Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Post-apocalyptic worlds

I just finished reading two novels set in post-apocalyptic worlds. I wouldn't ordinarily read two somber books in a row like that without Stephanie Plum stuck between them to make me laugh, but I happened to pick up Cormac McCarthy's The Road and then was given World War Z by Max Brooks as a gift.

I love McCarthy's writing and his ability to elicit pity from the reader for the worst of his characters and to convey with painful beauty what it means to be human. The Road is no exception, and I think it may be my most favorite of all his books. The novel is set in a fiercely grim world in which a father's and son's love for one another is the only relief, and certainly the only beauty, in the ravaged landscape and relentless destruction around them. McCarthy's post-apocalyptic world is utterly believable, as is the relationship between father and son, in this remarkable novel. If you are a pessimist, but hold out a tiny grain of hope for the human spirit, this is a book to read.

Okay, that was just a little too serious, so now we're going to rag on some Zombies! Be prepared to set all belief aside for World War Z. Well, I mean, zombies, duh, yeah! But, completely apart from zombies, be prepared to believe that -- in spite of millions of deaths (and subsequent reanimated zombies) in the U.S. -- the government, the military and the industrial world would continue to function, albiet somewhat badly at first, enough so that it becomes possible to manufacture zombie proof suits and diving equipment for the military, organize an evacuation to move most surviving Americans and their government west of the Rocky Mountains, and stamp out all but small pockets of zombies. (Zombies, it turns out, freeze in northern winters and then thaw and become troublesome in the spring -- and you thought break-up in Fairbanks was ugly!)

Anyway, all of this makes me wonder where Brooks was during Hurricane Katrina, and how he could possible imagine that any infrastructure would survive the body count, ruined cities and general disorder he describes as his post-apocalyptic world. Hah! Not gonna happen. Ironically, I think Brooks meant the book as a vehicle for making fun of the government and military.

Interestingly, Brooks has written this book as a series of oral history interviews, citing Studs Terkel as an influence. But anyone who has ever listened to oral histories, or who has read Terkel and paid attention, knows that people speak with their own distinctive styles. All of the interviewees in the book speak in the same voice, further diminishing the believability of the story.

Anyway, if you are an incurable optimist and hold out a boat load of hope for capitalism, oil reserves, and human nature, and if you're willing to suspend a whole bunch of belief to be entertained, this is the book for you.

Making post-apocalyptic pictures is fun. The above was done from a photograph of a rusted out marine boiler washed up on the shore at Ninilchik, Alaska ca. 1980, and stuck in the creepiest frame layer I could find in Photoshop Elements 5.

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