Tag: apocalypse

Meh Monday: The City of Mirrors

Posted 15 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Meh Monday: The City of MirrorsThe City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #3
Published by Ballantine Books on May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 602

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

"The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?"

The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity's only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, this trilogy is over. Honestly, the only reason I’m actually writing a review for The City of Mirrors is because I have this need to make things complete. I’ve reviewed the other two so you, lucky Reader, are going to get to hear me bitch about this one. Because that sounds so inspiring, let’s get to it!

There are large (novel-sized) chunks of this monster that are just downright dullThe City of Mirrors, much like the previous two novels, jump around in space and time. The reader is forced to slog through hundreds of pages of sappy writing about a poor Harvard undergrad who falls in love with his roommates girlfriend to get the genesis of Zero. Familiar characters like ‘Lish and Peter have long epic sojourns where not much of anything happened and I wanted to weep with boredom at times.

My biggest problem with this novel however, was the heavy handed Biblical allegory. Don’t get me wrong I love good Biblical allegory. Good being the key word. Cronin hits readers over the head with a slab of Adam’s ribs with the allegory that he tries to create in The City of Mirrors and for me it was completely ineffective and distracting. You have Michael working to fix his ship, like a post-apocalyptic Noah. Of course there’s Amy, who is the Christ figure. There’s Peter (PETER!) the disciple. Which brings me to the name of the characters: Caleb, Sara (very motherly in the Bible, very motherly here)… it doesn’t hold true for all the characters, but throughout the trilogy it held true for enough.

There are sections with lots of action and violence, but the literary mixed with the fun that was so appealing in The Passage has completely evaporated in The City of Mirrors. The end of the book is probably the most satisfying part of it, I don’t mean that in a snarky way the last hundred pages or so take a total right turn to the rest of the novel, and while there are certain believability and ‘what’s the point, then?!’ problems with the end, I’ll leave it there for the sake of not spoiling. If you want to discuss it in the comments – let’s do it.

For a not quite as harsh, but naturally better written, and of course spoiler-y review, I liked the one at The Washington Post. The Discriminating Fangirl also breaks down some of her problems with the novel here.

Soooo Reader. Insert big sigh here. How did everyone else feel about this? Has anyone else taken the plunge and read it? Anyone more forgiving than me?

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Wednesday Wow: The Fireman

Posted 29 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wow: The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill
Published by HarperCollins on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thrillers, General, Psychological
Pages: 768
Format: Kindle Paperwhite

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Shortly after starting Joe Hill’s The Fireman, I loved it. Shortly after finishing The Fireman, I loved it. There were times in the middle where I didn’t love it as much. I think that the strengths and the weaknesses of this novel relate to how heavily Hill leans on certain elements of other novels.

Let me elaborate. The start of this novel feels an awful lot like Stephen King’s The Stand, down to the fact that Harper, the female lead’s middle name is Frances (as in Frances Goldsmith, a significant female character in The Stand). More importantly Harper shares personality and inner life characteristics with Frannie Goldsmith. They both have a certain naivety and (unrealistic in the circumstances) belief in the better part of people. They’re also both survivors. Also, much like The Stand there is a separation of the populace into camps of good versus evil. At first I found this obvious homage to Father King (Father Storey?) to be charming but as the pages wore on I found the homage to be more predictable and wished for Hill to strike out on his own.

To be fair, Hill readily admitted this in a recent NPR interview, and he really cracked me up:

My book does carry a lot of echoes of The Stand, which is a novel that I adored, and you know, I sometimes joked that the book is The Stand if it was soaked in gasoline and set on fire.

I eventually did shake the idea that this was just The Stand set on fire. The latter part of the novel turns into something a little different and although it does end a little predictably it’s still a hell of a good ride. The fact that this is the first novel that really calls on Hill’s chops to world-build (let’s face it, NOS4A2 didn’t require full world-building) is actually really impressive.

Overall, this is a great read for those who love the apocalypse-by-disease genre and it’s also a fairly good twist on the genre with the creation of the Dragonscale fungus. Naturally, this book comes highly recommended to all Stephen King and Joe Hill fans as well.

What do you think, Reader? Any end of the world junkies out there?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

1 Comment/ : , , , , , ,


Friday (Re)Reads: The Passage

Posted 10 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday (Re)Reads: The PassageThe Passage by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #1
Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 8th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Literary, General, Fantasy, Epic
Pages: 784
Format: Kindle Paperwhite

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

So this is my second journey through Cronin’s The Passage, I remember enjoying it immensely back in 2010 when it first came out. I only refreshed myself with the Wikipedia page when the second book in the trilogy The Twelve came out in 2012, but now with the impending release of the last book in the trilogy (City of Mirrors), I felt it was time for a full re-read.

Let me tell you, while I still enjoyed The Passage a ton, it didn’t hold up as well as I wanted it to. It is an epic, sprawling story with multitudes of characters spanning about a hundred years. What makes The Passage stand apart from other apocalypse novels is that Cronin manages to do it all. We get to see both the fall of society and the almost dystopian aftermath a hundred years later with society evolving to live with the virals. First Colony is peopled with at least half a dozen fully formed and fleshed out characters. Cronin is an excellent world builder and puts a bright new spin out in the world of vampire literature.

My problem with The Passage comes from the not-quite-heavy-handed-but-at-least-middle-handed Christ allegory that we get at the end with Amy. I don’t know a whole lot about Justin Cronin as a person except that he seemed lovely for the fifteen seconds that stood with him at BEA (but not as lovely as George Saunders), but the preachy-ness at the end of this book leaves me suspicious of Cronin the way we should have been suspicious about Creed in the late nineties.

Despite all that, I must highly recommend The Passage to all lovers of vampire, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a good fun read, especially if you want a fast-paced chunkster.

So Readers, I know other people out there have read The Passage. Thoughts? Feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Science Friday: Seveneves

Posted 5 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Science Friday: SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson
Published by Harper Collins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Fiction, General, Genetic Engineering, Science Fiction
Pages: 880

What would happen if the world were ending? A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remains . . .  Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

First, let’s get the title pronunciation for Seveneves out of the way, it’s Seven Eves. Yeah, if I hadn’t ‘read’ the audiobook I never would have gotten that. Prior to starting it, I keep reading it as ‘Sevenses’ (Like multiple sevens…). I know Book Worm Problems.

Anyway, despite the rather awkward title, Seveneves is a phenomenal masterwork of hard science fiction. It reminded me of The Martian because it takes highly technical science details and makes them exciting. It brings science closer to the reader, which is especially astounding when that reader is me, a liberal arts focused attorney. I like science, but in my every day life I don’t science (or math, for that matter). So when a book can bring astronomy, engineering, biology, etc and help me to understand them better in some way – without the dryness of a textbook – well, I’m thrilled. It’s unlike The Martian in that there are many more characters and much more going on.

The story itself is excellent as well, it starts with the moon being broken into seven pieces by some unknown ‘agent’… then a popular scientist, reminiscent of Neil deGrasse Tyson,  realizes that all hell is about to break loose on Earth in about two years – at which point the world gets to planning. It’s full of action, suspense, and spacewalking with added bonuses of politics and sociology to boot.

I thought this was a fantastic read. It’s a chunkster for sure, but I think every page is worth it.

As to the audio, it was well done and not distracting from the story – which is exactly what I look for in my audiobooks. I’m not sure the switch between a female and male narrator for part two of the book was necessary, but in the end it worked.

What about you, Reader? Have any real science people taken a gander at Seveneves? How does it sound?


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Could’ve Been Worse Wednesday: Suffer the Children

Posted 11 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Could’ve Been Worse Wednesday: Suffer the ChildrenSuffer the Children by Craig DiLouie
Published by Simon and Schuster on May 20th 2014
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Horror
Pages: 352

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

.SO MANY MOUTHS TO FEEDIt begins on an ordinary day: children around the world are dying. All children, everywhere—a global crisis beyond any parent’s worst nightmare. Then, a miracle beyond imagining: three days later, they return. Shattered mothers and fathers see their sons and daughters happy and whole once more, playing and laughing as before—but only when they feed. They hunger for blood…and they can’t get enough upon which to feast. Without it, they die again. How far would you go to keep someone you love alive?

I can’t really complain too much about this novel. It’s never going to win awards or be on the ‘best of’ lists, but the premise is novel enough that I found it to be a decent ‘fluffy’ read. It’s a genre novel through and through – my biggest issue is the characterization of women as mothers and nothing else – but again – it’s genre fiction so I’m trying not to read too much into it.

The writing isn’t fabulous but again, the premise was unique enough to keep me reading. The dialogue was particularly stilted. DiLouie writes from a number of perspectives – he might have been better suited to stick with one character throughout the whole novel and figure out a different way to flesh out the world. The pediatrician David had the most well written sections and seemed to have the most character development. (Though not necessarily the most striking changes.)  

The world building is well done, even if the ‘scientific’ information regarding Herod’s Syndrome is rather scant (why doesn’t it affect adults at all? why did it strike all the children in the world over 36 hours? what activated it?) the stuff that happens after the ‘resurrection’ is actually pretty believable and quite frankly, pretty horrific. I don’t think that is is necessarily a novel for those that are faint of heart – but it’s a pretty decent horror/apocalypse/twist on vampires genre novel. 

You could do worse on a plane if you’re a horror fiction lover. 

Evil children scare the shit out of me, Reader. What about you? 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Wonderful Wednesday: The Ark

Posted 17 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wonderful Wednesday: The ArkThe Ark by Annabel Smith

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price.

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

What do you get when you combine a brilliant dystopian novel with a unique, cutting edge epistolary style of storytelling? Why Annabel Smith’s The Ark, of course. Smith takes novel writing and the technology that we have available to us for storytelling to a whole new level. 

But let’s start with the general things about the book that I loved anyway. It’s another well written piece of literary dystopian fiction that while quite different from St. Mandel’s Station Eleven, shows a similar command of the genre. Smith takes an idea that could have easily fallen into the general tropes of apocalypse/dystopian genre fiction and makes it literature. There are deeper themes to explore, more than what is just presented on the surface. The epistolary format in which it’s written allows for expert pacing in unfolding what exactly is going on inside (and outside) the ark. 

This book written in the usual manner would be more than enough for me to have enjoyed it thoroughly and highly recommend it, but Smith’s use of the e-book to create an interactive experience really just puts the whole thing over the top in uniqueness. If possible I would highly recommend reading this on an iPad or other such tablet device (I know, it sounds like bizarre advice) – if not, you can still interact with the novel by visiting the website. 

Brilliant writing, brilliant idea on taking a story to a new level. 

What say you, Reader? How do you feel about a whole new reading experience? Are you open to it?


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 13 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352

2014 National Book Award Finalist. Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.   One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.   Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.   Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I picked up this book after reading Catherine’s review (The Gilmore Guide to Books). I have been a long time enthusiast of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels… dare I say it, before they were cool. So while I find myself a little bored with the massive number of YA books in this genre that carry all too familiar tropes, I always jump on adult novels in the genre (maybe with the noted exception of zombie apocalypse novels). 

This book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.

The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book. 

I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.

For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.

So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Fiend: …and the meth-heads shall inherit the Earth.

Posted 10 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fiend: …and the meth-heads shall inherit the Earth.Fiend by Peter Stenson
Published by Crown/Archetype on July 9th 2013
Genres: Fiction, General, Horror, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 304

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

There’s more than one kind of monster.   When Chase first sees the little girl in umbrella socks disemboweling the Rottweiler, he's not too concerned. As a longtime meth addict, he’s no stranger to such horrifying, drug-fueled hallucinations.     But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. And with Chase’s life already shattered by addiction, the apocalypse might actually be an opportunity—a last chance to hit restart, win back the love of his life, and become the person he once dreamed of being.    That is, if the darkness inside him doesn't destroy everything—again.

I want to use all the puns here. I’ll just stick with ‘fiendishly funny’.  I’m not generally compelled by action driven novels, which is why I’ve only read a handful of zombie apocalypse novels, but this one definitely stands apart from the pack. There seems to be a touch of Chuck Palahunik’s style in Stenson’s writing – which of course I love.
There’s nothing too deep and important to be found in this novel, so it’s great fun as a Halloween read. and I love the twist that Stenson puts on the whole zombie genre – he just makes it his thing, the zombies giggle. Which is totally creepy, but also a little funny. …and I couldn’t help myself from thinking the whole time, “…and the meth-heads shall inherit the earth.” Honestly, I can’t think of another zombie apocalypse story that’s anything like it.
The characters are fleshed out enough and believable (under the circumstances). I particularly enjoyed THE Albino – the cook that Chase and Typewriter first run to.  The A and B love stories with KK/Jared and KK/Chase were relevant enough to the action that they didn’t get in the way – in other words, they weren’t extraneous. You know how much I hate a love story just for the sake of a love story.
All the characters and flawed and tragic in their own way, but scrappy survivalists as well. Despite the fact that my knowledge of meth is completely compiled of watching Breaking Bad, I still felt that these characters were incredibly relatable and I found myself rooting for them.
So glad I chose to pick up this book. Highly recommended to anyone who likes zombie novels and dark humor, but probably not recovering meth-addicts. 
Whatcha think, Reader? Are you looking for a new twist on the zombie genre? What’s the weirdest twist on a ‘settled’ monster (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.) genre you’ve seen lately? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Apocalypse No Go: Flare

Posted 17 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Apocalypse No Go: FlareFlare by Paul Grzegorzek
on February 16th 2014
Pages: 242

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Malcolm King is a journalist living in trendy Hove on the south coast of England. His days are taken up with video meetings and research on the internet while he writes articles for magazines around the world.

When a solar flare of unprecedented magnitude hits the Earth, effectively hurling us back to the stone age in a matter of hours, Malc is thrust into a terrifying new world as he travels the length of the country to find his young daughter.

Society, a fragile construct at best, shatters as the survivors fight each other for food and water, neighbour killing neighbour as fires rage through the cities, destroying much of what's left.

Faced with difficult choices at every turn, Malc draws his strength from those around him; Emily, a tough, no-nonsense soldier with a soft spot for lost causes and Jerry, a disgraced astrophysicist who may be the only person left who understands what's happening with the sun.

With their help, he must struggle to answer the ultimate question.

What won't he do to get his daughter back?

The premise sounded good: crazy, powerful solar flares knock out all but the most rudimentary technology. Chaos ensues. Apocalypse. 

However, this book did not go well.

I found Malcolm (“Malc”) to be inept and irritating as a main character. There was a superficial (and as usual, wholly unnecessary) love story fabricated for… for… what? The chats and moments between Emily and Malc concerning their ‘relationship’ seemed stunted and incredibly awkward.

However all that could have been forgiven (or at least bumped this read up to a three star) if the tone of the book had been more appropriate. There aren’t enough tragic deaths of characters that you’re supposed to care about. Honestly, things work out way too well considering it’s supposed to be the end of society as we know it. Apocalyptic books, by their very nature should be dark. Maybe that’s just me? 

There are flashes of brilliance – getting picked up and put into a military work camp could have been a very interesting piece of the novel, but it just wasn’t fleshed out enough to really give any real sense of the horror.

Flare, might have worked with some tweaks and editing as a YA apocalypse novel, considering the tone of the book, but as an adult novel it falls completely on its face. I can’t imagine that I’ll pick up the (inevitable) sequel.

Perhaps I didn’t read the same book as the other reviewers on Goodreads (though there aren’t many). Perhaps I just expect too much from apocalypse novels.

I don’t relish in writing bad reviews. Talk to me, Reader.

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Fabulous Friday: The Word Exchange

Posted 4 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Friday: The Word ExchangeThe Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on April 8th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 384

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange offers an inventive, suspenseful, and decidedly original vision of the dangers of technology and of the enduring power of the printed word. In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .     Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

Guys, GUYS! If you read one new frontlist book this spring let this be it.

Graedon does magical things with words. This book is both beautiful and terrifying all at once. I can hardly believe that this is a debut novel. For a very serious bibliophile and someone with a casual interest in linguistics I found this book to be nearly flawless. The writing is lyrical and the vocabulary used throughout was challenging. (Yes, I realize there was irony in me looking up unfamiliar words on my Kindle version of the OED … though I feel like I navigated the word flu pretty well.)

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

The premise is brilliant, but more importantly it’s wonderfully executed. Graedon’s world building is believable and complete. She unfolds the story with expert pacing the reader is held at arms length for just long enough to get acclimated into a world where technology can predict what you want almost before you know you want it. It’s easy to envision Doug as your crazy tin-hat wearing neighbor who won’t get on ‘The Google’ because they’re afraid of technology. (Except Doug is right. It leads you to reconsider the neighbor.) My one minor complaint is that I couldn’t completely buy into the physical transmission of the word flu.

For lovers of print books, journals, and all things analogue, this book is for you. You will feel vindicated. For people think that our technology is outpacing our morality and corporations are exploiting this, this book is for you. For those that feel our privacy has been sacrificed at the altar of convenience and that the world is a bit too connected these days, this book is for you.

When I got my first iPod I hated having to click through songs that I wasn’t in the mood for, in my youth I used to dream about the days that technology would just know what I wanted. The Word Exchange turns that dream into a very frightening reality.

“It was only when I finally gave it up for good that I realized just how much I’d ceded to the Meme: of course people’s names and Life information (numbers, embarrassing stories, social connections) but also instructions for virtually everything […] Getting rid of it was like cutting off a hand or breaking up with myself. Only later did I feel truly horrified that for years I’d invited something to eavesdrop on me. And not just my gainful breathing apparatus but the careful, quiet thicket of my thoughts.”

God. Does that sound like social media or what?

This book epitomizes why I hate (and the imminent danger of) expressions like “totes adorbs”. Seriously folks, are the extra syllables really that taxing on you? Western society is increasingly lazy, allowing machines to think for us, and if we fail to inoculate ourselves against the rising tide of internet acronyms, ‘easy speech’, and emoticons – something close to the world laid out in The Word Exchange will inevitably fall upon us. (Super guilty here on excessive smiley faces in casual text and online conversation.)

“How could we miss words? We were drowning in a sea of text. A new one arrived, chiming, every minute.”

Now it’s no secret that I do like my tech gadgets – especially when it comes to reading (most days I’d rather read an eBook than a real one…) but I do still read books.

True story: My ability to spell has declined embarrassingly since I bought a MacBook that underlines every spelling mistake that I make – I just right click that misspelled word and have the computer correct it for me… if I’ve come close enough for the computer to even recognize it. While I don’t have aphasia yet … let’s not even go there, it’s too scary.

I want this on all the Best of 2014 lists. This might be the best book I’ve read in years. This is the kind of book that I want to hand out on street corners. Go try it. Don’t be afraid of footnotes, they’re really not that copious. Don’t be afraid of the vocabulary – that’s part of the point. Just read it, then come back and tell me what you think.

Have you read The Word Exchange? I’m interested in other thoughts, even if you don’t agree with me! 


P.S. Dear Doubleday: My birthday is very close to your release date. A signed first edition would not hurt my feelings. 🙂

April @ The Steadfast Reader