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Slow Apocalypse by John Varley

Slow Apocalypse

by John Varley

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This appears to be intended for a broader audience than Varley's typical writing. I'm currently reading his [b:Red Lightning|186330|Red Lightning (Red Thunder, #2)|John Varley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348262000s/186330.jpg|817813], where similar post-disaster themes are played out.

I like post-apocalyptic science fiction, and always find it interesting to see how the author outfits his characters, and what they do in their restructured world. For example, in Pfeffer's The Last Survivors series the characters rush to do laundry every time power is briefly restored. In Varley, there's a lot of description of objects (ammunition, hay, canned food) and some preoccupation with not using up food, but surprisingly little concern about using up gasoline, which is a central aspect of the book.

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  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
The beginning grabbed me right away, but the rest of the book did seem overly long--but I read it in one day, and enjoyed it overall. I was very impatient with the horse and kept wishing the main characters would ditch it. Good thing they didn't listen to me. Karen's transformation from bitchy wife to helpmate seemed a bit too abrupt. I'd have liked to see more of the daughter Addison. The geographical detail reminded me a lot of "The Californians" sketch on _Saturday Night Live_ (where people gratuitously mention the streets they took to get somewhere)--BUT I did enjoy pulling out my Thomas Guide and discovering that all the streets were real ones, even the street where the protagonist lives. Probably former Angelenos like me enjoy the detail more than someone who is unfamiliar with LA and its landmarks. I'd recommend this book to folks who love reading about L.A. and the end of civilization. ( )
  iBeth | Mar 23, 2013 |
I must agree with other reviewers. This book started off interesting, but it didn't take too long to get annoyed at the specific details regarding the geography of LA. Although you do need some knowledge about the areas where the story takes place, this author went into so much geographical detail that it really detracted from the story. I also didn't particularly find any of the main characters to be sympathetic. I wanted to root for someone and I think that I ended up rooting for Ranger the horse the most. It is a good premise and I did like the author's take on what would happen if the world's oil supply was suddenly volatile and unusable. ( )
  HeatherMS | Nov 4, 2012 |
Bought the book for two reasons: I have liked much prior work by the author and the blurb from SFBC looked neat [I enjoy end of the world technothrillers]. My first problem is that the supposed technothriller segues fairly early into a disaster novel which is not among my favorite genres. It also seems one the author has problems writing. The technothriller beginning sparkled. The disaster main section was readable but not especially interesting. Varley knows his LA geography and the stock characters that populate that landscape. He just doesn't do much especially interesting with it and takes FAR too long to do so. The last section of the book is a second segue into a preachy ode to anti-technology green communitarianism and localism. I don't mind the author's politics shining through. I don't mind politics that disagree with mine. I do mind paying for a political insert so poorly plotted and written that it simply doesn't fit. Poor world building and sloppy writing do not a happy reader make. By the end I was finishing this book out of a sense of duty rather than from enjoyment. Part of the problem is that the POV family has two fairly unsympathetic adults. Yes they are quite recognizable LA types. However it is hard to sustain interest in a novel when you keep hoping the author will kill off his two main POV characters so the far more interesting daughter character can take stage center. ( )
  agingcow2345 | Sep 14, 2012 |
Mini review: A man gets some warning that apocalyptic events are about to occur. He hurriedly goes about trying to set himself up with canned goods and the like. The events unfold slowly. Wife doesn’t believe him. Daughter does. Earthquakes, fire, destruction, oil gone from the world.

Solid book. Interesting ideas. I do not necessarily dislike any of the characters. Interesting enough book, if slow. I’d recommend it.

Longer review with some rambling about Varley: Varley’s one of those authors I started reading way back deep in the past when I’d take “best of” short story books and zoom through them looking for authors to explore. He had several short stories that I rather enjoyed, "The Phantom of Kansas", “Press Enter#”, “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” among others. So I turned to his books.

Just as an aside, Jack McDevitt is another one I found at the same time through short stories. But with him, I rather disliked his short stories and vowed to never look for him in book form. Luckily I forgot that 15 years later when I found the first book I read by him. Sadly, I’ve found that being good at a particularly story length does not always translate into being good at a different story length.

If I recall correctly, I think I liked Varley’s short story “Air Raid”. And I know I liked it as the film Millennium. But I was about to turn to Varley’s novels. Millennium, the book, wasn’t that much different than the movie. And I’d seen the movie first. So it didn’t tempt me to look for more of Varley’s books, nor stop me in my progress. No, it was the Gaea trilogy that lead me to stop reading Varley in book form. At least for a short while. Way too long ago to remember why, though there is a vague recollection that the books were a mess.
Mammoth and the Red Thunder trilogy were good interesting reads. Mammoth lured me back to Varley’s books by having an interesting idea. Red Thunder . . .well, I kept putting that particular series off for years. Probably the mere idea of “kids” deciding enough’s enough, people should voyage to Mars, and so they’ll do it. Well, I thought that was what the books were supposed to be about. The “kids” weren’t exactly kids but that’s a different book series. No, I put it off long enough, might as well turn to Slow Apocalypse.

Varley tends to have interesting concepts. Good ideas. In the short form these ideas can be quickly expressed through an entertaining quick short story. But extended to book form, the ideas kind of fall apart. Get stretched out. Well, the book is titled “Slow” Apocalypse. He did let the reader know ahead of time. The story really does flow out slowly.

The concept begins interesting enough. A television writer who got lucky on one tv series and rose with its popularity, is now out of work and looking for a concept. He pays a military consultant to tell him interesting stories.

One of these interesting stories involves a deep undercover secret government lab containing a man who lost his love during the 9/11 attacks. That man noticed that most of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. Noticed how the USA doesn’t appear to want to annoy the Saudi’s, and so takes matters into his own hands. He was already working on a special chemical that would make it easier to get oil from oil deposits. Higher concentration of oil, less of water. He slows down production of that so that he could work on a mutated version of that chemical, with the intended purpose of destroying all Saudi oil.

The tv writer, and I suppose it would be easier on myself to use his name, Dave Marshall, finds this concept or story to be outside his normal genre of comedy, but believes it would make a good film. So he sets down to write it. The military consultant wakes up hung-over and realizes he might have accidently said too much. He calls Dave and asks him to come over. Dave does, is told that it was all real, and hey, look at these ‘need extremely high clearance to look at websites’. They show the Saudi oil fields on fire. But not the normal type of fire, because it isn’t the oil that’s on fire. It’s the other chemicals that got released when the oil was solidified or whatever it happened to it.

That deep cover scientist had no intention, it is assumed, of destroying all oil in the world, but just as he was able to mutate the biological agent that was designed to make oil flow faster, it itself can and did naturally mutate. To become airborne. And spread all around the world. Which is shown to Dave. Russian oil fields on fire, etc.

Then the websites let the military consultant know that he’s been bad to try to look at them. And to keep the line open. Security will be with him shortly. The military consultant, after destroying the computer, suggests that Dave leave. And prepare for a world without oil.

Even with all the evidence before him, Dave isn’t really sure how to take all of it. Until he hears military vehicles squealing up. Heavily armored military personal stream inside the building his military consultant lives in. And then shortly afterwards watch as that man plunges to his death.

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? Especially as all of the above occurred within the first two (or was it three?) chapters. The rest of the book involves Dave driving around trying to buy what he thinks he should buy to “prepare”. Informing his former writing team from that successful tv show he ran. Informing his daughter and estranged wife. Having his estranged wife not believe him. Weeks pass. Nothing much happens. Stock market fluctuates. News is suppressed. No big mean people show up and kill Dave.

News starts to filter out. The President admits something has happened, rationing of gas will start shortly. Slowly the apocalyptic events unfold. Slowly. Dave makes a plan to head off to his wife’s brother’s place in Oregon as it gets more rain and is better situated to live in during and after apocalyptic events.

Earthquake of 9.3-9.8. Massive firestorms. Panic, death, motorcycle gangs (I should toss in: if you are a member of a motorcycle gang, you probably won’t like this book). Book whimpers to conclusion.

Solid book. Interesting ideas. I did not necessarily dislike any of the characters. Interesting enough book, if slow. I’d recommend it. ( )
  MikeBriggs | Sep 11, 2012 |
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This Los Angeles book is dedicated to our Los Angeles friends, Jon Mersel and Marion Peters
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The sound of automatic weapons firing made everyone look up.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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After a former U.S. Marine warns him of an impending apocalypse due to a virus that will contaminate the world's fuel supply, Los Angeles screenwriter Dave Marshall must keep his family safe when he discovers the tale is true.

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