Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book: Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

I was in the mood for some science fiction, have always been a fan (not sure why, if I had a therapist maybe I'd know) of post-apocalypse fiction and so I read Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh, which I picked from the bones of the Borders in Burlington, Vermont on a trip this summer.

It is very much science fiction. The main character, a likable, nerdy sort of guy who does not do that well with women and does not think very deeply about anything ever, will be familiar from many other science fiction stories by many different authors. The characters are pretty one-dimensional. There are more coincidences than Dickens at his best (or is that his worst?). The briefly appearing economist character does not quite ring true. And for a story set in Savannah, Georgia, the near total absence of Christians is a bit jarring. One might imagine they would have things to say as civilization collapses.

But one does not read science fiction for character or writing, one reads it for ideas, and there are some ideas here that are interesting enough. Ever since visiting the Roman baths in Bath I have been thinking on and off about what it would be like to live at a time when civilization was moving backwards rather than forwards. What would it have been like for those left behind to watch as the Roman pulled out of Britain? That is the sort of reality that McIntosh wants to capture in his book, though in the context of the 21st century American south. In particular, I liked the idea of arrogant and politically motivated scientists trying to hasten the crash and thus the renewal. I also liked McIntosh's portrayal of the gradual collapse of normative social order and of legitimate political authority.

So, overall, okay, maybe even good, but not great. I found a bunch of more positive reviews online, such as this one, and the Amazon comments do a pretty good job of capturing both the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Recommended for those who like post-apocalyptic fiction.

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