Expiration Day is William Campbell Powell's debut YA novel, and it's an exciting start. The novel is set in a world in which human fertility has collapsed, taking the birth-rate virtually to zero, sparking riots and even a limited nuclear war as the human race realizes that it may be in its last days. Order is restored, but at the price of basic civil liberties. There's a little bit of Orwell (a heavily surveilled and censored Internet); but mostly, it's all about the Huxley. The major locus of control is a line of robotic children -- all but indistinguishable from flesh-and-bloods, even to themselves -- who are sold to desperate couples as surrogates for the children they can't have, calming the existential panic and creating a surface veneer of normalcy.
Expiration Day takes the form of a private diary of Tania, an 11 year old vicar's daughter in a small village outside of London. Tania's father's parishioners have found religion, searching for meaning in their dying world. He is counsellor and father-figure to them, though the family is still relatively poor. Tania is a young girl growing up in the midst of a new, catastrophic normal, the only normal she's ever known, and she's happy enough in it. But them she discovers that she, too, is a robot, and has to come to grips with the fact that her "parents" have been lying to her all her life. What's more, the fact that she's a robot means that she won't live past 18: all robots are property of a private corporation, and are merely leased to their "parents," and are recalled around their 18th birthday, turned into scrap.
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Jeff VenderMeer writes, "The Fourth Estate, my UK publisher, has put together a cool site that takes the main premise of my novel, Annihilation, and creates a text game around with, with images and video as well. Now you too can join an expedition into the mysterious Area X, supposedly a pristine wilderness, but hiding a lot more than that. Overseen by the secret agency, the Southern Reach, which has its own secrets to hide."
Previously: Talking with Jeff VanderMeer about his new novel Annihilation
IO9 has published Tobias Buckell's tense, taut technothriller story "System Reset." It's a story about hacker/bounty hunters, taken from the pages of John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey's new anthology The End is Nigh, the first of three volumes that deal with pre-apocalypses, apocalypses, and post-apocalypses, in order.
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Thinkgeek's Crovel Extreme II is an "extreme shovel" -- as in "extremely lethal." It's basically a cross between a field shovel and a crowbar, but it also sports a hammer, woodworking chisel, saw, and bottle opener, and comes with an optional "super spike" add-on, whose nominal purpose is to " break ice, split wood, breach walls, and chip rocks or cement more effectively." But as Rob Bricken points out, that spike gives the crovel a serious similarity to the zombie-killing weapon deployed by Lobo in Max Brooks's World War Z. The crovel with spike is $170, which is a non-trivial sum, even for such a handsome chimera, but on the plus side, there's no shipping charge. Depending on your partner's proclivities, this could just be the most romantic Valentine's Day gift in the history of love itself.
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Jenny writes, "A few years ago I created a Zombie Apocalypse Training Game in San Francisco as a way to teach urban disaster preparedness skills through play. We armed players with smartphones and nerfguns, and they ran around the city completing challenges like "light a bbq without matches" or "bandage a burn wound" all while being chased by zombies. It was a huge success, and led to other local zombie disaster preparedness games. Now I'm working to develop this game nation-wide."
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Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson converted my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (from the collection Overclocked) into .mobi and .epub for easy viewing on an e-reader or mobile device. I probably get more fan mail for Sysadmins than for any other story, and it won the Locus Award the year it came out (it was later adapted to comics by JC Vaughn for the IDW book Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now). Give it a read!
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On Tor.com, Alex Brown reviews Ian Tregillis's new novel, Something More Than Night, a noirish hard-boiled detective novel about angels and extreme physics. Tregillis wrote the spectacular Milkweed Triptych, a trilogy of novels that suppose that the Nazis had a horrific, X-men-like experiment that produced superbeings who could only be held back by the secret work of English warlocks and the blood-thirsty cosmic powers they served. With Milkweed, Tregillis showed himself to be a literary chameleon, who could handle two-fisted WWII fightin' action (Bitter Seeds); Cold War spy thrillers (The Coldest War) and mind-bending, existential time-travel science fiction (Necessary Evil -- the best of the very good lot). Now, with Something More Than Night, he changes voice yet again, and with excellent effect:
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Zack writes, "In 1957, Nevil Shute's classic anti-nuclear-war novel On The Beach was published -- and the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) put out a heavily-condensed adaptation with art by Ralph Lane that ran in 29 comic strips distributed to newspapers. All 29 strips are collected here -- I found these through a link in an eBay auction that is selling original art to 21 of the 29 strips."
This is one of those novels that brings me to tears no matter how many times I read it -- a powerful and moving piece of minatory fiction that really does the heavy lifting of science fiction with utter brilliance. The comic strip carries some of that freight (as does the 1959 classic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck), but the novel really is the best version by far.
On The Beach
Wired's Pete Brook talks with Dutch photographer David Galjaard, author of the 2012 Aperture Foundation/Paris Photo First Photobook Award-winning book Concreso, a photo-essay on the insane "bunkerization" practiced by the paranoid Soviet Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Hoxha built a one bunker for every four Albanians, 24 per square kilometer, and now the country has no idea what to do with all these decaying, apocalyptic concrete blobs.
“I’m telling a story about a country and I’m using bunkers as metaphors,” says Galjaard. “Albania is an Eastern country but it wants to be part of the West. It has one foot in each, and the split is sort of unnatural. Albanians still have not found their identity so they struggle with the past, but also struggle with the future. And future for them is being part of Western Europe.”
The Communist leader Hoxha rose to power in 1944 as leader of the Party of Labour of Albania and ruled until his death in 1985. Hoxha was on constant alert for political threats and maintained his position with routine immobilization, imprisonment and eviction of his people and political opponents. Hoxha’s suspicions also extended beyond Albanian borders and the bunkers, which number 24 to every square kilometer, and were built in preparation for a multi-front war Hoxha expected from invading countries, East and West. Every citizen in Hoxha’s plan was a reservist. Twelve-year-olds were trained to fire rifles. The bunkers never saw action.
Today, Albanian authorities are at a loss for what to do. The reinforced concrete domes are as difficult to repurpose as they are to destroy. Tourists are fascinated by the bunkers strewn like confetti across scenery, but for locals they’re a largely uninteresting, if obstructive, part of the landscape.”
Paranoid Dictator’s Communist-Era Bunkers Now a National Nuisance [Pete Brook/Wired]
Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny's Supergod is a magnificently grim and horrifying superhero comic, in which a British government scientist narrates the sequence of events that killed the planet Earth, in whose rubble he sits. Supergod is the story of a secret arms-race, in which the major powers of the world all conspired to produce superhuman, godlike beings who were meant to act as their national saviors. Instead, each of these gods becomes a force of ineffable and unstoppable terror, killing and laying waste in unfathomable acts of horrific violence.
The story is pure Ellis. It's both cynical and charming, and pushes out a vision of end-times that goes further over the weirdness frontier than anyone has any right to go. The supergods here are grotesque monsters who are nevertheless lovely and even sometimes sweet (for example, the three British astronauts who are sent into space to be mutated into a godlike state return as a composite fungal hybrid being called Morrigan Lugas, whose spores cause the scientists around it to worship it like a god while masturbating uncontrollably).
Warren Ellis is a strong tonic, and he burns going down, and it's hard to get a good night's sleep if you consume too much before bed, but the burning is a good one, and even a necessary one.
From 1962, a sparkling set of electronics for your fallout shelter.
Equip your fallout shelter.
The Learning Channel is dabbling in eschatology, and will soon air a programme starring young miss Honey Boo Boo Child, a young beauty competition participant from the Toddlers and Tiaras phenomenon. Miss Boo Boo Child came to notoriety due to her exuberant personality, fuelled by frequent nips from flasks of high sugar/high caffeine pick-me-up, this latter prepared by her doting mother.
In this clip, Boo Boo and family demonstrate the sort of educational material we can look forward to in the future from the pedagogists at the Learning Channel.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Coming Soon!
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Artist Carrin Welch's first foray into sculpture is a marvellous set of "Four Rocking Horses of the Apocalypse," made from wood. They're nearly finished, and eminently ridable.
My interpretation of these horsemen from Revelations in the Bible is very loose, it's an artistic idea based mostly on how I want them to look, and less on the many academic and theological interpretations. I want them to appear ominous and imposing, but the catch is that they are giant toys. They are meant to be fantastic and absurd, but also beautiful and magical. You cannot ride one of the mammoths without feeling a little joy. With this world feeling so unstable, and all the theories of its end, the rocking horses bring light to a dark time.
All four horses are expected to be completed by end of May 2012, when they will travel to Burning Flipside for their collective debut. After that I will be collaborating with fellow artists to produce some fun, fantasy images of the rocking horses, and seeking opportunities to show them and let people interact with them.
Welch completed the horses during a period of unemployment, thanks to funding provided by her fans on Kickstarter.
The Four Rocking Horses of the Apocalypse
Forming is Jesse Moynihan's ultra-weird graphic novel about the creation of the universe, filled with cursing, inexplicable violence, grotesque sexual acts, and primitive and strange illustrations. Set in the "Third Age of Total Bullshit," the story tells the tale of powerful aliens who visit Earth in the time of giants, set up camp in Atlantis, and enslave the indigenous giants to mine rare minerals for the galactic empire. These aliens are also involved with Noah, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lucifer and the Archangel Michael, and a cast of personages more obscure and weird than any book of the apocrypha.
To understand Forming (assuming "understand" is the correct verb here), picture some lost Gnostic text translated by Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob) at his cussin-est, under commission by a delusional would-be cult-founder who cut his teeth on the work of Fletcher Hanks and who really liked drawings of weiners and boobies.
Moynihan walks a fine line between "weird" and "incomprehensible" and between "clever" and "dumb," and manages to stay on the right side of it through almost every one of these bizarre, demented panels. I can't say that I've ever read anything quite like this (though it did call to mind the weirder bits of The Incal). I'm glad I did.
Forming is published by London's NOBROW, whose books are fantastically well-made, beautifully cloth-bound and printed on high-quality, sustainably produced paper (they also publish the much-more-kid-friendly Hilda comics). It's a quality product.
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