The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2012)

the age of miracles

Unlike many of its counter-parts, The Age of Miracles, is a dystopian science-fiction story that does not contain any sudden, dramatic events that change the lives of the characters in the story overnight.  The change that leads to the unraveling of society is this novel — called The Slowing — is so small, so gradual, so invisible, that no one even notices when it begins and even after it is detected, many refuse to believe it is real.

Our narrator is eleven year old Julia who catalogs all of the catastrophic global events that unfold during the two years of the story, as well as her own smaller personal problems. Even though The Slowing is happening on a massive global — even galaxy-wide — scale, Julia is still a adolescent girl who must experience them at the same time she must grapple with everyday problems with loneliness, bullying, and first crushes.

The phenomenon of The Slowing is the, at first, imperceptible slowing of the earth in its rotation. When scientists first recognize that is it taking a few seconds longer for the earth to turn from one day to the next, the problem is so small it seem inconsequential. The problem promptly picks up speed and within a few weeks the days are 30 minutes longer; then in just a few more weeks the days are hours longer than the previous 24. The Slowing is causes problems at first that seem manageable: how to sync up clocks with the new, longer days so that businesses and governments can run as usual. As the problem (and the length of days) grow, all living things on earth struggle to adapt. Crops and plants struggle with rising hours of sunlight (and the higher temperatures this brings) and the cold of the longer nights. Birds fall from the sky as the increasing effects of gravity make flying impossible. And people — who are delicately in tune with the day/night cycles, the tides, the seasons, and the weather — begin to suffer from illnesses caused by being out of sync.

The stress of these global problems begins to effect everyone on earth, including Julia and her parents, as well as their neighbors and friends. Cults spring up, religious groups move to large communities in rural areas, and small groups who are trying to live in sync with the new length of the day/night begin to split off from their “on clock” counterparts: all of these create “us” versus “them” tensions.

Julia calmly reports on the problems in her own house and those she witnesses outside the window. She sees her mother struggle with symptoms of strange illnesses, sees her best friend withdraw to a Mormons-only community, and her parents turn on a neighbor who refuses to stay ” on clock.” All of these massive and complex problems do not prevent the smaller problems of puberty and adolescence that also plague her as she and her parents try to continue to live a normal life…while they can.

The Age of Miracles surprised me with how riveting it remained throughout given its slow, deliberate, unhurried pace. It proved to be unique in every way and a delight to read.

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Elevation by Stephen King (2018)

In this super short novella, Stephen King explores a theme that repeats itself in many of his books and stories: how does an ordinary person react to extraordinary circumstances?

elevation

Elevation introduces us to Scott Carey, a regular guy living in (of course) Castle Rock, Maine. Before the story began, Scott was a slightly depressed, recently divorced man who had let himself fall into some bad habits. He was out of shape, a bit overweight, and letting his health decline. So it comes as a huge shock to him when he starts losing weight…lots of weight, very quickly.

Ordinarily, weight loss such as this might mean cancer, but Scott has a feeling that is not the case for him. Scott may be losing weight according to the scale, but his appearance is not changing at all. He still has the beer belly and the “man boobs,” all of his clothes still fit as they did before. Even as the scale dips lower and lower, there remains no outward signs of his condition. Day Zero, he calculates, should come sometime in spring.

Reaching out to a retired doctor about his unexplained weight loss, Scott insists he will not spend the rest of his days being experimented on and studied by doctors. The two men agree to chart his weight loss and its affects on Scott; whose sudden “lightness of being” has allowed him to become increasing athletic. Gravity, it appears, it no longer having the same pull as it once did.

No closer to an explanation for this incredible condition, Scott decides he will use his remaining time on earth (Will he die when the scale reaches zero? Will he float away?) for good. Specifically, he plans to help the Castle Rock townspeople accept his two new neighbors; married lesbians from Boston.

 

Vox by Christina Dalcher (2018)

vox

In this chilling dystopia, women have become prisoners under the complete control of the all white, male, conservative Christian government. During the years before the story begins, women’s immoralities have been found to be the cause of all societal ills. To counteract the decline of “purity” in American culture, limits have been put on women. First they rights to control their own medical care is rescinded; then their right to control their money; then their right to work, and finally their right to speak or read words of any kind. They are be to silent, humble, pure, and live in service to their husbands, sons, God, and government. Those who refuse are sent to work camps…or worse.

Once a prominent academic researcher, now Dr. Jean McClellan is living a rage-filled existence, albeit a silent one. Confined to her home, she is under surveillance around the clock by electronics and the men in her community, lest she forget her place and speak or read a single word. With no work allowed, all forms of non-church-approved entertainment banned, and no where to travel too, she finds herself losing her mind.

As if the torture of her imprisonment were not maddening enough, she must also watch her young daughter’s life be stripped of freedom and given over to the church. But not her three sons, though; being born male has granted them the right to read, learn, speak, and come and go as they please. Her disgust with the inequities within her own household, as well as across the country, is growing exponentially each day.

Then, the government comes calling for Dr. McClellan. Not to imprison her (not yet, anyway) but to demand the she resume her medical research to help the president heal his brother. After she initially refuses to help the man who has made being a woman in America a crime, she is tortured into agreeing. Before resuming her work, she demands that the ban on speaking and reading be lifted from her and her daughter.

Her time is short, Jean knows, to be able to read, speak, and work. Now she needs to figure out how she can escape before the government figures out what she’s planning.

Throughout the reading, I was struck by the similarities this novel has with Margaret Atwood science-fiction masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale: the traitorous women who enable their own imprisonment, the once well-meaning men who sympathize but do nothing else, the constant surveillance and the demand for purity among women. A great story that was unsettling and infuriating, in part because of how easily this story of science fiction could become a reality given today’s political climate.

Leverage In Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #47, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

leverage in death

When a bomb is detonated during a high-stakes business meeting, Eve Dallas and her partner Peabody respond, assuming that a disgruntled and vengeful employee has targeted his bosses. The explosion killed twelve, injured many others, and appeared to have been work of a company VP. A closer look into the murder leads the two detectives to the suspect’s home, where his wife and daughter have been kept captive for days. These two witnesses tell a much different story from the one the police assumed to be the case.

This was not the work of a man bent on killing his co-workers, but rather a man who was himself a victim. He exploded the bomb only after being forced to watch his beloved wife and daughter beaten for days on end until he had agreed to carry out the bombing. The wife and daughter, along with some bombing survivors, give Eve and Peabody key pieces of information that help the two women begin to see the bigger picture.

Two men targeted the victims and used the husband to blow up the office a valuable company, kill their CEOs and then — in the chaos that followed — buy up valuable stock and make millions when the stock prices recovered. The detectives are making slow progress on the case when, just days later, another almost identical bombing occurs.

The second bombing targeted an up-and-coming artist and his art work, killing six more people and (it is soon learned) causing the value of his remaining art pieces to skyrocket in value.

Now it is clear that the two masterminds of the bombings are ruthless and greedy terrorists willing to kill as many people as they like, all while cashing in on illegal gambling schemes. Or that is their plan anyway, but Eve Dallas and her team are not going to stop until the men are in jail and their money seized.

The Book of M by Peng Shepard (2018)

“I understood then how the Forgetting works. Why sometimes we shadowless simply don’t remember anymore and why other times something changes: there’s a difference between when the mind forgets and the heart does. The memory means more, the more it’s worth to you — and to who you are. The heart has a harder time letting go. But what happens when you refuse to let go of a delicate thing as it’s being pulled away from you? It stretches. Then it tears.” 160

When it happened, the day that changed the world forever was misunderstood and celebrated. A Indian man, the breathless reports around the world stated, had lost his shadow and it seemed a scientific anomaly. Soon, it become clear that that was not all he lost: first his shadow, then his memory, then his humanity.

When more people in rural India also lose their shadows, the tone begins to shift. No longer seen as a harmless one-off incident; governments around the globe began taking extreme measures to keep what they wrongly thought was a pandemic from spreading. However, their is no stopping the shadowless “condition” and it begins to spread around the globe. The shadowless lose their memories — in what is called The Forgetting — slowly over the days after their shadows disappear and by the time they forget who their are and how to care for themselves, many have grown violent and aggressive.

By the time our story starts, several years have past and the vast majority of the world is dead. Power grids have failed, food is scarce, and the few remaining “shadowed” people have formed militant groups to stay alive. Enter our four narrators, Ory, Max, Naz, and a man only known as “the amnesiac.” Through their words, we will hear of the spread of the outbreak, the dissent into chaos that followed, and how the survivors are fighting to stay alive.

Ory and Max, a married man and wife, have survived, alone in a wilderness hotel for years, but now food is running out and Max has lost her shadow. Desperate not to lose his wife, Ory coaches Max on ways to remember herself and their marriage. But terrified she will harm him, Max leaves the hotel with plans to spend the last of her days far from her beloved.

Max’s journey links her to other shadowless who are still alive, and as a group they try to keep the shadowed from killing them before they forget too much. While they still can, they are fleeing toward New Orleans, where it is rumored a safe haven (and a cure?) has formed.

Ory takes off after Max, but finds his own life in danger again and again. He is attacked by shadowless too far gone to understand and shadowed fearing he will take their food or weapons. He shows us the world of the survivors and the lengths they have gone to stay alive. Here he meets Naz, whose own desperate journey to safety fills in more blanks for readers. The two narrators join a 40-person band of survivors who must decide whether to stay and fight for their fortress even those supplies are running out or follow the others fleeing to New Orleans.

Finally, there is the most mysterious of all of the characters, The Amnesiac. A man whose memory of his own personal past is gone completely, but he is able to remember other important things that keep him alive (to eat, for example.) He may hold the key to stopping or reversing the outbreak without even knowing it.

Overall, The Book of M is a chilling dystopia about a world that has forgotten how to be human. The author explores the terrifying reality in which are loved ones are stolen from us, piece by piece, and how losing memories — for some — become their complete undoing and for others, what they remember becomes their salvation.

Dark in Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #46, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

Lt. Eve Dallas is back in her forty-sixth adventure, set in New York City of 2061, overseeing a murder investigation that has claimed the life of a up-and-coming Broadway star. The bizarre details of the young woman’s death strike a cord with a local mystery writer, who comes to Eve with her fears that the murderer may be committing “lethal plagiarism” by acting out the murders from her series of books called the Dark series.

Almost immediately Eve confirms that the murder of the young woman is almost an exact replica of the murder in book two of the Dark series. A short look into open cases in the city shows her that just a month prior another young woman was killed in a manner that imitated book one in the series. Now the team is scrambling to read all eight books in the series, quiz the author on her plots and motivations for the books, scour fan mail to the author, and follow the available forensic evidence; all in an attempt to stop the murderer from committing six more copy-cat murders.

A cast of strong women, led by Eve and Peabody, come together to dig deep into the damaged psyche of a murderer who went from super-fan to serial killer: to find out what happened and how he can be stopped.

 

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)

Inspired by the imminent release of the new A Wrinkle in Time film from Disney, one of my book clubs selected to read this children’s literature classic for our March book selection, followed by a of group viewing the movie. A Wrinkle in Time is a slim volume, book one in a quintet written by Madeleine L’Engle, and took just a few hours to read. The story follows high-schooler Meg Murry who goes on an intergalactic journey to find her missing father and attempts to lessen the power a dark force that is exerting its evil over the universe.

On Earth, Meg is awkward, angry, and quarrelsome; often in trouble in school and lacking close friends. Her social isolation is made worse by her longing for her father, whose work for the US Government has taken him away from his family for several years. One of her only consolations is her deep connection to her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, whose startling intelligence and empathy are those of a much older boy and who has what at times seems like a supernatural power to read minds.

With the arrival in town of three very unusual women — Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit — Charles Wallace and Meg are launched on a journey into the far reaches of the universe, along with their neighbor, Calvin. Traveling along the fifth dimension, using a series of time travel short cuts or “wrinkles in time,” the children are taken to the outer edges of the universe to save their father from a planet whose residents have succumbed to the Dark Thing.

Using their own unique skills and gifts given to them by the Mrs., the children temporarily defeat the Dark Thing’s accomplish the IT and rescue their father, returning him home to reunite him with their mother and siblings. While this is a book loved by my sons, I find myself a bit underwhelmed by the story which fluctuates between too complex and too simplistic and which seems unsophisticated to today’s reader. I have no doubt, however, that the movie will be outstanding and more than make up for the book’s shortcomings.