Review – A new perspective on Clayton Smith’s Apocalypticon
What is it about life in a world devastated by the apocalypse that’s just so damnably interesting? I mean, really – if you think about it, the likelihood of surviving in the first place is pretty negligible. Then there’s the potential environmental effects – nuclear winter, a lack of any delicious living things to eat, polluted water. The fact that nuclear power plants aren’t going just going to run and regulate themselves. Or dams. Or HBO.
Yep, the post-apocalypse would surely suck harder than post-2000 Adam Sandler. Yet…it’s a genre that spawns movies, books, video games, operas (probably…), each with die-hard fans, from Fallout to The Walking Dead to The Road.
And now, Apocalypticon, too. Ben and Patrick are two guys making the best of the post-apocalypse in Chicago, scavenging canned food and makeshift tools and weapons, and never really straying far from the apartment block they call home. That is, until Patrick comes to Ben with a plan, a plan for excitement and adventure – they guys are going to Disneyworld! The story follows the cross-country journey of our heroes, by foot, by (sort of) boat, and even by train. Will they make it to Florida? Or will they fall victim to one of the many, many other survivors out there?
Apocalypticon is not the book I was expecting. From the cover, I had an image in mind of a dark, sincere, perhaps zombie-riddled post-apocalypse United States in the same vein as hundreds of others before it. Staid, unoriginal, a little like eating at McDonald’s… reasonably satisfying at first, but leaving you feeling empty half an hour later.
Happily, it is not that book at all.
Throughout, Smith mines a rich vein of dark humour. You can believe Ben and Patrick are old friends from the way they interact, needling one another, joking, giving “grief” as we called it when I was at school. Underneath all the exasperation and threats of future retaliatory violence, is a real deep friendship that’s surprisingly warm and emotional. By the book’s culmination, you really feel for both the guys – particularly Patrick, whose mysterious sub-plot, finally revealed, is really quite moving (despite the fact that you really don’t need to be Batman to unravel it much sooner).
It’s not all fun and games, however. This is, after all, post-apocalypse fiction. For every good, honest, helpful survivor our heroes meet, there are at least ten who want little more than to bash out their brains and steal their stuff (and that’s if they’re lucky!). Admittedly, the manner of their escape from these threats is sometimes a little contrived, but hey, we wouldn’t have ourselves a story if the second they left their apartment, some crazed madman clubbed them and nabbed all their food, would we?
Similarly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the cause for the whole “end of the world” thing. Smith gets bonus points for being original enough to surprise me. I’ll be honest, I laughed when I read it. But almost immediately afterwards, I found myself wishing it had been a little more serious. A minor complaint admittedly, but nonetheless…
Apocalypticon defied my expectations, and proved to be an enjoyable, amusing, and ultimately unputdownable* read. I flew through the first 75% in a day, and was irritable when work prevented me from finishing it for another two. It’s an interesting and fun take on the apocalypse, with action, adventure, emotion, and even a large, lumbering land mammal with an aptitude for squashing skulls. Go read it now!
**** 4 Stars!!!