Book Review: Goodbye From The Edge of Never, by Steven Mix

goodbye-from-the-edge-of-never-steven-mixGoodbye from the Edge of Never is a weird, fun, confusing, and wildly uneven book by first-time writer Steve Mix.  Disclosure – I met Steve at Convolution 2014 and he flattered me to bits and gave me a free book, which he signed.  So, obviously, I have huge bias in favor of Goodbye, although I also have some bias against it as it’s a horror/action book with a lot of gore and that is not my genre of choice.  I’m also aware of the book’s back story, which makes the book far more interesting than it is on its own merits.

Bias aside, I thought this book was a mess, but a fun, interesting, creative mess.  Twenty years from now I don’t think Steve will think of this as his best-written book, but I do think he’ll still be writing and publishing, since this first effort shows a lot of promise.  We have an interview with Steve coming up tomorrow and you won’t want to miss it, as it contains powerful stuff about brain injury and PTSD.

If you are reading Goodbye, be sure not to skip the foreword.  In the foreword, Steve describes the origin of the book.  Following nine concussions (as well as PTSD and several other injuries) in the course of military service, he began having dreams about zombies.  As he struggled with his own physical and mental healing, he wrote this book as a therapeutic experience.  Knowing this puts the book in a different light, particularly the action sequences.

Goodbye features a motley cast of characters who travel California post-zombie-apocalypse.  Donathon is a gunslinger, Ashley takes out zombies with her beloved baseball bat, and Mason is an artist who loves pop-culture references.  Zombies have mutated in many exciting and bizarre ways and humans have adapted in methods ranging from forming enclaves staffed with slave labor and with traveling raves.

Technically, the writing is awkward.  I, for one, would like a complete moratorium on the phrase “lush vegetation”.  There’s a running motif of people saying something followed by a careful description of their tone of voice.  I have to tell you, dear readers, that the first few times this happened, it was awkward, and by the end of the book, it was annoying as hell.  When someone give directions, it is not necessary to follow this by saying that the person spoke in an informative tone.  Let the dialogue speak for itself.

Also, this book is written in the “throw in everything cool style.  This made for madcap fun, but I didn’t have an opportunity to attach to any of the characters.  I never understood what the stakes were (which may have been the point, actually – I may be longing for an end game where the point of the book might be that all you can do is survive day-to-day).  Villains appeared out of nowhere, and I didn’t have an emotional investment in the confrontations.

Technical issues and character issues aside, this book survives largely on the basis of “rule of cool”.  While reading about someone driving a wheat harvesting combine through a crowd of zombies is extremely gross, I can’t deny that it’s cathartic.  In fact, I think you could safely determine whether or not you’ll like the book by assessing your level of interest when I use “wheat harvesting combine” and “zombies” in the same sentence.

There’s some great moments of humor, mostly involving Mason’s obsession with art.  There’s some great “Oh yeah!” moments (helloooo combine).  There’s also a really haunting, evocative chapter early in the book that describes someone becoming a zombie.  As his senses become increasingly distorted, his sense of smell overtakes all his other sense as well as his memory and coordination.  It’s this kind of beautiful and insightful writing that makes me think that Steve has a long writing career ahead of him.  That and the art jokes, and the combine, which really I just can’t say enough about.

Technical issues aside, I think this book would be a good fit for hardcore horror and zombie fans.  Steve is a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, and it shows in the hallucinatory, madcap tone of the book.  If you like that kind of hallucinatory, more-is-more writing style, then you’ll like the book.  Also gore…so much gore.

Between the Lines Book Club: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club!  This month we’re reading The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.  Please comment about this book online, and join us at our in-person meeting on Sunday, October 26th at 2PM, at Arden Dimick Library (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864).

The Orphan Master’s Son tells the story of Jun Do, who is raised in an orphanage in North Korea.  Jun Do believes that he must be the son of the Orphan Master, saying, “The surest evidence that the woman in the photo was Jun Do’s mother was the unrelenting way the Orphan Master singled him out for punishment.”

As Jun Do grows up, he finds himself in a range of morally convoluted situations.  He lives in a world in which personal survival trumps all else, and in which there’s no truth expect what the Dear Leader proclaims to be the truth:

“Where we are from… [s]tories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”

The Orphan Master’s Son was critically praised for its fictional creation of a bizarre dystopian state, the atmosphere of suspense, and the use of dark humor (a visit to a Texas ranch is both horrifying and hilarious).  It was criticized by some for its cartoonish portrayal of Kim Jong Il and the tonal shifts – for some critics, these shifts were brilliant, while others found them discordant.  The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging more about Adam Johnson and the story behind the book.  Stay tuned!

cover to Orphan Master's Son

Book Review: MaddAddam

cover of MaddAddamMaddAddam is the last book in the brilliant trilogy that includes Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood.  I absolutely recommend it.  I give it many thumbs up.

MaddAddam has a helpful intro that sums up the events of the previous two books in the series.  I had read them, but forgotten almost all the details, so it was helpful to me.  I certainly recommend reading the previous two books, because they are amazing – but I think you can follow MaddAddam without having read them as long as you read “The Story So Far”.

This book concludes the story of a not very far in the future dystopia in which a bioengineered plague has destroyed most of humanity.  As with the other books, this one is dark, violent, gross, beautiful, touching, and has a deep core of optimism and warmth – much more than you’d expect from a story which, at various points in the series, has involved child abuse, rape, murder, mad science at its most disgusting, pollution, and the importance of eating whatever is in the freezer first, before the power goes out.  Of course a lot of this horrified me – it was meant to.  But at the end, I felt hopeful.  The series is demanding, but not nihilistic, despite having many nihilistic characters (particularly in the first two books – the characters in MaddAddam are pretty much focused on survival as a community and a species, not on wreaking havoc).

The other surprising thing about this particular piece of dystopia is that it’s funny.  The story of “Oh Fuck” for instance, is hilarious, as is the understatement of the century, “This is a major cultural misunderstanding.”  This humor helps make the poignancy of the story bearable – and it’s needed, as characters battle grief and confusion and loneliness in their own ways.  But they also make, or keep and strengthen, deep emotional connections to each other.

E.M. Foster said, “Only connect!”  The first book, Oryx and Crake, was about destruction.  The second book, In the Year of the Flood, was about survival.  This book is about connection, and that’s what makes it uplifting despite all the pain within it.

covers of Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood

One last thing – Margaret Atwood claims that all the science stuff in the trilogy is either actually in place now or is theoretically possible.  As evidence, she has this site:  maddadam’s world.  It’s AMAZING.  so go check it out.