December 17, 2004

Long Books

Now that the holidays are here, I'm cranking up my reading again. I just finished Jeff Long's "Year Zero", and it was a slog. I first encountered Jeff Long when a relative very strongly recommended "The Descent". I normally trust this person's taste in reading (she was also a big fan of Donaldson when we were growing up), so I gave that a shot.

In "The Descent", humanity discovers that the crust of the Earth hides an enormous series of caves hundreds of miles beneath the surface. A strange group of characters joins a military expedition down into the caves, looking for the creatures who live there, who occasionally sneak out to attack or capture humans. They discover a parallel, savage civilization and unlikely adventures ensue. I thought it was only average. Some good ideas are offset poorly by too many credulity-straining plot devices, and Clancy-esque 2d characters kept it from being really enjoyable.

In "Year Zero", a plague erupts from a 2000-year-old artifact, and the world slowly grinds to halt, like in "The Stand". This is sort of an updated version of that apocalypse, with a community of scientists seeking a cure isolating themselves at Los Alamos and using satellites and other technology to keep track of things around the world. One of the main characters, Nathan Lee, has to overcome a murder attempt in the Himalays to make his way through the world while looking for his daughter.

This one was a little bit better than "The Descent", maybe because I like end-of-the-world books, but that's not saying much. It was hard to really picture Nathan Lee without thinking of Nathan Lane, the actor in movies like "The Birdcage". The other major character is a mad genius scientist named Miranda, daughter of a powerful general. The first meeting with Miranda reminded me in a bad way of Robin Cook's horrible "Mutation" wonder-kid with her weird, advanced genetics experiments.

Anyway, as if the end-of-the-world plague weren't a big enough twist, the scientists start trying to clone 2000-year-old people, hoping to find one with natural immunity to the plague. Even with the usual willing suspension-of-disbelief, I wasn't willing to accept that people cloned from a drop of blood or whatever would not only come back to life as 25-year-old adults but with all of their memories intact. Too late in the book, one of them claims to be Jesus Christ, but whether he is the real thing is never made clear, and that ends up being a 30-40 page subplot.

I mean, look, if you are going to go to all that trouble to resurrect Jesus, I would think that should be a primary focus of the book, but ok. Eventually Nathan finds his daughter and finds the man who tried to kill him in Nepal, but neither of those resolutions is at all satisfactory, and the whole plague storyline also never really concludes. Maybe Long is considering a sequel, but I wouldn't be interested enough to read it. "The Stand" is far more engrossing and remains the standard.

I found "Year Zero" on a bargain shelf, which is the only reason I decided to give Long another chance. Now I know why it was on that shelf.

Posted by Observer at December 17, 2004 09:45 AM
Comments

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I simply can't take cloning in stories like that. Gack.

Posted by: Humbaba on December 17, 2004 11:19 AM

I disagree on two major things here. First off, I loved Year Zero. Secondly, The Stand is by no means the standard of Post-Apocalyptic fiction. Of course, I probably also need to qualify my statement. I am a massive fan and collector of post-apocalyptic fiction. I agree that The Stand is definitely one of the more outstanding titles but it is on par with others like Swan Song (Robert McCammon), Alas Babylon (Pat Frank), Earth Abides (George Stewart), A Gift Upon the Shore (MK Wren), Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (Kate Wilhelm), Dr. Bloodmoney (Philip K. Dick), Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler) and many many others. Like I said though, I've made a point of owning as many titles as possible and I'm now up to over 100. PA Fiction is my baby. Year Zero may not be in the same category as The Stand or any of the titles I mentioned above but it is still a really great book and highly entertaining IMO. Nice review though...

Posted by: Shelly on July 29, 2005 11:31 AM

I haven't read many of those books on your list, but I definitely disagree with your putting McCammon's "Swan Song" on a par with King's "The Stand". King does great villains, and McCammon's main bad guy was pretty lame. It was hard to care what happened, and it was also pretty hard to find the plot for the first half of McCammon's book.

I think if I had read "Swan Song" first, I would've liked it more, but I read King first. I was distracted by too many similarities, and too many places where McCammon's writing was clearly a notch below King.

"Alas Babylon" has been on my to-read shelf for a very long time. I suppose I need to get around to that.

Posted by: Observer on July 30, 2005 08:46 PM

I liked Earth Abides. I also have a weakness for post-apocalyptic SF.

Posted by: Humbaba on July 31, 2005 11:23 AM

http://www.scifan.com/themes/themes.asp?TH_themeid=9

for a huge list of post-apocolypse themed-books.

Posted by: Humbaba on July 31, 2005 12:51 PM