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Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Posthumous Reality Check

Send your dreams 
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide

No time
No time

There's no end
There is no goodbye
With the night

No time
No time

'Wait', M83 (from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, 2011)

Yes, I have used this song in a post already but I love it.  Each time I listen to it, I imagine the end of the world taking place right before my very eyes.  Truth is that I do believe that our society, our world is on the cusp of a major change.  I don't really believe that the world is ending but I do believe that our society, as we understand and know it, is on its way out.  What's more is that most people out there are not aware of the changes already taking place.  This song reminds me of that fact.  Some of us have experienced and can feel the changes in energy.  Some of us notice the invisible battle going on in every corner of the globe.  However, the majority of folks are in the dark, unaware of everything unfolding.

I've met plenty of other people who feel the same way I do, so I know I'm not completely nuts.  I used to worry about this time period, the period of storms and chaos.  I have had dreams for too long about fires and floods, earthquakes and massacre.  I have had dreams where I see whole cities on fire, people lost and confused.  I have dreams where the earth is flooded and most of my friends and family are dead.  I am the sole survivor amongst others who have to start again and rebuild.  Yes, I've had this dream again and again.  I've had dreams where I'm rounded up and put into a military camp or I'm hiding in a city trying not to be captured.  What's crazier is that friends of mine have had the very same dream (the very same night) and have been in sync with my visions.

However, I don't worry.  I know that perhaps I possess skills that will let me survive whatever is coming.  If the power grid went down and our electronic, technological society were a thing of the past I don't think I'd lose my shit.  I'm not a survivalist but I consider myself pretty well adept at handling situations when shit hits the fan.  Advice I once got from a psychic is 'to be the calm in the middle of the storm' and to practice meditating.  Though this advice was given to me almost six years ago, I still hold it as a piece of truth.

Maybe my dreams and visions are what fuels my obsession with reading about the apocalypse and the end of society as we know it.  So I am going to recommend a few reads below (in no hierarchical numerical order) that are great for envisioning what might happen to us, as humans.  If you enjoy this type of literature, then by all means,  check all of my recommendations out from the library.  If you don't, then ignore this post, and read some of my other, happier, lighter posts.


A Function-less Society: Corruption, Extinction, or Insanity
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman: This book merges science and sociology to make a very good read about what would happen if humans disappeared from earth tomorrow.  Animals and plants survive but humans are extinct.  The first chapter is all about New York City and how the subways would instantly fill with water and buildings would corrode/rust.  Manhattan would look more like its original state, having plants and animals grow and roam untamed.  Unfortunately, a lot of our chemicals and nuclear weapons would take years to break down; some would not ever break down.  We, as a human species, have created so many inorganic compounds from nature, that nature does not have the capacity to turn it back into organic matter.  I am not a science guy, but I loved this book.  I found it fascinating and even Weisman's explanation of physics and matter made sense.  A good non-fiction look at the realistic picture of what happens to earth after we leave it.    
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: This is a wonderful fiction at what would happen if companies like Monsanto were left to rule society without any boundaries or restrictions.  The narrator and protagonist, Snowman (aka Jimmy), is the only remaining human (that he knows of).  The book starts in the future, with him in some tropical paradise, as a caretaker to a future generation of human-like creatures known as 'Crakers'. He shifts back in time to explain his adolescence and childhood, also in our future.  Snowman grew up in a good home with lots of opportunity.  However, it is revealed that he and his best friend, Crake, live in bubbled societies known as compounds.  They literally live in suburban-like tents/bubbles that are privileged, exclusive, and have high amounts of security.  Only the best and brightest engineers, thinkers, and scientists live in these compounds with their families.  The compounds are owned by various corporations that compete in genetic engineering.  We learn about creatures like 'wolvogs' and 'pigoons'.  These compounds contrast to life in the 'pleeblands', the outside world where crime and filth run like water.  This is where the masses live, the less fortunate and intellectually gifted.  Snowman, through flashbacks, reveals what happened to this society on the brink and how it imploded.  This is a long read but the narrative and story are realistic enough to get sucked in.  I read this cover to cover and could not put it down.  If you are interested in GMOs/genetic engineering and the socio-economic inequalities/collapse of society, then read this book.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Probably a lot of people have seen the movie for this book, but I would strongly recommend reading the novel.  It is long and very involved.  Slow to get into, but once you do, it is a tantamount gripping and thrilling read.  The book starts out with the diary of a notary, Adam Ewing, who is about to set sail from a remote island in the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco.  The diary ends abruptly, and picks up with the story of a poor musician and wannabee composer, Robert Frobisher who finds himself the prodigy of an established composer living in Belgium.  Each story stops right in the middle of heated action only to go right into another story.  However, what's brilliant is that all of the stories, through different time periods, end up connecting.  All of the main characters connect and the way the novel is written ends up just like a piece of music.  If you are one who likes abstract, artistic meaning in books, then give this a read.  There is a lot of poetry and art behind the writing of this fiction.  You have to think about how every story and character is connected.  I like the play in genres, in that one story is a diary, one a series of letters, a videotape.  Eventually, the reader ends up in the distant future where again, the seemingly disconnected narrative makes sense to every other story.  It is a commentary how, in life, people and situations connect.  One good deed has a ripple effect through time, having results that are unseen yet fortuitous.  
  • Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson: A wonderful book about what would happen if the United Kingdom were divided up based on the four humors.  The UK is now the yellow quarter (choleric, yellow bile, based on anger and rage); the blue quarter (phlegmatic, phlegm, metaphysical and sickly); the green quarter (melancholic, black bile, depressed and intellectual); the red quarter (sanguine, blood, successful and happy-go-lucky).  The main character, Thomas Parry, lives in the red quarter where his job in the government is to transport people to various quarters.  In this world, sometimes a person gets 'transfered' to a different district because their temperament is not right for whatever their current location is.  Parry ends up going on an adventure through the different quarters to uncover both his past and the truth behind what happened at the time of the 'Rearrangement'.  This is also a page turner and it is an interesting sociological look at how society would be divided if we based it on emotion and the psyche.  
  • Wool by Hugh Howey: Another long, involved fiction on what happens after society falls apart. Humans now live in silos, which are mostly underground.  Above ground, earth is a wasteland, too toxic for humans to live in anymore.  There are multiple silos set into the ground set around the skeletal shell of some long gone American metropolis.  The majority of people living in the silos do not know that the other silos exist.  The action is set in Silo-18 and the novel starts with the story of Holston, the sheriff, who has to go through the cleaning ritual.  Whenever a rule is broken, a citizen has to put on a spacesuit-like contraption and go outside to 'clean' the cameras.  No one knows why or how this started but it's an age old ritual.  No one questions it.  However, at the death of the Mayor of Silo-18 and promotion of Juliette to sheriff, people start to ask questions.  The silo is divided into sections for farming, electrical maintenance, IT, trade, etc.  Juliette is from the lower levels of the silo, which are for electrical maintenance work.  It is her knowledge and skill in this area that leads her to quick answers.  She soon uncovers the dirty truth of the history and structure of these silos and soon learns about the existence of others.  I instantly fell in love with this book.  It started as a short story that stood alone but Howey soon added and through self-publication, got this published as a full novel.  I am glad for that because it is one of the most genius pieces of apocalyptic fictions that I have laid my hands on.  
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Also set in a landscape similar to Wool, where the earth is in total environmental breakdown.  It rains nearly all the time and it is cold.  We are unaware, as readers, what time of year it is and hardly able to make out the terrain as the main characters, a father and son, set out in what was once America.  The land is burned and looted of all resources.  As food and supplies have become scarce, people turn into cannibals and thieves.  Any person met on the road is assumed to be an enemy and a threat.  The father must protect his son (and himself) from hungry, desperate criminals.  No one can be trusted anymore.  It is a very stark and bleak painting on what would happen to humanity should our society completely break down and fall apart.  It is a story of what happens when, after the apocalypse in the US, people turn into greedy, savage, animalistic hunters.  The image that still haunts me is that of a campfire left by two men and a woman (presumed pregnant).  The only thing that remains behind is the charred remainder of a human infant body.  Yes, in this world, people eat their young to stay alive.  This book made me physically sick at times but in the end, the goodwill of humanity triumphs despite it being a sad, depressing read.  
  • Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams: A great compilation of stories about the end of society.  Every story paints a very different picture of how society crumbles and what happens to humans after it all goes down.  Memorable stories from this collection are 'The Last of the O-Forms' by James Van Pelt, 'Judgement Passed' by Jerry Oltion, 'Speech Sounds' by Octavia Butler, 'Artie's Angels' by Catherine Wells, and 'How He Got In Town and Out Again' by Jonathan Lethern.  Some stories paint a world where humans are less than human, becoming mutants or bioforms.  Other stories discuss a plague that causes the loss of language and reasoning or where a deadly sickness slowly picks people off.  The message, however, is clear.  Whoever is left around to tell the story, is left in a very bleak, utterly hopeless universe nothing like the one we know and love.
  • Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe: If you like books that take history and turn it on its head, then this is a read for you.  Sharpe takes the narrative of John Smith and Pocahontas and turns it into a post-apocalyptic fiction.  The 'English settlers' come from Manhattan, which is at war with Brooklyn (and other NY boroughs).  The men who come to the land of Virginia work for a company, the Manhattan Company, who want to establish an outpost to compete against the other NY boroughs.  John Ratliff's (the leader) mother is the girlfriend to the CEO, hence his position.   The men need supplies and food, though meet their match with the local 'Indians' of Jamestown.  Though these 'Indians' speak English and are only red because they use of sunblock.  The land and water is polluted and poisonous but somehow, this group of Indians have learned how to adapt.  Pocahontas, who speaks a combination of Ebonics, Valley Girl, text language, Algonquin, and Old English uses a cell phone to communicate to Johnny Rolfe (the hospitality ambassador), who she falls in love with immediately.   The book paints a world similar to The Road and also takes history and makes it into a modern sex farce.  Disgusting at times and uproariously funny at others, it is sometimes hard to follow but in general, it's a great read.
Functioning Corpses: A Zombie Eat Human World

  • World War Z by Max Brooks: The movie is coming out soon starring Brad Pitt but I strongly advocate skipping it and just reading the book.  This is a winner in terms of zombie fiction and I would argue it created the genre.  Sure, zombie fiction existed before this book was written but this made the genre into something popular and serious.  What's more is that it's a book written about the collapse of society at the onset of an uncontrollable virus and its socio-economic repercussions.  I like that the book takes the reader on a journey throughout the world and we see how different countries and societies deal with this unstoppable disease, ie. zombies.  The virus begins in China, though it is not directly known how.  A lot is left up to the imagination as to what exactly the virus is that reanimates humans into walking dead.  The scenes are realistic, especially where there are people fleeing for their lives on I-80 in Nebraska.  I picture this scene so vividly because I was on the stretch of highway described, where thousands of zombies swarm to devour their prey.  You see what happens in cities and in rural areas.  There are scenes taking place in India, South Africa, the US, Russia, China, and the Middle East.  We see the before, during, and after.  Israel becomes a citadel where anyone who comes in doesn't leave and the IDF becomes a stronghold against zombies infiltrating the country that is the size of New Jersey.  A woman, who escapes with her family, sets up a remote town on stilts in Montana where walkways and doors to adjoining structures are designed to close themselves off in the case of a new outbreak.  What's scary is that in this world, zombies can walk on the bottom of oceans and lakes, always to be a concern to people living on shores and beaches in case they wash up.  The threat never completely goes away, though the world creates a new reality out far different from what anyone knew before.
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead: This is a smart, artistically written novel about New York City's demise as a metropolis and empire that just so happens to also be about zombies.  The zombies in this book are referred to as 'skels' and 'stragglers', both of which are described.  The main character, Mark Spitz, is a 'sweeper' of lower Manhattan, and has to rid the city of any remaining corpses.  'Skels' are flesh eating zombies that must be put down immediately.  'Stragglers' are zombies who for some reason do not attack and are stuck in an existential state of mundane banality (ex. returning to work and xeroxing copies of nothing or pouring coffee for non-existent customers).  Spitz recounts how everything went down and talks about how he got to where he is now.  He was on a train home to Long Island from a wild weekend Atlantic City. At arriving home, he finds his mother, in what seems like an embarrassing sexual situation with his father, instead literally eating him.  Mark Spitz goes on the run up through New England, into Massachusetts and Connecticut.  He eventually finds his way to a refugee camp in Buffalo, NY of all places where he is trained as a 'sweeper' and meets others survivors.  Whatever we learn about Mark Spitz and his comrades doesn't matter, as the zombie problem becomes out of hand, as someone forgot to cap off the bottom of Manhattan from New Jersey and Brooklyn.  Oops!  The city of New York is as much a character as anyone else.  The landscape takes on a new life of its own and becomes more important than the zombies.  Not your typical zombie or apocalyptic novel.  It's smart, savvy, and well written.  I've also had the pleasure to meet Colson Whitehead where I told him most of this, and he was not only humble but thanked me for my positive and genuine appraisal of his novel.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: A very different take on the zombie novel, in that the main character, R is a zombie.  So we get the action from the perspective of a zombie who begins changing and becoming more human as soon as he meets Julie, right after eating her boyfriend, Perry.  R hangs out in an old 747 in an airport with other zombies.  Their little enclave is led by 'bonies', skeletal zombie forms who rule over the other zombies and keep order.  Supposedly there is a taboo against zombies and humans fraternizing.  The pecking order is clear, zombies eat humans; humans run from zombies and try to kill them.  However, from the start, R has the power of semi-recognizable speech and is able to communicate with other zombies and humans alike.  This sets him apart and makes him not quite zombie, but not human either.  The fiction takes on a bit of a sci-fi twist as toward the end, some magical elements come into play.  You have to stretch your imagination, as many of the traditional rules of zombie fiction does not apply.  I enjoyed this book a lot, and if you do not align it with its shitty teenage love story cinematic component, then you'll have a good read.  That's not fair; I haven't seen the movie.  But the book is a winner and I feel that again, the movie ruins a purely legitimate piece of zombie fiction and makes it into mushy, 'parfums de coeur' shiny plastic crap.  
  • Zombie, Ohio (OH) and Zombie, Illinois (IL) by Scott Kenemore: I read both books, one after the other.  They aren't the best in terms of zombie fiction, though IL is better than OH.  I liked OH because it takes place at Kenton College (Kenyon College) my alma matter where Scott Kenemore also went.  The main character is a philosophy professor, Peter Mellor, who is at the end of his rope, literally.  He mysteriously dies in a car accident and wakes up as a zombie-human hybrid.  He can still reason like his former self but he has no memory of his former life and has a sudden insatiable hunger for human flesh.  On a quest for meaning, he decides to first try and lead a pack of zombies through rural Ohio.  Then, at finding his girlfriend and her daughters, he decides to try and help them instead.  He becomes 'famous' amongst the army who come from Cleveland and Columbus looking for any survivors.  What I like about this book is that it takes conventions and turn them on their head.  For instance, zombies do like to eat brains and it is mostly the recently deceased that rise from the dead.  In other words, you have to be dead to be a zombie.  Most scenes where humans are bitten or eaten by zombies, they are too consumed to come back as zombies.  It is more akin to Shaun of the Dead in its comedy and poke at the genre's traditions and rules.  IL takes the reader into Chicago and explains exactly how the epidemic got started.  I like IL better as it plays with the political and socio-economic corruption that is rampant in Chicago.  That alone seems to be the cause for zombies in the first place, as bodies wash up from Lake Michigan and rise out of shallow, unmarked graves (if you catch my drift).  The story climaxes within the tunnels underneath Chicago where the corruption and grift of the city is alive and well.  I enjoyed both reads but both are very different and have different characters set in different locales and stories.  
I strongly urge you to check out all of these books.  And please, if you have any recommendations, yourself, send them my way.  As I said, I am a big fan of the zombie and apocalyptic fiction genre.  It is not to be confused with any dystopian novels, like A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies1984, or Fahrenheit 451.  Although, I do like those as well.  I like to read about what happens after society collapses and breaks down.  What does the aftermath look like, despite how messy it might be.  That is an area of interest because I have a feeling that when the time comes to pick up the pieces of our reality that I'll be one of the people left to do it.  I depend on these books to tell me just how this will get done.  

The calm in the center of the storm,


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