A Brief History of the End of the World by Simon Pearson

end of the world

A Brief History of the End of the World by Simon Pearson

A sort of companion piece to Kurt Anderson’s ‘FantasyLand’. A book about Apocalypse Culture throughout the ages, from the first recorded gibbering fool from Zoroastrianism times up until 2006, when the book was published. Like Anderson, Pearson points out how people will believe any old shit if they’re desperate enough, but does it in a more historical concept.

It’s a ruddy fascinating pieces of work, and it’s interesting to read how Pearson charts the fact that, for a start, every bloody religion and culture on the earth has been fascinated with the end of the world throughout history, and how the number of apocalyptic doomsayers has spiralled since the dissemination of ideas has become more prolific with the Interweb. He also points out that there’s a better chance of the world actually ending due to the idiots in power, and since the nuke was developed all it would take was a madman to launch it. He then goes on to point out that there were madmen who believed in the ‘end prophecy’ times, like Reagan. I expect to see an updated version of this book for the Trump era, which is just a load of text going, “AAAAGH!! NOOOOOO!! SHIIIIIIIT!!!” and a picture of the author on the cover, screaming into the lens.

There’s a great section on the horrors of the first and Second World War, and how the sheer amount of people who were killed gave the idea that the apocalypse was nigh more credence, and how the post-war period led to the Cuban missile crises and even MORE apocalyptic cultures.

You would think a book like this would be depressing as hell, but you would be wrong. Because the subject is so weighty and depressing, Pearson manages to scatter a whole bundle of wry asides and jocular anecdotes across the text to keep the subject as light as he possibly can without denigrating the severity of what he’s writing about.

The reality is, if you take the fuckwits with their fingers on the buttons out of the equation, most of the end of the world prophets are a bunch of witless numpties. The ones who start out being the most successful are the ones who predict that next week the world will end and you’d better join up and hand over all your money and save yourself before the End Times. Inevitably they’re the ones who end up in the crapper because, obviously, when the world fails to end they have to change their message. A lot of them just keep pushing back the dates. I used to think this was purely a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but apparently there’s been a shit load of apocalyptic cults down the years which have pulled the same trick.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that King of the End of the World Wankers is the US, who seem to have made a cottage industry out of telling everyone they’re all going to die. It’s not reported in the book, but there’s even a survivalist strand out there who actually believe that the government are going to launch a zombie attack on the world, so they’d best tool up for the apocalypse before they get their nuts munched. Fucking mental.

Definitely worth reading, and very highly recommended.

Advertisements

Juggernaut by Adam Baker

juggernaut

Juggernaut by Adam Baker

This is what would happen if screenwriters wrote novels. Everything is flash cuts, dripping leaks, bursts of steam, hard-boiled arse-kickers and plot point structures. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, mind, but you can more or less guess every story beat along the way.

I’ve only recently found out this is part of Adam Baker’s series of post-apocalyptic books set in a world where mutant zombies infected by a space pathogen turn the living and the dead into sort-of-flesh-munchers, but ones riven with a disease which makes them go a bit bio-mechanical, but not too much.

A group of tough-nut mercs get roped into a plot to recover the a pathogen from somewhere deep in Iraq, and etc. All the characters are from casting central and the dialogue from the James Cameron playbook, and it chunters along in the expected style with no surprises, which is fair enough as Baker has a short, sharp way with description which boots you straight into the scene and then let’s the story get on with it.

Main problem with that kind of writing is there’s no time for atmosphere. Or gore, come to think of it. When the mercs start lopping heads off with machetes and putting bullets in noggins it’s all a bit ‘then he blew his head off. There was gore. Anyway, I’m bored with this – on with the next bit’. Which is fine for a film, but sometimes I crave for a good old James Herbert-ism which gets right into the nitty gritty, or maybe the odd slice of Shaun Hutson, where he’d describe every muscle and bone being broken and munched on. As a result, the brevity leaves the whole enterprise a bit bloodless, despite the action.

There’s a lot of zombie books out there, from the tween-bullshit of the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant (about the most emetic horror series I’ve ever read) to the David Moody Herbert-wannabe of the Hater series (all but zombies in name, and some convoluted fucking logical hoops get jumped through explaining why the haters don’t attack each other) to the readable if flawed Zombie Apocalypse series edited by Stephen Jones. Some of them are good, some of them bad, but so far none of them that I’ve read have managed to get across the sheer visceral thrill of something like Dawn of the Dead, and that’s probably because of the law of diminishing returns. Plus, zombies – like vampires – are a bit old hat these days. World War Z tried ripping off the ‘Carrie’ format of reportage and was partially successful (although for me it lost steam towards the end) but overall there’s a dearth of originality, or at least some interesting twists on the old format.

Maybe I need to up my horror reading again, as there could be something worthwhile out there which I’ve yet to discover. I remember when Live Girls and Sunglasses After Dark and Light at the End came out and shat all over the traditional vampire book. What we need now is the zombie book equivalent. One with a splatterpunk sensibility, but whatever Splatterpunk would be nowadays. Something to just rip the living shit out of the genre and not offer up warmed-over variations on the theme. Basically, it needs a book to give it some bollocks, which the genre is sorely lacking.

Despite my whinging, recommended if you want to read a mash up of action and zombie film in book form.

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

tourist

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

One of the few books to get the whole complexities of time travel into a logical order. Basic story – a criminal is set free to travel back in time to set certain events in motion, whilst at the same time a tourist rep is assigned to stop her, sort of. You can add to this the fact that everyone knows how their lives will pan out – to a certain extent – because records have been released from the future which tells them this. Except it’s not that simple. And yet, it is. Sort of.

Most time travel books can be a bit of a head-fuck as even playing around with the basic concepts is enough to wind your head into knots. You just have to think of Back to the Future to see where this can go wrong (yes, great films, but surely Marty McFly should have a memory of his family being rich at the end of the first film after he’s messed around with the time lines, because that would mean he has no concrete memory of his past up until that point, but then he would have had to have lived it to remember it, but how can he remember it if he both lived it, and changed it before it happened, and OH JESUS, MY FUCKING HEAD!!!)

Dickinson writes in a very straightforward and practical manner which actually cancels out any of this mind-boggling detail. The plot makes sense, and slowly stitches itself together over the course of the book. His trick is to not over-convolute the story. There are two basically linear plots which feed through from beginning to end, so you follow the characters as they encounter events as they happen, even if some of the time it happens in a past they’re visiting, which doesn’t make any sense now I’ve written it down, but this book actually follows a logical through-path.

It’s a smart bit of speculative fiction, with an easy going style which – crucially – doesn’t condescend to the reader. There are concepts about fate and life and destiny which are played around with, but not to the extent where you feel like you’re being patronised, and the characters are engaging enough not to be tedious.

There’s a lot of comedy as well, with the time travellers categorising people as ‘a religious’ just because they say “Jesus fucking Christ!’ in alarm, and mocking cinema as an art form when, as everyone from the future knows, books are the only real art form.

Recommended

Deathlands: End Game by James Axler

18371667eathlands end prog

Deathlands: End Game by James Axler

Although the Deathlands series of post-apocalyptic Mad Max books are essentially science fiction by their very nature, very few of them use the science fiction staples as part of the plot. Usually it’s just Ryan Cawdor and his merry band running around, getting involved with hamlets which need protection, and blowing the shit out of stuff whilst straddling the thin line between cynicism and being lovely to people. End Game is one of those which toys around with proper speculative fiction.

Ryan, who usually has one eye, wakes up in a government establishment which has survived the nukes and prospered, to find he now has two eyes, one of which is a top-notch bit of techie grooviness, having a targeting system and the facility to take photographs and all kinds of other techie malarkey. Not being one to let ‘The Man’ tell him what to do with his life, he facks off out of the government establishment and gets involved in a tribal war between farmers and a bunch of biomechanical bikers, which eventually leads them back to the government establishment which has more sinister ideas on its mind.

This one plies on the expected clichés with the usual trowel – a bunch of high-falutin’ officials who run the post-war facility, a handful of rabid bikers who are basically there to be killed off, some salt-of-the-earth farmers just trying to make their way in the world, and a third act which turns into one big action scene because, dammit, that’s what the Deathlands books are all about. They can play around with sci-fi tropes all they want, but at the end of the day the readers want to see Ryan and his bunch of scalleywags stick a bunch of bullets in dodgy types.

There’s a certain comfort in trawling through this series. Unlike the Survivalist series which was all about them evil Soviets against the good old US of A, Deathlands has more cynicism. Saying that, all the characters in Ryan’s band are a pretty decent bunch, despite all their growling about ‘some people just get chilled – good or bad’, and you’d know they’d help an old lady across the road if the situation called for it. Yes, they might stick an armouries worth of bullets into mutant bikers along the way, but they’d still be very decent about it.

Recommended, as are all the 100+ books in the series. Yes, I know, I’m biased, but dammit, there’s no other series I know out there like it, which takes the basic premise of Mad Max and runs with it. It could do with a few more car chases, mind, and a reasonable explanation about why Cawdor and his bunch tend to have an endless supply of bullets (although, to be fair, they do run out shells every now and then, but luckily stumble across a redoubt packed to the gills with fresh supplies), but these are very minor quibbles.

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

to kill a president

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

A neat little thriller. A Trump-alike bonkers President almost launches nukes at North Korea and a couple of top bods in his cabinet conspire to have him knocked off. At the same time the President’s physician is found dead and a plucky intern is assigned into investigating the mysterious death.

This would seem like inventive fiction if it wasn’t for the fact that half of the President’s actions seem to be taken word-for-word from the sort of shite Trump had bimbled out over Twitter. Childish, prone to temper tantrums, dripping with self-denial and a potential rapist as well, you could pluck the fictional President out from the pages and slap the fucker into the White House and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, much like with the inclusion of a Steve Bannon copy, who emits farts and malice and racism in equal measures.

To be honest, I’m surprised there’s not more books out there like this at the moment which involve some hideous monstrosity of a President and his Klan-like cabinet being total and utter bastards and suffering the consequences. Literature could do with it, if only for the catharsis value. The actual picture painted of the President is monstrously venal, but is pretty much a straightforward copy of Orange Bollocks as he blunders through his term groping women and issuing orders to clam up the press and stick Muslims in cages. Reality has become so ludicrous that a caricature would have to be so off the chain it would become ludicrous, but then again the fucker in the White House is a caricature made life. It’s as though some racist prick has conjured up his ideal man and then voted the bastard into office. Trump is the worst of humanity wrapped up in a fat suit. He’s a turgid, spluttering mess of xenophobic shite and small-minded hatred, and Bourne uses this to craft a monstrous and very believable shite, where the White House has become a frat house full of Klanners and bigots, which I imagine it is in real life.

Events have overtaken the book, with Bannon on the chopping block, but Bourne (Guardian journo Jonathan Freedland) does manage to predict Trump opening up camps for migrants, although in the book it’s for Muslims. The story itself chunters along at a fair old pace, with only the odd slice of too-much introspection to put the brake on events, but my only real gripe is the major characters seem a bit dim at times, using their own offices to hold meetings about knocking off the President or not suspecting their phones were being bugged until too late. Despite this, it doesn’t detract from the book any, and if you want a good thriller which rattles along then go for this.

Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson

 

fantasyland

Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson

The central concept of this book into the dumbing down of the American mind is that the US started out a bit thick when the pilgrims rolled up onto Plymouth Rock, and the next 400 years have turned them into gibbering loons through a combination of religion, conspiracy theories and the internet. One look at Alex Jones makes me think he might be on to something there.

Let’s face it, Sortitaht peeps, some parts of the world have gone completely down the shitter, to quote Baudrillard. In the US we have some gimpy, tiny handed twat bumbling around like an orange toad and spewing out hate to every fucker who will listen. In the UK we have Brexiteer robots intent of strip-mining the country back into the 1950s to curry the favour of nostalgic bigots. In Russia we have a tiny, slap-headed weasel faced egotist showing he’s not a big girl’s blouse by wrestling with drugged lions. In Hungary we’ve got a bunch of utter crunts passing laws to criminalise anyone who helps an immigrant claim asylum because they all have bigger knobs than Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán (even the women). In (goes on for many years until you all get sick of it and go down the pub).

Anyway, basically the idea is that society as a whole has been plummeting downhill into a cesspool of infantalisation which has pushed up an ideology of keeping ‘the other’ out. We’ve got the internet to spread a sea of bullshit around the world quicker than you can say “fucking hell – what a load of old lying bollocks!”, so we reach a point where the twin towers hadn’t even hit the ground before the 9/11 knobs were crying ‘conspiracy’. This is a world where fucking chemtrails as a subject is being taken seriously by the dick muppets at Fox News.

Come to think of it, this is a world where Fox News is taken seriously by right wing pricks because it backs up their gimlet-eyed view of the world, the scrofulous kitten-fuckers. Not only that, we’ve got a wave of right wing religious helmets propagating bullshit about the world being 6,000 years old, new age gits flogging snake oil as homeopathy because they want to make a cheap buck (the skivvying little shits) and a mind-set that says every fucker has to look young in a vain attempt to fight off the withering ravages of time. In summation, a world of infantile, screaming, self-indulgent arseholes, one of which was elected President.

Anderson’s idea is that this is a system of thinking indicative of America, but he’s wrong. This fucker is everywhere. It just seems more prevalent in America because that orange goon is running the country and because the US is Billy Big Bollocks in the world and thus gets more media coverage. When Berlusconi was twatting about he was equally as cretinous, but because Italy didn’t have enough nukes and pop culture to dominate the world no one gave a fuck.

It’s a good companion piece to Your Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren in that it angrys up the blood and makes you want to storm the corridors of power and kick the bastards in charge out. I’m not 100% sold on his cynicism, but he definitely makes a very solid point about modern society being a bunch of screaming infants who only want to hear the news which appeases their world views.

Definitely recommended, especially if you think conspiracy wonks and right-wing gun nuts and new age arse bollocks need a damn good kicking.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

holy cow

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Warning: Sort-of-but-not-quite spoilers

Bless him, he tries. The story of a cow, a pig and a turkey and how they escape their certain fate in a farm and fly off (yes, that’s right, fly off, as in ‘pilot an airplane’) to foreign climes to learn the usual lessons about life.

I’ve no idea whether Duchovny’s a vegetarian (quick check on Wikiballsia – yep, he used to be, but is now a pescatarian, which means as well as the veggie diet he also eats fish, BECAUSE HE NEEDS THE FLESH OF SOMETHING, DAMMIT!!) but the first half of the book seems like a not-very-subtle nod to keeping your mitts of some lovely pork, or some gorgeous bacon, or some mouth-watering steaks, or some lovely sausages, or some tempting ribs in barbecue sauce, or (goes on for some time). There’s a lot of comments by the cow about how his piggy friend, Shalom, may ends up in a stew and comments from his turkey chum, Tom, about how the humes want to nosh on his giblets come Thanksgiving, and it’s all pretty bog standard pro-vegetarian ideology. The second half narrates how they all hop onto a plane and fack off to Israel and India to learn lessons about life.

The tone of the book teeters somewhere between allegorical children’s tale and chortlesome adult bollocks. All the messages conveyed (like, dude, live your own life and, like, why can’t people TOTALLY get along, yeah?) smack you over the head with a breeze-block just so you get the point. There’s no subtlety. Eating meat is bad, Palestinians and Israelis should all be friends, and why is there so much poverty in India. Which is all very well and good, but a bit patronising. Unless this is a kid’s book, in which case fair enough.

The writing is a bit basic as well, but it sort of works within the whole ‘this is a fable’ setting, with the only real problem coming from the fact that this just reeks of being from the pen of a Hollywood hot ticket with bags of money who thinks they’re being original and deep, when it’s just the usual bog-standard messaging they used to stick at the end of the old He-Man Filmation cartoon series where He-Man would kicks the living turds out of Skeletor’s minions and then tell the kids not to take drugs. We’re talking that level of complexity here.

Basically, this is something which you could write in a day or two and would have to end up self-publishing, but because Duchovny’s a name he gets a major release to bimble out this middle-of-the-range bollocks. Not a bad book, as far as it’s concerned, but not a particularly good one, either, and most of the blurb associated with it seems to be of the ‘blimey, he’s not tried to be self-consciously cool!’ variety. It’s a tad confused as to what crowd it’s speaking too, so there’s no real coherency to the whole structure, but the asides to his agent are amusing and it’s got its heart in the right place. On the other hand, that still doesn’t make it a decent piece of work, so fack it.

Recommended if you want something light and feeble which thinks it has something to say.