Book Review : Sleep Over – an oral history of the Apocalypse

Sleep Over: An Oral History of the Apocalypse by H.G. Bells

Why I read:

5 Star Read

Book blurb: “For fans of the oral history genre phenomenon World War Z, a worldwide plague of insomnia creates a devastating new apocalypse.

Remember what it’s like to last an entire night without sleep? That dull but constant headache. The feeling of your brain on edge. How easily irritated you were. How difficult it was to concentrate, even on seemingly menial tasks. It was just a single restless night, but everything felt just a little bit harder to do, and the only real comfort was knowing your head would finally hit the pillow at the end of the day, and when you awoke the next morning everything would return to normal.

But what if sleep didn’t come the next night? Or the night after? What might happen if you, your friends and family, your coworkers, the strangers you pass on the street, all slowly began to realize that rest might not ever come again?

How slowly might the world fall apart? How long would it take for a society without sleep to descend into chaos?

Sleep Over is collection of waking nightmares, a scrapbook of the haunting and poignant stories from those trapped in a world where the pillars of society are crumbling, and madness is slowly descending on a planet without rest.

Online vigilantism turns social media into a deadly gamble.

A freelance journalist grapples with the ethics of turning in footage of mass suicide.

A kidnapped hypnotist is held hostage by those at wit’s end for a cure.

In Sleep Over, these stories are just the beginning. Before the Longest Day, the world record was eleven days without sleep. It turns out most of us can go much longer.”

 

My review

A wonderfully chilling apocalyptic book that questions what would become of the world if no-one was able to sleep?  We follow the story as the world breaks apart, bit by bit.  The horror created by the insomnia of the entire human race is easily comparable to that of zombies or killer viruses.  Its a highly original and thrilling read.

The book consists of a number of personal testimonials from different characters.  There are tales from an amazingly diverse range of  people with different backgrounds, all scattered around the world.  You get to see the effect of insomnia through the eyes of scientists, policy makers, a taxi driver, gamers, nurses, to name but a few.  The stories are grouped into time frames and each one reveals more about what is happening to the world.   Some of the people’s stories show humanity descending into its worse traits, others show survival and there are some touching tales demonstrating real caring and the best of humanity.  The writing is beautifully haunting, vividly capturing the horror each person experiences but with brief moments of hope and joy scattered throughout.   There are loads of brilliant thoughts and ideas packed into the 300 pages as we see the apocalypse through many different viewpoints.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so will just add this is a book I really enjoyed and will read again in the future.

Overall this is a brilliant and original apocalyptic thriller.  It’s a thought provoking book that I’d suggest all sci-fi fans read.

I’d highly recommend to fans of: horror, apocalyptic thrillers, dystopia and  sci-fi

*****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 300 pages
Expected publication: January 16th 2018 by Talos
ISBN  194045669X
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Book Review : The Windup Girl – bleak dystopia sci-fi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

3 1/2 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction dystopia that I kept on hearing about – just had to read it.

Book blurb: “Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.”

 

 

My review

A vast bio-punk dystopia set in a future Thailand.  The calorie companies whose mistakes brought new diseases including Blister rust and Cibiscosis are the ones who dole out calories and so control lives. Emiko is the windup girl, one of the New People, genetically engineered to serve.   She survives in a world brought to the edge of extinction by genetic manipulation.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

The world building is brilliantly descriptive, you are drawn into this brutal, dark, bleak future.  Set in a future Thailand within a world whose natural resources are dwindling, food is scarce, disease and disasters are everywhere.  Seed banks are owned by Calorie companies, limits on calories put a premium on muscle power.   Political manoeuvrings create twists and turns along the plot. There’s an abundance of new words which leave you searching for a meaning within the surrounding text.  Its a scary, distorted and exaggerated reflection of life with bio-technology, a disturbing vision of what our future could hold.

There are several interlocking character stories that run throughout the book.  I found I was more interested in some characters than others and ended up skimming some parts.  My emotional investments in most characters was low as viewpoints kept switching between the wide range of characters.   The title of the book,  Emiko, the Windup Girl, is a genetically engineered, Japanese-designed “New Person”, built to serve “real” humans.  Created with many modifications such as small pores to make her more sexually desirable, a “sex bot”yet she feels human emotions and pain.  Abandoned by her former owner she is now a slave in a sex club.  Through her character we explore the origin and meaning of the soul and survival in a hostile changing environment.  But there were numerous points I had to stop reading as you graphically witness the sexual degradation of Emiko, created to obey, to respond willingly to any  advances, seen by those who use her as an object created for pleasure, little more than a toy.   The numerous descriptions of her sexual objectification and abuse were sickening and often felt over described.  But still they drew out a critique and exploration of the issues.   It was deeply unsettling as the book questions does she have a soul does it matter?

“And we all know windups have no souls.” Gibbons grins. “No rebirth for them. They will have to find their own gods to protect them. Their own gods to pray for their dead.” Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

There are many references to “gene ripping” and DNA experimentation with examples of how this can go so terribly wrong.   Many of the usual sci-fi questions are presented in the book.  How far should we  play god? When is scientific/technological advancement good for humanity and when should we stop?  Should engineered humans be given the full rights and status of naturally biological humans?  This abundance of ideas was fascinating and impressive,  but at times the story itself is tedious and drags along.

A Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner its an epic book packed full of ideas.   But it took me a long time to finish, needing to escape from the terrible depressive bleakness Bacigalupi presents.        Its a nightmare vision of the future which kept drawing me back to read a bit more.  Nothing is black and white, characters are flawed, make mistakes, and the world is hollow and harrowing.  Very few happy moments are scattered within the pages, instead we see a future filled with despair and paranoia.  Overall a dark and brutal book, filled with questions and ethics,  but not an easy or particularly enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, dystopia, science ethics.

“Even the richest and the most powerful are only meat for cheshires in the end. We are all nothing but walking corpses and to forget it is folly. Meditate on the nature of corpses and you will see this. ” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

***

Hardcover, 359 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Night Shade Books (first published 2009)
ISBN 1597801577

Agents of Dreamland – Weird Fiction Novella

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Select Sentence “Their language works its way into your brain, digging in and lodging in the convolutions of the cerebrum, burying into the fine groves of the cerebellum, threatening to hijack all reason and even the basest animal instincts.”

Book blurb: “A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.

In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible — the Children of the Next Level — and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.

A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.

And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity”

My review

I was so excited when I saw this book that I purchased and read it straight away.  And I was not disappointed one bit.  This is a short book only 120 pages but it packs a punch, filled with imagination, darkness and conspiracy theories.

Agents of Dreamland is a weird-fiction novella. A dark twisted Lovecraft tale of alien invasion and zombie fungus. The Signalman, a government agent is tracking down a cult leader but instead discovers a horrific crime scene. Immacolata looks through time and observes these events and through her? eyes we glimpse the madness and horror of the future as she searches for a way to save humanity. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s beautiful prose gives us glimpses of an apocalyptic future ripped straight from a nightmare.

This is not a linear story but rather twists and turns, weaving through time and back. You have to piece together the story as you go. But this just adds to the mystery and horror of the book. The characters are interesting especially Immacolata, who appears outside of time.  The book had a X-files vibe about it with sci-fi and government intermixed into the dreamland.   I only wish the book had been longer so i could read more of the weird fascinating prose.

A must read for horror fans.

*****  5 star-read

112 pages Published February 28th 2017 by Tor.com

31372244

An excerpt of the first few pages can be read on Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/2017/01/27/excerpts-agents-of-dreamland-caitlin-kiernan/