Audiobook Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

27 09 2013

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Read by Christina Moore

Recorded Books

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The classic Young Adult Post Apocalyptic tale holds up well since my initial reading over 30 years ago. There is a reason this novel is a classic, and it’s themes of overcoming misogyny, the destructiveness of science, and individualism still has value for today.

Grade: B+

Note: If you have yet to read this novel, This review may contain some spoilers. BE WARNED!

When I was in elementary school at good old Christ Home Christian School, I remember the bookcase. The bookcase was a shelf of donated books that the kids in the lower grades could sign out and read on their own volition purely for entertainment sake. Growing up in a fundamentalist household, church and school, this was the first time I felt like I could choose my own entertainment. Of course, it never entered my brain the books here where highly vetted acceptable books, just that I could choose them. Through this shelf I had my first boyhood crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder, went on my first otherworld adventures in Narnia, Oz and on the Phantom Tollbooth, and traveled with some strange characters across the Atlantic in the belly of a giant peach. I was also introduced to some rather amusing rats trying to escape from the National Institute of Mental Health. Every once in a while, new books would be added to the bookshelves. One day, a book titled Z for Zachariah by the same author as the NIMH books was added to the shelves. Since the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites, I just knew I had to read this book. Little did I know that this would be my first foray into the subgenre known as Post Apocalyptic fiction, which would one day become my literary obsession. So, for those of you out there disturbed by my fascination with the end of civilization, you very well may have a bunch of talking rats to blame for it.

Z for Zachariah is the tale of Ann Burden a teenage farm girl from a small town, who due to a geological anomaly finds herself the last resident of a valley that offers protection from the radioactive fallout of a global nuclear war. She lives day to day, supporting herself through hard work, longing for the company of other human beings yet fearing the dangers others may bring. When a strange man wearing a protective suit shows up, her world is forever altered. While not in any way the first Post Apocalyptic novel, for many of my generation, Z for Zachariah was the introduction to the genre and can be listed as a classic example and predecessor to books like The Hunger Games and other modern YA dystopian. It’s also a darkly fascinating tale of claustrophobia and loneliness battling hope in the midst of the fall of humanity.

The main theme of the novel, both as a young elementary student, and now a much older, bordering on middle aged man, is just how stupid men can be. Ann Borden is young and naive sure, and can be frustrating but she is a strong character, full of the right mix of knowledge to survivor the apocalypse. When Mr. Loomis shows up, you can’t help but think he’s hit the jackpot, a young farmer girl who can run the tractor, cook, fix engines and grow crops, plus well, let’s face it, if you believe you are the last man on earth, finding a smart, resourceful 16 year old woman is reason to celebrate. Yet, the chemist, Mr. Loomis, who never had to worry about where his next meal came from before the apocalypse, decides that this young women isn’t his ally in survival, but his property, and not much more valuable than breeding stock. I remember, the younger Bob being flabbergasted by this. Remember, I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to call their husbands "Lord and Master" and even I found Mr. Loomis to be a stupid misogynistic dillweed before I even understood what the concept of misogyny was. Rereading it now, and understanding things I didn’t as a kid, including the near rape scene, only cemented my belief the Mr. Loomis is not only one of the most despicable characters in literary history, but one of the stupidest.

This is not in anyway to say that Z for Zachariah is a bad novel. I am focusing on the area that stuck out most to me. In reality, Z for Zachariah should be applauded for creating a wonderful strong female character in Ann Burden, who despite her naiveté, displayed true strength in a devastating world. I know if I was to find myself in similar circumstances of this young girl, I would be dead within weeks. O’Brien’s use of the diary format gives us a very limited perception on the story, yet also adds lots of depths to the tale by showing us Ann’s thought processes, and the evolution of her understanding of Loomis. In many ways, this style allows us to see the process of her maturation, from the girl hiding in a cave but dreaming of marrying the mysterious stranger, to the girl who finally bests the highly educated scientist. There is a reason why Z for Zachariah is a classic of the genre. It’s a wonderfully plotted tale that taps into the essential issues of a post apocalyptic world, highlighting the evolving moralities of the changed world. 

While the audio production is solid, it also displays one of the problems with the format. Christina Moore reads the first person tale with a sort of stunned coldness at first, morphing eventually into something harder. While this is appropriate for the character, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining of listens. Moore often uses a flat affect to show how much Ann is affected by the world, muting her emotions. This makes some scenes more powerful at the end of the novel, when Ann’s emotions finally shows through, but it also at times gives the book an almost dreamlike flow that creates a barrier between the listener and the tale. Overall, I think Moore gives the right performance which brings out the author’s intent but, this doesn’t always keep the reader entranced as a more emotive performance would have.





My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian Audiobooks of 2012 (Non-Zombie)

4 01 2013

2012 has been another great year for Post Apocalyptic Fiction. I think, not since the release of The Road, has this subgenre received this much critical acceptance. With Post Apocalyptic titles topping Best of Lists, classics of the genre finally being released as audiobooks and the surge of independently produced Audiobooks, the number of Post Apocalyptic audiobooks choices can be staggering. In 2012, I listened to 43 audiobooks that could be classified as Post Apocalyptic or Dystopian not including titles dealing with Zombies. Of that number, 40 of them were produced in 2012 as audiobooks. Narrowing down my list was brutal. To make things a bit easier, I attempted to stick with books that you could just sit down and grab without having read others in the series. While a few of these books were released in print for before 2012, they all were produced as audiobooks this year.

Click on the Cover Images for my original review.

 

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

Type of Apocalypse: Nuclear War

A Gift upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels which was finally brought to audiobook format from Audible. Experiencing this novel again, with the wonderful narration by Gabra Zackman, was one of the most emotional and memorable moments in 2012.

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

The Stand is my favorite novel of all time, and everytime I read it I feel like I’m returning home. Grover Gardner brings these characters that feel like family to me, alive in perfect detail. For me Grover, and not Molly Ringwold, will always be Franny. The only reason this is in the #2 spot, was that I have read this novel so many times that experiencing it again didn’t have as much of an emotional impact on me as A Gift Upon the Shore.

White Horse by Alex Adams

Read by Emily Durante

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

White Horse was one of the more unique and creepy Post Apocalyptic novels I have read in a long, long time. White Horse is written with a literary flair, yet full of disturbing images and a compelling main character.

Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

Read by Minnie Goode

Broad Reach Publishing

Type of Apocalypse: Unspecified, possibly Chemical/Biological/Environmental

Wool was one of a handful of ACX, independently produced audiobooks that found its way onto my MP3 and into my brain, and I am quite glad it did. A near future apocalypse about people who live inside an underground bunker, protected from the toxic air outside. The world Howey creates is vivid and troubling, just the way a Post Apocalyptic world should be.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Infertility/Dystopia

The Testament of Jessie Lamb often left me troubled and disturbed. With it’s frustrating main character and complicated issues, even now I’m not totally sure what I think about the scenarios found within this novel. Yet, that I’m still thinking and struggling with it says something about this novel. Also, the narration is pitch perfect.

Partials by Dan Wells

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

I was a bit surprised that this was the only Young Adult title to make this list. Partials is just the kind of science fiction based Apocalyptic novel that I love. Full of complicated characters, dark imagery and tons of adventure, Partials is the start of a series you should watch out for.

Exogene by TC McCarthy (The Subterene Trilogy, Book 2)

Read by Bahni Turpin

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Conventional/Limited Nuclear War/Dystopian

While Exogene is the second novel in TC McCarthy’s Subterrene War series, it is a novel you can pick up without having read the first novel in the series. McCarthy has created one of the most visceral worlds blending Apocalyptic and Dystopian elements together into a subgenre all its own.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Read by Mark Deakins

Random House Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

The Dog Stars is a melancholy look as social isolation and the need for interaction during the apocalypse, Told in a breezy, almost poetic style The Dog Stars is less about the action of survivor than the ability to mentally cope with the changed world.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pre-Apocalypse/Asteroid Strike

The Last Policeman is a unique blending of noir detective novels and apocalyptic fiction. With Earth about to be struck by a world killing asteroid, who cares about one murder within the chaos of social upheaval and mass suicides. Winter’s approach breathes fresh air into both subgenres.

Immobility by Brian Evenson

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Type of Apocalypse: Nuclear War

I went back and forth on my final entry into this list, but ended up choosing Immobility for one reason, it’s world shifty gut punch of an ending. While the road to the ending isn’t always smooth, it’s full of beautiful dark imagery, flawed characters and intriguing scenarios.





Welcome to the Apocalypse: 10 Hard to Find Novels or Series: Gift Ideas For Obsessed Post Apocalyptic Fans

21 12 2012

So, the Apocalypse has come and gone, and you’re still here. Yet, there’s a problem. One of your family members told you not to get them a present due to the end of the world but, since the Mayan’s was a bit off, now you got to run out and get that obsessive Post Apocalyptic a gift. Since, they are probably already stocked up on current popular fiction, MRE’s and water purification tablets, what can you get your hoarding, end of the world laving potential hermit of a loved one for either a Christmas, or simply a We Survived the Apocalypse gift. Well, here are 10 unsung, under appreciated and potential pout of print classics of the genre.

Now, part of any gift is the act of acquisitions. Some of these novels will be quite hard to locate, so either roll up your sleeves and dive into the stacks at your local used bookstore, or visit a site like Abebooks and grab one of these novels.

Also, I must admit, I totally love these covers.

Through Darkest America\Dawns Uncertain Light by Neal Barrett, Jr.

One of my favorite novel series. Neal Barrett blends Apocalyptic fiction with an almost Western fell and one of the most unique set ups I have ever read.

A Secret History of Time to Come by Robie Macauley

A wonderful apocalyptic tale that takes place generations after racial unrest leads to a civil war. A classic worth seeking out.

Mister Touch by Malcolm Bosse

A unique plague tale that combines an almost hippy communal feel with a perilous journey across post apocalyptic America.

Winter’s Daughter: The Saying of Signe Ragnhilds-datter by Charles Whitmore

The history of one women’s plight during the Apocalypse told in an Fable style by a future generation. Full of unexpected dark humor.

Happy Policeman by Patricia Anthony

A small town is saved from Nuclear war by strange aliens. While investigating a murder, a policeman searches for the secrets the aliens are keeping from the town.

Down to A Sunless Sea by David Graham

Halfway through a flight, the world erupts into a Nuclear Holocaust. Now the plane’s pilots must find a safe place to take his passengers.

Heiro’ Journey\The Unforsaken Hiero by Sterling E, Lanier

The world was devastated by nuclear fire. Now, generations later, a young priest and his moose must travel the land, dealing with monstrous mutated animals along the way.

Wolf and Iron/Time Storms by Gordon R. Dickson

Two very different visions of the apocalypse by one of science fictions greatest visionaries.

The Quiet Place by Richard Maynard

After misjudging the time dilation of near light speed travel, a group of astronauts return to earth to discover that society has regressed into clans of hunter/gatherers.

Airship Nine by Thomas H. Block

Admits a nuclear war, an new Airship must travel south towards Anartica to escape the nuclear fallout.





Audiobook Review: Dust by Jacqueline Druga

24 10 2012

Dust by Jacqueline Druga

Read by Jacqueline Druga

Jacqueline Druga/ABW Voice Overs

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Nuclear Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Fans of Apocalyptic tales with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

Grade: B+

As someone who reads a lot of apocalyptic fiction and enjoys speculating on just how our world must end, people often ask me exactly what I am doing to prepare for the apocalypse. After asking this question I often get an incredulous stare when I tell them that I’m doing absolutely nothing. Yet, it’s true. If the apocalypse was to happen today, I’m pretty much screwed. I think I have a few cans of soup and some black beans in the cabinet, and that’s about it.  There are many reasons why I am not stockpiling food, taking weapons training and radiation proofing my house. One of the biggest is financial. I am not a rich guy. In fact, I often flirt with the edges of lower middle classdom, and I’m probably one major breakdown away from street corner begging. Secondly, I have space issues. I live in a decent size apartment, but not decent enough where hundreds of cans of Split Pea soup wouldn’t get in the way. Yet mostly, I am not sure which Apocalypse to prepare for. There is a mark difference in how someone prepares for differing types of an apocalyptic event. If we were attacked by nuclear bombs, I would need to stock up on supplies and hunker down. Living in the suburbs of a major target city, Philadelphia, it wouldn’t make sense to try and outrun the nuclear fallout. Yet, if the Zombies begin to walk, all those denizens of The City of Brotherly love may very well be heading my way for a brotherly snack. So, with the Zombies, I am not going to take my time to gather supplies. I will grab my loved one and try to find a more desolate and defendable place to hold up. If we are hit by some superflu style pandemic and I manage to hit the genetic lottery of immunity from the disease, supplies won’t be my first concern, since, well, it’s all just sitting around waiting to be picked up. Lastly, with an Alien Invasion, I will simply practice welcoming our new Alien overlords. So, for these reasons, I am not much of a prepper type. I just hope my neighbors are, so I can steal their stuff.

Jo believed she was prepared for Nuclear War. She has spent years gathering supplies and coming up with plans for her and her loved ones. Then the bombs hit Pittsburgh and nine other US cities, and Jo realizes that you can’t prepare everything. In her basement with her 15 year old son and a 3 year old nephew, Jo compiles a list of those she hopes will survive the blast, and meet up with her as planned. Dust is an often frightening, sometimes brutal, but also heartwarming tale of hope amidst the fires of nuclear war. It is a very intimate tale, getting you right into the head of the main character. You experience the emotional turmoil of the events right along with Jo, feeling joy when she connects with a loved one, yet, being devastated as another tragedy hits. I have read quite a few prepper style stories about people or groups who prepared for the apocalypse, and the steps they take when such an event strikes. There is often a feeling of superiority and contempt for man in these stories. They tend to scoff upon those who aren’t as prepared, or who never expected such an occurrence. I was quite happy that this tone never made it into Dust. Druga paints a harsh, realistic picture in her depiction of the events of the novel, but there is never that feeling of reveling in the destruction of the country that permeates some apocalyptic novels. Jo makes some tough choices, and is selfish in her protection other family as she should be, but she is never cruel or heartless. I think what truly set Dust apart from others in this genre is the personal feel Druga gives to the characters. While Dust is absolutely fictional, it has a realistic autobiographical feel, as if these characters truly existed. You really felt that this was a group of people that exists, and this made their struggles feel even more real. You couldn’t help but feel the emotion that Druga seeped into every word of this tale. It is definitely not a perfect novel. There were some frustrating moments, and you really only get brief glimpses of the world outside of Jo’s basement, and its immediate vicinity, but any desire for a greater look at the world was counterbalances by the intimate setting. Fans of Apocalyptic tales, with an emphasis of realistic planning and adaptation will enjoy Dust. While Jo’s plans are the central theme of the tale, its believable characters, realistic scenarios and emotional heart separates it from other novels of the genre.

The audiobook version was read by the author herself. Now, I know this may cause an instant groan among hardcore audiobook fans like myself, but here I think it works. I think people’s reception to the narration will come down to whether or not they like the author’s voice. Dust isn’t read like a professional voice over artist just happened to survive a nuclear bomb, and is recording about it. Druga’s voice has a sort of day old whiskey sour after a pack of Marlboros sound to it. It’s raw and real and fits the first person narrative of the tale well. For her first reading, I though she nailed the mechanics of the reading. The pacing is good, and her voice is natural, but crisp and understandable. There are a few muffled words in the reading, but very few, and they actually add authenticity to the reading. Being an independently produced audiobook, you can be concerned about the production values, but I thought it came together well. There were no noticeable problems that some audiobooks have, breath sounds, poor edits, or the like. It had the feel of a professionally produced audiobook, with a gruff but realistic narrator. Druga’s reading is full of emotion, and added to the authentic feel of the story.

Note: Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this title for review.