Rift by Walter Williams

The Big One hits – at the New Madrid fault, tearing America in two.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Purnelle

Big meteor. Bigger bang.

Nuclear War
The Last Ship

There are tons of great post-nuke books, but this unique one, from the perspective of a Navy ship at sea, is an underrated gem.

Out of the Dark by David Weber

A nice solid, fun alien invasion set in the Internet era.

World War Z by Max Brooks

Hungry zombies. Lots of guns.

Peak Oil
World Made by Hand by James Kunstler

Life in small town after a sudden decline in the world’s oil

Economic Collapse
Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

There’s nothing Great about this Depression, but the book is stunning.

Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling

The laws of physics change with devastating consequences to civilization

Children of Men by P. D. James

No more babies.

Evolution by Stephen Baxter

Life evolves. Humans do not (at least not anything like what we would expect). And yeah, Baxter’s on here twice. He’s that good.

Aftermath by Charles Sheffield

When a nearby star goes supernova, things do not look good for little old Earth

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AT&T: Our masochistic customers want to be capped

May 5th, 2011 Comments off

So, as most people know, AT&T has started capping their broadband internet packages. This is a thoroughly awful, consumer-unfriendly act, but, with a bit of doublespeak that would make a Soviet commissar blush, AT&T is claiming that customers actually asked for caps! Needless to say, I had to find out more, and, well, it sure looks that way according to this official AT&T press release:

Joyful Proletariat Welcome New AT&T Internet Enhancements

Peasants Cheer as Precious Bandwidth Allowance Distributed

May 2, 2011 – As Reported by Official News Service of DPRK-AT&T

As reported by the glorious Peoples Commissariat of Internet Resources (known to the decadent bourgeoisie as the AT&T Marketing Department) workers and peasants through the Peoples Republic of AT&T expressed their unalloyed joy at the latest culmination of the the glorious Five Year Bandwidth Allocation Initiative, which grants all members of the Outer Party an amazing 150 GB of precious bandwidth every month. The People's Congress has also agreed to award Inner Party members up to 250 GB of bandwidth, as a reward for loyal service to the Motherland.

Bandwidth is a precious and limited resource of the State, and AT&T citizens are grateful and thankful that this precious resource is now limited. Prior to the new limits, wreckers and bourgeoisie infiltrators used more then their fair share of this resource.

Winston Smith, a proud Party member in our great Workers Paradise, was quoted as saying "Previously, I lived in fear that I was inadvertently weakening our State by using too much bandwidth. I am so relieved that the I may now use only 250 GB of data. The strong, comforting hand of our Great Leader acts as a rudder upon the ship of my broadband connection!"

It is expected that any workers who are not satisfied with their bandwidth allocation will engage in public Self Criticism at the next Party committee meeting.


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A soft apocalypse is a hard read

May 5th, 2011 Comments off

Will McIntosh’s “Soft Apocalypse” is one of the most emotionally intense and harrowing books I have read in several years. Set in the near future, it is the story of one man, and his friends, as they live through the terminal decline of our modern civilization.

“Soft Apocalypse” is refreshingly different then most “end of the world” genre books – you see, this book is about you. Yes, you. You are no action hero. You don’t know how to grow your own food, and you probably aren’t a crack shot. If you were in a zombie movie, your brains would be in the digestive tract of the walking dead. This book’s author’s protagonists are all ordinary people like you and I, not action heroes.

Throughout the entire book, the protagonist, Jasper, deals with life as society slowly crumbles. He doesn’t have any grand plan, he just muddles by, unheroically, with a circle or friends, as things gradually decay. The book takes place over a decade, and through the slings and arrows of Jasper’s daily life, you get a real sense of what it is like to live through the gradual decay of civilization. If most fictional ends of the world are the sharp bite of a cobra, this one is the slow, long suffocation of a constrictor.

Our story opens with Jaspar and friends living as travelling nomads a few years after a major depression has led to 40% unemployment. While things are bad, modern life is still holding up. The power’s on, you can still find Oreos at the grocery store, and a text message is still the fastest way to stay in touch with friends. Yet, the middle class has declined, the armies of the poor are vast, and the rich live in secure privately-guarded enclaves while ostensible public servants such as the police do nothing to prevent or try to stop crime. In many ways, it is America as a third world country.

As the years pass, Jasper settles into a modicum of stability as a convenience store manager, moving in and out of various social circles consisting of old and new friends, as the world around him continues to crumble. The economy just doesn’t improve. A nihilistic tribal-ish terrorist movement called the Jumpy Jumps spreads random dadaesque violence. Strange new diseases and genetically engineered destruction accelerate the decay of both the natural and man-made environment.

There are so many fascinating and well-written vignettes here – a bowling alley during a power outage, a trip to a virtual reality speed dating service, a flash rock concert, an abandoned carnival, canine-powered taxis, browsing an abandoned bookstore, and even (a bit too sterotypical) an emergency surgery via cell phonel.

This is a challengingly violent book – brutal rapes, torture, violence against people and animals – that are frankly disturbing and in many ways reminiscent of accounts I have read from World War II. In one scene, paramilitaries are executing citizens, and Jasper spots a fondly-remembered teacher about to be shot, and all he can do is look away while the man begs for help. Even a riot which destroys a Wal-Mart is rendered in a way that is less about economic despair and more about pure nihilism. Many of the scenes of destruction are more heart-rending then other books’ nuclear wars, perhaps because those are massive, while this book is, in many ways, very intimate. As ugly as the violence is, it is never gratuitous or celebrated, and is presented as a necessary part of the plot.

There is despair in “Soft Apocalypse” – the book in many ways seems the fictional representation of the famous poem by Yeats – the center definitely cannot hold, and a bevy of antagonists tear down society while decent people – including our protagonist, can’t do much other then survive the best they can as the rudiments of civilizations gradually seep away. The book’s strength is the author’s exposition of Jasper’s essential humanity, even after he sees everything he has cared about fall away and is forced, in the end, into making a terrible choice. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road , there is no happy ending, but like “The Road” the “Soft Apocalypse” is at its best when exploring the human condition, and how humanity can exist even in the most terrible conditions.

“Soft Apocalypse” is not a fun read, but is a very good book, and has provoked hours of thought and reflection, even after I was finished. It also kept me up at night, and it has been a while since any book was able to do that.

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