Category Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.

Stars: 4 out of 5

I rarely read and review young adult books, but I had read Chuck’s Atlanta Burns which I also reviewed and loved it. Plus the premise of this book sounded interesting. Carnivorous corn? Dystopian society? Heck yeah! So I requested Under the Empyrean Sky from NetGalley when it became available.

I liked it. Less than Atlanta Burns, but it was still an enjoyable read. The world is interesting. Who would have thought that the world would be destroyed not by a plague or natural disaster or alien invasion but by genetically modified corn that turns carnivorous? Most of the land is covered in it. It’s so virulent that it kills all other plants, so that’s the only thing that grows anymore. And it’s not even edible to bout!

This world has a very clear separation between the have and the have nots – the Empyreans living on their floating ships sailing high above the corn and dictating their law to the few people who still live in the Heartland. The Empyreans have everything: the best technologies, the best food, the best healthcare, while the Heartlanders live on scraps that sometimes fall from the sky.

The Heartland is a bleak, hopeless world. There is no future for those born amongst the corn. The only jobs available is to grow, harvest or process the corn. Cancer and other diseases are rampant due to the highly toxic chemicals used to process corn and keep it away from the villages. There is no school, no sports, no entertainment. Even marriages are arranged by the Empyreans who send down a list of who will marry whom on Obligation day. The only way out is the Lottery that is held once a year and which gives one family a chance to relocate into one of the Empyrean flotillas. Only everyone knows that the Lottery is rigged, though it doesn’t prevent people from hoping…

Cael and his crew are salvagers. They have a glider they use to scout the sea of corn around their village for broken harvesters they can salvage for parts or anything else that could earn them a few ace notes. Cael’s dream is to become rich and famous, to build a better life for his family, to be a better man than his father whom he sees as weak and incapable of providing for his sick wife and his children.

Even though I found Cael’s narrative to be a bit too angry at times, I could understand it and even empathize a little: I still remember how it feels to be a teenager in full rebellion.  Everything is either good or bad, black or white. There are no shadows or demi-measures. Cael is at that age when he is at odd with the rest of the world. He thinks that adults don’t understand him. He doesn’t want to conform to their rules. He wants the freedom to find his own path. The fact that his crew is the ultimate underdog in this town doesn’t help either. No matter what they do, it ends up in disaster. All their small victories morph into failures and things go from bad to worse.

So yes, I understand why he is angry, but this is also something that didn’t sit quite right with me and why I gave this book only 4 out of 5 stars. Since we see the world through Cael’s eyes, all the bad people are horribly bad, with no redeeming qualities. The Empyreans are painted in such thick dark colors that they could be demons feasting on poor Heartlanders’ souls for all I know. I find that a bit heavy handed. I like my worlds to be more nuanced and my villains to be a little less of a caricature and a little more real. Real people have both good and bad in them, and they can do bad things for entirely honorable reasons.

But other than that, I did enjoy Under the Empyrean Sky quite a lot and I would definitely recommend it. And I will certainly read the next book in the series.

PS. I received a free copy of this book from NetGAlley.

Rubberman’s Cage by Joseph Picard.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I have been lucky to read some good books lately and Rubberman’s Cage is one of them. When I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, I was a bit cautious at first. The title and the cover looked a bit ominous. I knew it would be either post-apocalyptic or dystopian, but I was afraid that it would be dark and dreary as well. I’m glad that this fear turned out to be unfunded.

This is the story of a young man named Lenth who has lived his whole life in a room with his three Brothers and a Rubberman watching over them through the grated ceiling above. This room is all he’s ever known. To him, that’s the extent of the world. But one night the shackle that they all have to put before they go to bed malfunctions and one of his Brothers is shocked until he dies. He is gone the next morning and there is a stranger sleeping on his bed instead. Everyone else takes this change in stride, but Lenth just can’t let go. He wants answers. He wants to find his missing Brother, and he wants to see what’s beyond the grated ceiling that the Rubberman walks.

The book follows Lenth’s journey in search of his missing brother while he explores this strange world full of rooms with Brothers and Rubbermen. It is a coming of age story, because Lenth is as innocent as a child. He can’t read; he’s never seen a woman and doesn’t know what they are; he has no concept of death. He is told that his brother died, but when he can’t grasp the fact that death if final, that you can’t repair a dead person. He thinks that he just needs to find him and wake him up…

This is also a chilling tale of a society how has regressed so much that they are reduced to repeating rigid tasks and protocols that had been set up years ago and the meaning of which has long been forgotten (and became obsolete). Nobody really knows why they need Rubbermen, or why men and women are kept separately, or how all the machinery really works. They know just enough to maintain the status quo. The sad part is that nobody questions it. Brothers think that Rubbermen know what they are doing and why. Rubbermen are persuaded that the Providers have that knowledge because they are clueless themselves, and so on.

So it was an interesting and rather endearing read. The book is well written and I liked Lenth, with his child-like candor and curiosity while he explores this ever-growing world. My only gripe is that it almost seems too easy for him to do so. He manages to get from level to level without too many problems and none of them really life-threatening. And everybody treats him well, considering. You would think that in a society where Brothers are constantly shackled in place (in bed, in the shower, on the treadmill, at the workstation) and shocked when they disobey, the reaction of those who find one just wandering around would be more violent.

All in all though, I think it’s a solid and entertaining story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would definitely recommend it to my friends!

Radiant (Towers Trilogy Book 1) by Karina Sumner-Smith.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

This book is a rare mixture of post apocalypse and anti-utopia with magic and even zombies thrown into the mix. It takes an exceptionally good plot and a strong protagonist to make such an mixture work, at least for me, but Karina Sumner-Smith hit the bulls eye with this novel.

 

This is a story about choices and consequences. It’s about growing up and realizing that sometimes the wellbeing of another person is more important than your own comfort. But more importantly, this story is about a true friendship between two very strong but very different girls. Xhea is a girl without magic in a world where everything and everyone lives and breathes magic, but she can see and talk to ghosts when normal people don’t even believe that they exist. Shai is one such ghost, but a ghost that is vibrating with magic when no ghost should be able to generate any.

 

There isn’t much backstory about the world Xhea and Shai live in, which actually makes sense, because Xhea has no way of knowing what brought in the cataclysm that left the extensive ruins she lives in. There are the Towers – beautiful floating semi-organic structures where those who were lucky enough to be born with strong magic live. They live in symbiosis with those Towers: they create and maintain them with their excess magic and in exchange the Towers give them a home and a place to belong. There is a complex web of politics and commercial treaties as well as non-aggression pacts between the Towers. Their citizens live sheltered lives of privilege compared to those who inhabit the Lower City.

 

Anyone who doesn’t possess enough magic to be useful to a Tower is cast down to try and carve a life out of the crumbling ruins of the ancient City that sprawls on the harsh and barren ground below the towers. But even here, on the ground, the level of your magic is important and the stronger spell casters are recruited by the communities living in the husks of several skyscrapers. There, much like in the distant Towers above, magic is the only currency. You can get a meal and a place to sleep for a few renai – plastic pieces infused with the caster’s magic. You can get more if you sign a servitude contract with the skyscraper that sheltered you.

 

Xhea doesn’t fit into this world no matter how much she would love to because she has no magic at all, not a glimmer, not a drop. To everybody else in this society she is worse than useless – she is a burden, an oddity that is to be ignored or eliminated. She manages to stay on this side of starvation by offering her services to those who want to get rid of their ghosts, or who want to talk to them. Business isn’t booming because not many people believe in ghosts, even if the more magically sensitive can sort of feel their presence next to them. Xhea is jaded and bitter and very much out for herself… until a well-dressed man from the Towers asks her to keep the ghost of his daughter for a few days in exchange for renai and food rations.

 

I loved Xhea. She comes across as rude and selfish at the beginning of the book, but, as I described earlier, she has every reason to be. She’d had to survive on her own for most of her life, and the only time she really cared for someone, that person ended up abandoning her. But she evolves. She changes. She goes above and beyond what’s asked of her to help Shai once she discovers what fate awaits the ghost.

 

Shai is a wonderful character as well. She could have been a typical damsel in distress – stuck and helpless, waiting for Xhea to save her, but the author managed to give her agency as well. Which is no small feat considering that she is already dead at the beginning of this story. Yes, Xhea saves Shai, but Shai saves Xhea as well. They are two broken children who had been hurt by the world around them but who manage to comfort each other and draw strength from one another even in the face of very unfavorable odds.

 

The book itself is very well written. Xhea has a distinctive voice that drew me into the story from the first page and kept me engaged and interested until the very last one. I liked this world and I wouldn’t mind discovering more about it in the next books. And I definitely want to know what happens to Xhea and Shai in the next book.

 

In other words, I will definitely recommend this book to my friends. It’s a must read.

Darwin’s Elevator by Jason M Hough

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I don’t remember where I heard about Darwin’s Elevator. I think it was in my “alsoboughts” on Amazon after I read Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F Hamilton, or maybe someone on Twitter mentioned it. Anyway, I’m very glad I and decided to give it a try. I discovered a very good author that I will definitely follow.

Over 20 years ago, a strange alien ship stopped above the little town of Darwin, Australia and shot a line down to Earth, just like a normal ship would cast an anchor. It became the Darwin Elevator that permanently ties the spaceship to the Earth. Nobody knows what this device was supposed to do, because nobody has ever seen the Builders, the aliens who brought the ship here, and the ship cannibalized itself to build the line, leaving only a hollowed husk.

The brightest minds flocked to Darwin to study both the Elevator and the ship. They built huge orbitals along the elevator line. The city  itself thrived, because all those people on orbit needed food, water and other goods to live. Life was good, economy was thriving… until five years ago an alien virus decimated 99% of the population on Earth. The SUBS virus turns people into mindless animals, ruled by one primal emotion, which is usually rage. The infection period is as small as a couple hours and there is no cure. But the Elevator produces an Aura that keeps the air in a 9 kilometer radius around it SUBS-free. So Darwin transforms from the outpost of scientific discovery and innovation, to the port of last resorts to all that’s left of humanity. That’s where the story of Darwin’s Elevator begins.

I loved the characters in this book. They are different, and live in different circumstances, which makes their points of view very different as well. So through their eyes, we get to see different facets of this complex situation.

Skyler and the ragtag crew of the Melville who explore the slowly crumbling world beyond the Aura and try salvage anything the inhabitants of Darwin and the orbitals might need. They are amongst the few who can still venture outside of the Aura, because they are immune to the SUBS virus. But that doesn’t make their expedition any less perilous, because the areas they explore are infested by subhumans who cannot be reasoned or pleaded with.

Tania Sharma, on the other hand, hadn’t set up foot on Earth in over 15 years. She is a scientist on one of the Orbitals who is determined to discover the reason behind the Elevator and the SUBS virus. She also becomes more and more convinced that the Builders are coming back and that everything is part of a bigger plan.

And there are plenty of interesting secondary characters as well. In fact, I found some of the secondary characters even MORE interesting than the main protagonists. “The Ghost” of Gateway station, anyone? I really hope to see more of them in the next books, and hopefully, they will have a bigger role to play.

The world Mr. Hough created is also very interesting, even though we don’t really get to explore it too much, apart from two expeditions outside of Darwin itself, but it has promise. The first book also doesn’t tell us much about the mysterious Builders and the Elevator, but then again, our protagonists are just as ignorant of this as we are. Hopefully, we will discover more about this in the future books. That was probably my main complaint about Darwin’s Elevator – a lot is hinted on, but not resolved or explained. But once again, it’s normal to have that when setting up an arc that encompasses several books. The plot and conflict of this particular book was successfully resolved by the end of the story with no real cliffhangers, so I’m happy.

My only other complaint and the reason I gave this book only 4 stars is that the antagonist was a bit too much of a caricature. I get the ruthless power-hungry warlord, even though that has been done and overdone before, but why make him a sadistic sexual pervert as well? That’s a trope upon a trope here. It makes him a bit too bad to be believable. I just really hope that if Russell Nightcliff continues to be the antagonist in the next books, the author adds a bit more depth to his character. Or better still, kill him off and introduce and original, not cookie-cut villain.

But those few gripes aside, I really loved Darwin’s Elevator, and I already picked up the next book in the series.