After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is the sort of mediocre that is a few steps away from being a really bad book. Its saving grace is that it is a novella and doesn’t quite have enough pages to take those final steps.

The writing is plain but no one gives a shit about prose, so I’ll just skip on past that.

The two main characters are the only ones in the cast with any sort of development and it all comes late and out of nowhere. The rest of the characters filter in and out of the story as needed, never sticking around for long and rarely getting more than a line or two of dialogue before being rushed back to storage. I say storage because they don’t even linger on in the background, which makes the world of every stage of the fall feel empty.

Pete, our post-apocalypse eyes and ears, is a generic teenager who spends the majority of the book angry, horny, and jealous. This means that a lot of his scenes feature things like sulking, masturbation, hate-fucks, and temper tantrums. A little before it becomes relevant to the plot, he realizes that the people he encounters, lives with, and abducts are all human and have feelings just like he does. It doesn’t change his character all that much, really, but it helps the lead-in to the ending go a bit smoother.

Julie… huh.

Shit. Let me revise the above.

Only one character gets any sort of development. Julie, master of the algorithm, mother-to-be, and POV for the beginning and during stages of the fall, remains pretty much static through the novella. She does discover motherly love after giving birth, but that revelation lasts only long enough for her to remember that she has algorithms to work on. The sudden onset of paranoia could have led to character development, but it really just amounts to Julie pretending she’s in a thriller so the author can ham-handedly steer her toward a convergence for the endgame.

Speaking of the end…

The ending of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall manages to be both predictable and unpredictable all at the same time. Predictable because it ends exactly how you expect it to. Unpredictable because the what really happened twist at the end is literally a character shouting theories, which hadn’t been mentioned in the book prior to that point, at another character and everyone accepting them without question. If you are going to end something, you may as well end it by ramming it into a brick wall and reveling in the bloody, crumpled mess that results.

The best and most interesting parts of this book are the few, very short chapters that depict bacteria mutation and unexpected geological events. These scenes are straightforward with little variation, essentially the same scenarios carried out in a number of different locations, but they provide an impersonal view of the looming apocalypse from the perspective of the events that will cause it. And that is a breath of fresh air compared to the petty drama surrounding the other characters.

Perhaps the most baffling thing about After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is that it won a Nebula award. I can only assume this happened because the rest of the novellas nominated were god awful.

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Struggling On – To the Library and Back Again

I started off with a rule that I could only check out one book at a time, but that didn’t last long. Going to the library that often is too much of a hassle, especially since it is tucked into an annoying location. I seem to have settled on four books per trip, which seems to be working. Anyway, this week’s trip resulted in the following books:

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

I was in the mood for some space opera, but I didn’t realize until it was too late that the only author I know from that subgenre is James. S.A. Corey and I am up to date on The Expanse. This was one of the few recognizable titles in the SFF section of my library and I’ve been tempted by it in the past, so I decided to go with it instead of taking a chance on something chosen at random.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

This one has been a long time coming. I once borrowed this from the library for my mom and made the mistake of taking a glance at the first page before getting out of the car. I spent an hour reading it in the garage before I was chased indoors by the summer heat. It was good, but I didn’t continue reading it because I was serious about the reviewing thing and had a ton of other books on my plate. I’m looking forward to this one.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I’ve got nothing. People seemed to like this one back when it was released in 2012 and I was tempted to read it then but never did. Always late to the party.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I am apprehensive about this one. The book sounds great and Beukes’ previous novels have received all sorts of praise, but I can’t help but notice that her first two books were published by Angry Robot Books. Does that sounds like a weird reason to worry? I attempted to read a dozen or so of their releases and managed to finish only one of them. I gave up after that. We obviously weren’t compatible and I wasn’t going to waste my time trying and failing to read their books. Now I just view them as a taint upon their authors, apparently.

I am going to hope for the best with this one.

{Note: I’m posting these sorts of posts under ‘Struggling On’ because I refer to my crawl back from burnout as ‘The Struggle.’ A bit melodramatic, but I pretty much stopped reading for 3/4 of a year and feel like I have the right to be so.}

New Ellis(?) – Injection & Others

“Yep, that sounds like a Warren Ellis comic.”

That’s pretty much all I can say about this new project. It sounds like something he would write. Hell, it sounds so familiar that he may have already written it several times already across a number of titles. I could try to summon up some excitement for it, but I am not a comics fan and will probably skip this one.

I’m more excited by the the prospect mentioned in his recent newsletter:

With these two new talks I’m writing, and probably another one in May, I’m hoping to wrap almost all my talks into an ebook at some point in the near future. I’m not convinced anyone would pay money for a print version, and I’m not certain I could fill out a print book anyway — with the next three talks, I’d probably be looking at a total of 25,000 words, maybe a little less.

It might sound odd considering his overwhelming popularity in the comics world, but Ellis’ prose work is what made me a fan. I was introduced to his writing through one of his many outlets. Whether that was his site, a blog, or one of his columns, I can’t remember anymore. Crooked Little Vein probably played a role. He was one of my favorite writers before I ever picked up one of his comics.

That might explain why a new comic announcement elicits a shrug, but the offhand mention of a possible e-book, even one discussing something as esoteric as “the confluence of folkloric mysticism and the oncoming future”, makes me want to throw money at him. And yes, I would gladly pay for a print copy–just as I bought Do Anything. and Shivering Sands.

Speaking of columns, he is now writing for Esquire, which is perhaps the only reason why I would ever visit that site.

Reading Log (02/15)

Books read through January and into February:

  1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

    Verdict: Great, then shit. Reason: Nothing like being enamored of a book right up to the end, when it stops right before a moment that much of the book has been leading up to. I guess I don’t get to know what happens.

  2. The Girl in the Road by Monica Bynre

    Verdict: Ugh. Reason: I don’t like unreliable narrators when the author is on form and doing things well, so it make sense that I fucking abhor what was done here. The beginning of the novel is frustrating to sit through, but that’s a matter of taste–I don’t like the fast-paced paranoid thriller style. The middle section, a travelogue of sorts (which I usually hate) was pretty good and the best thing about the book. The ending was predictable and pretty much undermined everything that preceded it.

  3. The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

    Verdict: Enjoyable. Readable. Kinda fucked up. Reason: I liked this book, but it is hard to talk about what I liked because the parts that I don’t have set up camp and are making a ruckus. Let’s start with the antagonists, a bunch of cartoon misogynists who are as ineffective as they are EVIL. Their big plan to thwart our heroine from… uh…healing from the trauma suffered as a POW in Iraq is to tell anyone and everyone who will listen just how much of slut she is. When that fails, the plan shifts to hooking her up with her abusive ex in the hopes that his magic dick will make her good and submissive. I can’t figure out the motivation here, I just assume they are a bunch of bored assholes. Oh, and there is also a bit about the main character falling in love with a guy at first sight… that sight being his ass. Not lust, mind you. It was the kind of ass you marry.

  4. Locke & Key, Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill

    Verdict: Somewhere between a yawn and a disappointed sigh. Reason: Horror rooted in violence with supernatural trappings to force the story in the direction the author wants it to go. None of this appeals to me. No thank you.

  5. Harvest by Jim Crace

    Verdict: Pretty damn good. Reason: A series of unfortunate events pair up with the march of progress to shake an English farming village (in an unspecified period of history) to its very foundations. Our narrator, very much an outsider in the village despite having lived and worked there for years, relates the events from the first ill portents to the very end. To be honest, my first thoughts about this book were that it was fairly boring. Though that changed as I continued reading and became more interesting in the narrative, I can’t fault someone for never shaking that feeling or dropping the book because of it.

  6. These Dreams of You by Steven Erickson

    Verdict: Excellent. Reason: I talked about this book here.

  7. Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

    Verdict: Enjoyable. Readable. Really fucked up. Reason: All of the problems of The Hum and the Shiver and more! This time around, the book includes a character who enjoys fucking normal women, getting them addicted to his magic dick, and them tossing them aside so that they pine after him and either waste away or kill themselves. This is presented as a terrible thing by most characters, but you have to remember that the evil folks are EVIL and therefore heartily approve of it… also incest and sexual abuse. It makes me hesitate to say that I like these books, that I enjoy them, but I do despite the disturbing and/or horrible shit.

Dropped

  1. The Luminaries

    Why?: The length of the book made it a long shot from the outset. I fell out of love with long books years ago and this particular tome could have been used as a doorstop or improvised weapon. In the end, it suffered from the same issue most books of this size do: too many words, not enough progression. The book was interesting in places, but not enough to keep me tuning in for another seven hundred pages.

These Dreams of You

After great struggle with long holds and indifference, we managed to get our router replaced. The wi-fi signal is now stronger than one bar and the replacement is meant to handle several wireless devices, which means the router isn’t overwhelmed and shutting down the connection every few minutes. I can watch anime again. I can stream music. I can stay connected longer than a minute at a time! I’d cheer, but I’m not into that sort of thing.

My craptastic internet connection played a large role in finishing These Dreams of You last night, in finishing it so quickly. There’s not much distraction to be found when your connection lasts only a matter of minutes before disappearing into the aether. The book ushers things along, too. It is easy to get trapped reading the book, breezing from one short passage to the next as the book flows through time and around the world. Variations of just one more flashed through my head countless times–just one more passage and I’ll do something else for a while; just this last passage because it is short; I should really read this one to finish off this page. On and on and on.

Erickson has written a rambling narrative that is just so many things. It is steeped in politics and pop culture, both often referenced in vague terms that might confuse people who can’t take a hint or don’t know a damn thing about history. There is a strong element of personal responsibility and ethics, which seems almost a joke at first before it spirals off to play a serious role in almost every part of the novel. Ultimately, it is a story of a girl and her family, both the one that has adopted her and the family that would eventually bring her into the world. It sprawls, across time, around the world, through fiction and back to the reality.

These Dreams of You is a joy to read even if, as I said before, the tension is hellish. I may not have lived through ’68, but I was here in ’08 and old enough to have felt the hope that came with our new president (a hope that, sadly, blossomed into cynicism) and the dread of recession. And in that latter regard the book does not hold back; it hits hard and fast and is relentless. The life our characters lead is an everyday, prolonged hell in which everything might be taken from them at any moment and the novel sets out see that through to fruition.

I’m glad to have read it.

Apparently, I chose the one book that isn’t representative of the bulk of Erickson’s work and is the lesser of the lot. Well, according to some random reviews, that is. I’ve nothing to compare it to. I am not disappointed though. Erickson is a damn good writer. If this is his lesser work, then I look forward to reading the rest.