Earth Abides – an “end of the world as we know it” classic.

George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.

I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.

This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?

There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.

It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?

As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.

“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

Advertisements

A visit to the library….

A visit to the library was called for after an on-line chat with an author friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic. We’d been discussing the “Lost Generation” of writers – they include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Stein etc. and he had asked me if I had read anything by Max Brod.

Brod (1884 – 1968) was a prolific writer in his own right, but is mostly remembered as the friend of Franz Kafka, who, when requested by Kafka to destroy all his writings at his death….refused to follow the writer’s instructions and had the works published instead. So it’s thanks to Brod that so much of Kafka’s writings saw the light of day.

Brod was a German speaking Czech Jew – who later moved to Israel to escape the Nazi take over of the then Czechoslovakia. He died in Tel Aviv in 1968. He was an author, journalist, translator and a composer of music. A very talented man. He first met Kafka, at Charles University in Prague where they both studied, in 1902. The rest as they say is history.

Naturally my friend’s insistence that I read Brod had me intrigued so I set off for my local city library feeling for sure that they would have at least one of Brod’s books. How wrong could I be? Not a single book written by Brod on their shelves. Deciding to check out on-line book sellers when I returned home, I set about searching the library’s catalogue of books for anything at all mentioning Brod.

The only book I found at the library with any mention of Brod, was a novel by Australian based writer Marija Pericic called The Lost Pages – which is a fictional story about the relationship between Kafka and Brod. I picked it up anyway and will have a read of it later. I also picked up 2 other books. One about New Zealand writers who – although not as famous as the main members of “the lost generation” of writers – were New Zealand expat writers living overseas during the same period of time – called “The Expatriate Myth”, by Helen Bones.

The other book – the one I decided to read first – is by another Czech Jewish writer who went through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the short relief of the end of the second world war and the subsequent take over by the communists under Stalin – by the name of Ivan Klima. It’s his autobiography titled “My Crazy Century” – with the C and Z of the word Crazy highlighted in Red – giving you a red Cz – I assume symbolic of the many years that the Czech’s were under communist rule. I’m about a quarter of the way into this 534 page memoir – enjoying it, but horrified at how people were treat – first by the Nazi’s and then by the Communists. I will probably do a review of the book once I finish it.

Back at home I googled Bron’s books and was surprised at how few were available in English. It seems that the ones concerning the diaries of Kafka are available in English, but little else. The two main books of Bron’s that my writer friend recommended were only available in German. One called “Prager Kreis” (Prague Crisis or Prague Circle) printed in 1967 and the other “Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie, 1960” (literal translation being – Quarrelsome Life: Autobiography, 1960 – although there may be another meaning). I may try to get them anyway and struggle through with my basic schoolboy knowledge of the German language.

Whilst at the library, much to my wife’s dismay, I was perusing the discarded books on the “for sale” table. Four books caught my eye, so for the princely sum of $2, my own library has grown by 4…..even though – as my wife was quick to point out…..my shelves are already overflowing. Those books were – “Now and Forever” by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of 2 novellas – “Somewhere a band is playing” and “Leviathan ’99”. Bradbury is of course best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. “Extreme Rambling” by Mark Thomas – a travelogue about hiking through troubled areas of the world. “New Scottish Writing” – which is a collection of short stories by writers from Scotland – printed in 1996, so not in actual fact all that “New”. The final book was “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow which is a post apocalyptic/dystopian story – set in Britain in 2010…. after the oil ran out. I must say I do like a good dystopian novel….hopefully this one won’t disappoint.

So there we have it. The library failed to deliver on what I went for in the first place, but the books I chose – both to borrow and the ones I bought -should expand my knowledge and entertain me. I do love the library!

Please do make use of your own local libraries. In these days of belt tightening and reduced budgets, city councils will cut funding if they think the libraries are not being used by sufficient people. So please get out there and borrow some books. And I’d like to say a little thank you to all librarians and library volunteers who keep the libraries staffed and open. Well done, you are appreciated, and thank you very much.

DEADLINE….you can’t beat a good Zombie novel.

I love an exciting Zombie story

Two weeks ago I bought about 15 books from the local Lions Club charity book sale, one of which DEADLINE – by Mira Grant – I have just finished reading.

The book in question DEADLINE – the second book in a series of Zombie “Newsflesh” stories by Mira Grant.

Right now you probably have the same look on your face as my wife did when I showed her the front of the book I was so engrossed in – a look that said – Meh,  another Zombie book….they’re all the same.

But this one was different. Although it’s the second book in what is currently a series of 4 books (the first book was called FEED), it can be read as a stand alone story as you get to know about what happened previously very early on in the story. From then on you’ll be running hell for leather to the final page. Which incidentally has a double surprise at the end. For once, a Zombie story with an unpredictable ending. I literally said out loud – “Wow I was not expecting that!” – but it has set things up nicely for the next book in the series “BLACKOUT”.

It’s written from the perspective of former Blogger, now official journalist Shaun Mason, who’s blog about living with Zombies morphed into a major news organization called “After the End Times”. It’s set in 2041….after the initial Zombie outbreak of 2014 – which sparked, the end of the world as we knew it. It’s not just another Zombie story though. It’s not “the Walking Dead” – there are guns and bombs – but there is also political foul play, horror, miniature bulldogs (yes you read that correctly – miniature bulldogs),  the interplay or relationships between the main characters, journalism, suspense, action, science “Facts” to back up what was happening, mad scientists, sane scientists who appeared slightly mad…..and of course who could forget Shaun’s dead sister Georgina (who he refers to as George and whom I assume gets killed in the first book of the series) speaks to him, from the grave, in his head – and he talks back to her. Oh yes…this story has it all.

Described as “Perfect Summer Apocalypse Reading”, it is one of the few well written Zombie novels that I have come across and I ended up caring what happened to these characters. Sci-Fi Magazine praised the first book FEED as “The Zombie novel Robert A. Heinlein might have written”.

The blurb on the back goes as follows….”Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as (much) fun when you’ve lost as much as he has. BUT when a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of Zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news – he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead. Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun”.

All of which sounds quite exciting – if slightly incorrect – you should never EVER use a shotgun on Zombies -potential contamination from blood splatter is increased by using a shotgun as opposed to a bullet from a pistol or rifle…. (as you’ll find out if you read DEADLINE).

Mira Grant  – the writer – lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and suggests you do the same (not to ward off Zombies – this is California after all!). Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire – winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for best new writer.

The 3rd book in the “Newsflesh” Series “BLACKOUT” was nominated for a Hugo Award…..and there is a 4th book FEEDBACK released in 2016 that I now feel I have a duty to track down and read.

The end of DEADLINE has me not knowing what direction the 3rd book, BLACKOUT will take. Must get on to reading that very soon. 

Meantime….my machete and baseball bat are beside my bed and this little lot are hanging behind my bedroom door…..just in case.

Are you prepared……for the Zombie Apocalypse?

I’m in trouble again because of books.

It’s been a great week for buying books…..but it’s also gotten me into trouble….again. My wife and I agree on many things, but books are not one of those things. My belief is that you can never have too many books, where as my wife says I already have too many books. So to admit to buying another 20 over a 7 day period was like an alcoholic admitting he’s fallen off the wagon again……Not quite the same thing I know.

My 20 book’s in one week purchase.

I guess I should explain how I came to buy another 20 books. Wednesday 14th Nov I had been given a ticket to a book expo at our local library, by my sister-in-law (another self confessed bibliophile). The expo was co-hosted by the library, a book publisher and “Poppies” book store – one of our local independents. Representitives from each of these discussed their favourite books of the year and presented about 40 books to tell us about. All very interesting and especially so for me, being my first ever book expo.

About half way through the presentation, a local author – Linda Trubridge – gave us a talk about her recently published book called “Passages”. A very apt title – about which I’ll explain shortly. Linda, her husband David and sons Sam and William are all very successful in their own fields. David is an internationally renown Artist/Designer and furniture maker and has exhibited his designs all over the world including at the Victoria and Albert museum in the UK and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Sam is a performance artist, actor and director and William is the world freediving record holder.

Linda is also an artist in pencil, paint and sculpture. One of her sculptural pieces graces the local village square. And now of course she can add published writer to her resume.

The book is partly about the Trubridge’s as a family and also about how after being settled living in the north of England in a rural stone built cottage, they suddenly decided to sell up, buy a boat and spend the next 10 years at sea – visiting the islands of the Caribbean before continuing on through the Panama Canal and down through the South Pacific to wind up in New Zealand – where they finally settled.

So the title Passages – reflects the passage of time, the passage of the boat through the oceans, the passage and development of themselves as a family unit and of course passages of print on the pages of the book. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but just browsing a few pages it’s a very nicely written book – almost poetic really. I will probably give a full review once I have read it.

So “Passages” was book number one of my 20. I was very restrained at the expo and this was my only purchase – bought from the author and signed with a nice little message inside. I first met Linda over 15 years ago when I attended two series of “Life Drawing” courses she was teaching at Adult Education evening classes at the local high school. So it’s nice on a personal level to have a book of hers on my bookshelf.

The next day was my birthday (happy birthday to me…happy birthday to me…). My brother and sister-in-law gave me a voucher to be spent on books at another of our independents “Wardini’s” book shop – who deserve a blog post of their own…and I will get around to it soon….as they do such great work.

On the following Saturday we had the Hastings Lions annual charity book sale. This is where the bulk of my purchases occurred – 15 books in all. One of Stephen Fry’s biographies “More Fool Me”, was the first to go into my bag. I have a bit of a soft spot for Fry. He’s a very intelligent and witty writer.  Two books of photographs titled “The Forties in Pictures” and “The Sixties in Pictures” – each book containing some nice black and white photos of their era – although the 60’s one also had a smattering of colour photos too, were the next books to go into the bag. Being a keen photographer myself, they make a nice addition to my collection of photography books. Next was “Paris was Ours” edited by Penelope Rowlands – 32 writers reflect on the city of lights. If you have read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I am a big fan of Paris and of any writers who write about Paris, so I just had to buy this one. The front inlay of the book begins “Paris is the world capital of memory and desire..” and that really says it all for me. Having visited Paris just the once, for a week in 2016, I have happy memories and a deep desire to return very soon.

The next book is Asne Seierstad’s “The Bookseller of Kabul”. Another weakness of mine are books about books or about book shops or book sellers. This is a true story about a book seller and his family in Kabul who Asne Seierstad lived with for a 4 month period. “For more than 20 years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street”. It’s not just a story about books though it’s also about censorship and the contrasting views of the value and the place of women in Afghanistan society.

Then comes a book by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’d already seen the movie so wanted to read the book of “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” to see how it measured up. I loved the movie – actually watched it twice – so am quite keen to get started on this one soon.

“Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull – subtitled “A New Life in Paris” – It just sucked me right in with the title. Another book about Paris….new beginnings in the city of lights, love and romance….and how the seduction of Paris eventually overwhelms even the strongest soul. According to the blurb on the back cover – Funny, perceptive, poignant, adventurous and magical. We’ll see. 

Next come two books by New Zealander Joe Bennett. I have already read a couple of his books – he’s not Bill Bryson, but he’s pretty good. Wry observations as he travels from one place to the next. He was born in Eastbourne in the UK and “Mustn’t Grumble” is about his first visit home after 15 years as he rediscovers what it really means to be English. The second book of his “Hello Dubai” – is about a trip to guess where? Yes Dubai – with all its opulence and extremes. The subtitle “Skiing, Sand and Shopping in the World’s weirdest City” says it all.

“Vroom with a View” – is another travelogue – another weakness of mine (books about travel). Peter Moore is yet another amusing travel writer. I have read his books before and really enjoyed them so when I saw that – influenced by a late night commercial warning that life comes to an end after 40 – he’d bought a 1961 Vespa to tour Italy “in search of the Dolce Vita” –  I just had to get the book.

Bulgarian born poet and writer Kapka Kassabova, grew up under communism in 1980’s Bulgaria. She got away as soon as she could and settled in New Zealand where she published two novels and several poetry books. Now living in Scotland, “Street Without a Name” is her story of re-visiting Bulgaria and of her muddled relationship with the country of her birth. The back of the book says “With the irreverence of an ex-pat and the curiosity of a visitor Kapka takes a humerous and unflinchingly honest look at Europe’s newest member, and brilliantly captures the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past”. Yes I know…another travelogue.

“I am Pilgrim” – Terry Hayes. I know nothing about this book. I had been browsing in Poppies book shop a few days earlier and noticed this book selling at around $40 for the paperback. One of the reviews of it said it was a cross between Jack Reacher and James Bond, AND since it was only $2 at the book sale I thought why not?

I haven’t read much poetry since leaving school, so when I saw W.B. Yeats – “Collected Poems”- I thought it was time to reacquaint myself.  J.B. Priestly wrote that Yeats “was a poet first, last, and all the time. Not only a great poet but probably the greatest poet of this century”. Praise indeed.

My final 2 books from the Lion’s sale were both by Mira Grant and are books 2 and 3 of a trilogy of Zombie books. I enjoy a good fast paced mindless Zombie book every now and then so “Deadline” and “Blackout” fit the bill nicely. The first book in the series is called “Feed” of which reviewers raved “perfect summer apocalypse reading…gripping, thrilling and brutal…”. I am now about half way through “Deadline” and am eager to get back to it tonight. Definitely a book to be read in bed…..with a machete and baseball bat under the covers!

Meantime I had – I am almost ashamed to admit – ordered a book on line. It was one that I had had from the local library but since I am going to visit San Francisco next year I wanted a copy of national Geographic Traveler’s “San Francisco” for myself – one that I can make notes in the margins and deface with highlighter pens in preparation for my trip. It arrived Monday.

My final day Tuesday I had arranged to meet my brother for lunch and thinking that he’d probably be late, decided that it may be a wise thing to pop into the Hawke’s Bay Book Exchange – a second hand book shop, and grab something to read while I waited. I spent some time browsing and was amazed at how expensive some of the books were for their condition. For example, a hard cover Bill Bryson book called “One Summer” – originally priced at a little over $50 brand spanking new, was now slightly worn and dogeared and yet they were wanting $40 for it. No way was I paying that much for a second hand book. Eventually settling for the biography of Norman Wisdom “My Turn” for $6.50 in paperback I scurried off for lunch. Naturally my brother wasn’t late so I didn’t need the book anyway. BUT I will enjoy reading it ….eventually.

So that is 18 in total….leading up to my final 2 purchases. After lunch I headed back to Havelock North village and to one of my favourite book shops “Wardini’s” – with the intention of spending my birthday book voucher. As you would have already gathered, travel is one of my favourite subjects and pastimes, so when I saw Lonely Planet had a very nice picture book out of “Amazing Train Journeys”, I knew where most of that birthday voucher was going. For me, if I can travel long distances by train rather than by car or plane, I will. I simply love travelling via the rails. 

And to round off my 20 books, an oldie but a goodie. A book that I read in school and wanted to re-read – Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – just to remind myself of how much he actually got right when writing this dystopian novel back in 1948. The movie staring John Hurt was pretty good too.

Now…I don’t know if this is good news, or bad news, but I just heard that this coming Friday,  The Friends of the Library at Hastings City Library are holding their annual book sale. All discarded Library books are to be snapped up for only 50 cents each. I think I’m heading for more trouble!

Until next time…….it’s time for breakfast – strawberries picked fresh from the garden.

Dystopian novels and real life Preppers

I love a good dystopian novel. I enjoy a good story where I can’t afterward pick the story to pieces, highlighting the glaring errors and the “no way would they react like that” events.

I’m actually surprised, reading other WordPress blogs, at the number of female fans of this genre. I had assumed, obviously incorrectly, that this was the domain of males…..Survivalists and Preppers.

If I may just mention a couple of novels in this genre I enjoyed reading…

James Herbert’s “48”

HERFORT11-2

set in London in 1948 after Hitler won the war by bombing the UK with a biological weapon designed to kill people of certain blood groups – keeping the Arian race pure. Naturally, things don’t go quite as expected…..I won’t spoil it for you. London is eerily empty and abandoned as we follow the struggle to survive of “our hero”. It certainly makes one think about how different things would have turned out, had Hitler had this weapon at his disposal and had the chance to deploy it. I really enjoyed this book.

John Marsden wrote a series of 7 books for young adults which are still worth a read for adults too. The first book in the series is “Tomorrow when the War began”.

1264481

Set in Australia, follows a group of teenage friends who go camping, at the end of the school year, in the outback. One night while camping they hear a large number of military aircraft flying overhead. They return to their small town a few days later to discover the entire town’s residents have been coralled into a makeshift prison camp by Chinese troops. They don’t know at this stage if it is a localized or national invasion. It’s not just a book about surviving and trying to fight back against a foreign foe, but also about the relationships that develop with in the group and who among them step up to lead.

As I mentioned earlier it is the first of 7 books in this series AND there is also a spin off trilogy called “The Ellie Chronicles” – which continues to follow the life of one of the lead characters from the “Tomorrow” book.

There are several events in the series of books that are of the “no way would they do that” or “no way would that happen” – but they don’t detract from the story which barrels along from start to finish. I can see why teens would enjoy reading this series of books.

A movie was made of the “Tomorrow” book with an option to do one of the second book. Unfortunately the first movie failed to meet the financial targets so the second was never made.

I must admit that when I read dystopian type novels or watch apocalyptic movies I do tend to analyse the characters and events – and whether or not what they do, or the way they react to a situation, is within the realms of realism.

I live in New Zealand – known as the “shaky isles” as we are sitting on the edge of two techtonic plates and numerous fault lines and just to add interest, have active volcanoes. All of which combine to also make us a Tsunami risk. Many of us here wouldn’t label ourselves as “Preppers” as in the American National Geo Series “Doomsday Preppers” – we’re not prepping for the Zombie outbreak, but we do take steps to prepare for natural disasters. We have emergency supplies (food, water, medical supplies, emergency shelter etc.) just in case something major happens. I believe that the direction that the world is currently heading – with extreme weather phenomina, the predictions of a major pandemic (similar to the Spanish Flu of 1918 – which infected 500 million people around the world – without the assistance of passenger jets, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million), the possibility of natural disasters and the danger of political leaders with “balls bigger than their brains” being in charge of nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals – it pays to take precautions. As one who does – I feel qualified –  to a point – to pull apart bad dystopian novels.

New Zealand’s earth quake and tsunami risk doesn’t put off rich – mainly American – businessmen and celebrities from buying up land here (and building underground bunkers) for their emergency bolt holes when things go belly up in the northern hemisphere. NZ has been named as one of THE best places to be should a major world wide disaster occur.

Fellow blogger wishvintage has a post on her favourite list of dystopian novels. It’s a really good list. See link below.

My Dyspotipian and Apocalyptic Literature recommendations.

If anyone has other recommendations, please let me know.