crap I have read recently #26

in the wasteland

Welcome to the sickbed edition of “crap i have read recently”.    There are most certainly SPOILERS below.

___

After the Ending (Fairleigh & Pogue, 2013):  Imagine it is the end of the world.  A flu virus has killed 90% of the world’s population inside of a month.  Government has collapsed.   Law and order is nonexistent.  Most of the survivors have gone crazy.  The sane ones may not be trustworthy.  In such a world, with corpses rotting around you, your family and friends all gone, predators (human and otherwise) lurking everywhere, what would be your priorities?  Food? Fuel?  Shelter?  Weapons?  Vehicles?  Getting it on with that hot guy you are traveling with?

Wait, what?

Meet Zoe and Dani, the two heroines of our post-apocalyptic fantasy world.  Joined-at-the-hip BFFs since grade school and now in their mid-twenties, the two young women live across the country from each other when the virus starts killing everyone.  Dani lives with her fiance in Seattle and Zoe tends bar and works at an art gallery on the East Coast.   First Dani’s roommate dies, then Zoe’s, then Dani’s lover.  The two communicate by email throughout the crisis and when both become sick themselves Zoe asks her brother Jason, who is in the military in Seattle, to check on Dani and see if she is safe.  Dani is barely conscious when Jason and a squad of military personnel find her and evacuate her and her dog from her apartment.  Jason tells Zoe he is heading down to their childhood home in Bodega Bay to check on their families and then heading to a military base in Colorado that is supposed to be safe.  Zoe sets out with her surviving roommate Sarah and her old boyfriend Dave and his dog to meet them there.  Both women bring their laptops and regularly check in with each other via email on their journeys.

Right about here is where the story starts to go horribly, horribly stupid.  I admit it starts out reasonably well.  A pair of aimless, self-absorbed, privileged twenty-somethings suddenly find themselves in a broken world and have to find a way to survive.  It’s not entirely original but it has potential.  Unfortunately, the emails these two send each other in the midst of chaos and darkness read like something from a tweener’s secret diary.  When Dani describes her increasingly disturbing dreams of her dead boyfriend, Zoe responds with “ugh, sounds sooooo gross”.  The two gossip merrily about their female traveling companions and gripe about the skanky hos who apparently  have their eyes on the aforementioned hot guys each woman finds herself traveling with.  They go on and on about their clothes and their hair and boys.   They gripe about the stupidest shit, like having to share their laptops with other survivors who saved their lives and are helping them.  They gripe about having to help those other survivors look in on their families and friends.  They sign off with “Ciao” and “Hasta”.    It would be funny if 9/10ths of the world weren’t dead.

Both women are, of course, beautiful.  Dani is petite with “Brave”-esque flaming red curls.  Zoe is tall, with straight, dark hair down to the small of her back, and teal eyes.  (Teal eyes?  Who has teal eyes?)  Dani’s hunk is Jason, whom she has had a crush on since she was a girl.  Her poor dead fiance is quickly forgotten once Jason flexes at her a few times.  Dani rages incoherently every time he makes eyes at another woman, which he does rather frequently, being something of a womanizer.   Zoe’s hubba-hubba is Jake, an enigmatic loner her group meets up with at a nearly abandoned Fort Knox.  He is also remarkably fit and toned and ripply-muscled.  He’s not much of a talker and actively avoids Zoe for mysterious reasons; she finds herself drawn to him for reasons that are somewhat less mysterious.   Neither of these two (theoretically) adult women is capable of maintaining composure around these men and the book is full of casual touches and glances that cause full-on blushing and incoherence.   Both are convinced that their respective hunks either don’t like them or aren’t interested in them; Dani in particular spends an enormous amount of her narrative being jealous of whoever Jason happens to be sitting next to at any given moment.  Occasionally one of the two will walk in on her man in a state of undress and you’d think they’d never seen a penis before.   When sex finally does happen for one of these pairs (my lips are sealed) it is, of course, perfect in every way and after that we are treated to the loving couple’s sexy banter and knowing glances entirely too often.   It is absolutely ludicrous what passes for sexual tension in this book.  I fully understand that retaining one’s humanity post-apocalypse may involve a fair amount of life-affirming sex but this isn’t like that.  This is junior-high school infatuation.   Sadly enough there is an entirely sweet and believable relationship in the book that basically flies under the radar, that of Sarah and Biggs, both of whom realize they like each other right off the bat and get busy without all the teenage drama.

So, anyways, back to the apocalypse.  Dear reader(s), would you be surprised if I told you it wasn’t very, well, apocalyptic?  Dani’s and Zoe’s journey’s are something of a mirror image.  Dani’s group sets off south toward California and Zoe’s sets off East toward Colorado.  Their first stop is Dave’s cabin in Ohio, where they get snowed in, Dave gets mauled by a mountain lion, and his dog dies.  They meet up with a small band of military people also heading east toward the mysterious Colony, which has been broadcasting on the radio.   They go to Fort Knox, where they pick up a few more stragglers and hunky Jake (who also has a dog, surprise) and later to Sarah’s house outside of St. Louis.  Dani’s group spends time picking up a few people, losing a few people to a schism brought on by Jason’s horndog ways, and fighting off the less fortunate of the flu’s survivors.  From Bodega Bay they head into the Sierras, where they run into a cult headed by a grotesquely fat mind-controller (more on this later), and from there to Colorado.  Both women are attacked and nearly raped and/or killed by evil dudes and are saved by their hunks.  Both hunks are haunted by a crazy psycho-bitch who thinks he belongs to her; both of these women are murderous although Jake’s is a little more effective at it.  Dani and Zoe start self-defense and weapons training, although one gets the distinct impression of a movie-style martial arts montage.  Meaning, they seem to do very little practicing and yet magically get toned and sculpted and effective.  Despite this Dani and Zoe  are almost completely useless and routinely do very stupid things.  It is very fortunate for them that their companions don’t seem aware of this.

Oddly enough though, through all this, there really isn’t that much around them that is horrible.  Remember, NINE out of every TEN people are dead and most of them lie where they fell.  There have been no emergency services, no burials, no funeral pyres (no time and no one left).  Both groups stay in places like fancy hotels, wineries, dude ranches, and Sarah’s family’s mansion, where there is little to no evidence of horror other than a few overgrown lawns.  The pantries are well stocked with nonperishables and with liquor.  They have medicine (including birth control), camping supplies, and vehicles.  Once the vehicles are gone they have no trouble finding horses and feed for them.  Fuel is hard to find but they manage to power generators and wi-fi is apparently everywhere.   There is no evidence of the anarchy that usually accompanies the collapse of civilization.  They rarely find dead bodies and  if they do they just…close the doors to that room.   (Do neither of the authors have any idea how much a decomposing body smells?)   Dani finds one of her aunts dead in a bathtub and after a moment of shock she gets over it and moves on.  She didn’t much like that aunt anyways.  The sad thing is that she doesn’t have much more of a response when she finds out that her beloved grandmother did not survive.  Neither Zoe nor Dani spend much time wondering about what has happened to their world or how they managed to survive.  They seem, in fact, almost entirely unaffected by it.  By the end of the book they have not developed or matured one whit.   Every minute of introspection either of these two spend is focused on their dudes and their amazing new powers.

This brings us to the super-powers.  Yeah.  Sigh.  Another side-effect of surviving the flu is the development of what the characters call Abilities and what the rest of just call a silly plot device.  Zoe discovers hers first, while she is getting down with Dave (pre-Jake) and realizes she is inside his head watching him having sex with her.  This understandably freaks her out, and freaks him out when she tells him about it, but it doesn’t seem at all surprising to the military types they are traveling with.  Over time she realizes she can basically read minds.  Dani discovers her Ability via a mysterious guy (who she and Zoe dub MG in their emails) who visits her dreams.  Aside from having a few dream sequences where the handsome MG loses his pants momentarily (sigh), he primarily seems to be trying to teach Dani something.  Eventually she learns that her power is…wait for it… she can talk to the animals.  People too, but the animals is the best part.  She has chats with her dog, her horse (doesn’t like bridle, wants apples), random squirrels, and the odd mountain lion or two.  Left unexplained is why the animals should give a good goddamn about this, but regardless they all come to help her when she needs it.  Superpowers appear to be more or less random.  Some involve telepathy, seeing the future, dream walking, and mind control, while some seem to provide a more generic benefit, like being able to calm someone, or read an environment for danger, or dampen someone else’s ability.  None of it makes much sense but it does provide a reason for “someone” (the military?) to be luring people to Colorado.   The book is definitely of two minds about the military.  On the one hand most of Zoe’s and Dani’s traveling companions are military of one stripe or another and they are mostly nice people.   On the other hand, there are hints that the military knew about the virus before it started killing people, may have actually created it, and are doing horrible things to survivors.

The over-riding impression this book leaves is that attractive people are good and will survive the apocalypse.   Whenever Dani or Zoe meet someone new the astute reader can know instantly whether or not they are trustworthy merely by how they are described.   Are they handsome, friendly, motherly, fatherly?  Have they a kindly twinkle in the eye or are they a beloved high school teacher?  Well, then they are all right.  Do they look a little skeevy?  Are they fat?  If they are a possible rival for your hunk’s attention, are they very pretty?  If so, they are evil.  Probably best to just shoot them.   This of course begs the question, did 90% of the world’s population deserve to die?  I am guessing based on who the good guys and bad guys are in this book the answer is a resounding yes.

The writing is juvenile.  The main characters are indistinguishable.  If the chapter headings weren’t labeled with their names I’d have had a hard time knowing who was speaking.  The main male characters exist solely to be handsome and enigmatic and are written as if the authors never actually spent time around men.  I, ummm, actually kept getting confused between Jake (dude) and Jack (a dog).  That can’t be good.  The book is repetitive and nothing happens for very long stretches of time.  One could cut out, I don’t know, 200 pages out of a 457 page book and probably not miss much.  Plot developments seem random and often nonsensical.  There is so much that just makes no sense.  I can live with the power, water, and internet still working.  Most of that stuff is automated and will work probably for a little while at least.  What I don’t understand is why no one seems to use the internet to actually find stuff out, like where is it safe, what happened, is any government still functioning, are roads clear, bridges intact, etc.  A radio broadcast is mentioned now and again but no one ever seems to turn on the damn radio in their vehicles and listen for news of any sort.  No one mentions getting a short wave radio or ham radio kit and trying to find other survivors.  I can believe this of Dani and Zoe but not the dozen or so military people they are traveling with.  No one seems even remotely interested in finding out what is going in the rest of the world.  Finally, there is an entirely foreseeable plot twist at the end that came nowhere close to inducing me to read the next one.  Yes, there is a next one and (I think) two more after that, along with rather a lot of novellas going into the history of some of the characters, and plans for more novels set in this brave new world.  Yeesh.

So, why did I read it all the way through?  Blame my cold.  I’ve been sick for days.  I like post-apocalyptic fiction and figured a Nook freebie about a virus-induced end of days would go well with my cold medicine.  Plus, I was at that point where I needed something stupid and not mentally challenging to pass the time.  After the Ending fit that bill perfectly.

Score:  Fail.

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~ by gun street girl on February 14, 2015.

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