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Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade
Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd
Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov
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Daniel Woodrell
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Keri Smith
Zone One - Colson Whitehead Holy. Fucking. WOW.Review to come...[Cut to the next day....] Okay, I've recovered my senses enough to put together a review now. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the pinnacle of post-apocalyptic zombie fiction. I didn't think it was going to be - I was more than 60pages into the book before I realised what I was reading was pretty special - but in all the PA fiction I've read, I can't think of a more nuanced, realistic, humorous, cynical, horrific and poignant approach to the apocalypse. This man can WRITE.Zone One neatly sidesteps the cliched apocalypse scenarios (bandits, cults, the usual moral dilemmas) in a wonderful way - by calling them out, poking a bit of fun at them and moving on. Take this section for example (not an actual spoiler - just compacted a bit for formatting):In practice, something always went wrong. The Carolinas, for example. Someone snuck back to the mainland for penicillin or scotch, or a boatful of aspirants rowed ashore bearing a stricken member of their party they refused to leave behind, sad orange life vests encircling their heaving chests. The new micro-societies inevitably imploded, on the island getaways, in reclaimed prisons, at the mountaintop ski lodge accessible only by sabotaged funicular, in the underground survivalist hideouts finally summoned to utility. The rules broke down. The leaders exposed mental deficits through a series of misguided edicts and whims. "To be totally fair to both parties, we should cut this baby in half", the chief declared, clad in insipid homemade regalia, and then it actually happened, the henchman cut the baby in half. Sex, the new codes of fucking left them confused. Miscreants pilfered a bean or two above their allotted five beans when no one was looking and the sentence at the trial left everyone more than a tad disillusioned. Bad luck came to call in the guise of a river of the dead or human raiders rumbling up the lone access road despite the strategically arranged camouflage brush. He'd seen this firsthand during the long months. People are people. Cliches done and dusted, now on to the interesting bit - what happens next? How does society actually rebuild on a large scale? I've read the great New Yorker article Whitehead wrote on the subject of his beloved B-movies shortly before I came to the part of the book where his character, Mark Spitz, discusses them. In Mark Spitz's view (and surely Whitehead's own), what springs to mind when watching these old sci-fi and horror films is - But what happens after the monster has been slain? Who has to mop up all that monster blood, and explain it to the authorities? Who foots the bill for all those trampled skyscrapers? How can this ever be FIXED? This line from the book sums it up nicely: By his sights, the real movie started where the first one ended, in the impossible return to things before.I've recently been reading about JG Ballard, and his views about societal breakdown. His belief was that people are very quick to revert to an animalistic state in the face of disaster. In his books, like [b:High-Rise|70256|High-Rise |J.G. Ballard|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1170723892s/70256.jpg|2270643] and [b:The Atrocity Exhibition|70240|The Atrocity Exhibition|J.G. Ballard|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328698296s/70240.jpg|68057], humanity's basest urges come to the fore when society begins to break down. In Whitehead's apocalypse however, cynical marketing reigns supreme. Here he invents a detailed survivors' lexicon which centres around the branding of society's reconstruction. It's brilliantly believable - of course the US government would market the reconstructive efforts with a jingle, logo and catchphrase (We Make Tomorrow!). You only have to look at the US news networks' coverage of 9/11 to see that in action. The master stroke is the branding of survivor's trauma as PASD (Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder), pronounced "past".The flashbacks did throw me a bit, I'll admit. Like Kurt Vonnegut's [b:Slaughterhouse-Five|4981|Slaughterhouse-Five|Kurt Vonnegut|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1337996187s/4981.jpg|1683562], the narrative jumps around between various points in time, but unlike SH5 the jumps are almost all post-event, and sometimes only a few days or hours apart, making it harder to keep track of the story. Where Vonnegut's time jumps are dramatic, Whitehead's are more subtle and complicated: flashbacks-within-flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Where Vonnegut draws an obvious link between the time jumps and the mental state of the character, it wasn't clear to me whether Whitehead's time jumps were post-traumatic symptoms or just the day-to-day musings and daydreams we all indulge in from time to time. This is the hallmark of Zone One though - you could easily read this as a straight zombie story, missing a lot of the depth of meaning, and still be well satisfied.For readers like me that want some depth to their apocalypse though, this book has it all: humour, nostalgia, horror (both the gory and the chilling kind) and an exploration of human nature in the face of epic diversity. I couldn't ask for anything more. Five stars with zero hesitation.PS - The wonderful 1959 Harry Belafonte film, "The World, The Flesh & The Devil" contains some amazing scenes of post-apocalyptic New York. This is what provided the backdrop in my head for much of the book..The World, The Flesh & The Devil