Bigfoot is real, and really scary

REVIEW

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks

Max Brooks is in top form with Devolution, his first major disaster thriller after the acclaimed World War Z. I had expectations for the novel, given how stunning World War Z turned out, a tale that cemented itself into the well-worn zombie genre with oodles of sophistication. Like that tale, Devolution is about survival, not just the horrors that tear the world down. It’s about making a gut check and figuring out whether you will fold or fight when society itself crumbles.

The tale is structured similarly to World War Z which was told through eyewitness accounts of a global war. Devolution centers on the recovered journal of one of the characters who lived through the horror of being trapped in the Washington state wilderness after Mount Rainier erupts and cuts off her small eco-community. Surviving the winter becomes secondary to surviving against beasts thought only to lurk in folklore and legend. That’s right, Bigfoot is the boogeyman here, and what the creatures do to this small group of stranded homo sapiens is truly terrifying.

The story is all muscle, no fat – the couple’s arrival to their new home off the beaten path, the introduction of this eco-community as a new sustainable American way of life, the volcano disaster, and then the slow horrifying realization that the wilderness is bigger and darker than they ever imagined.

I love how the story sets the stage with the indictment of society with its willful destruction of the planet so that people can simply maintain their lifestyles. The Green Revolution promises a modern solution that delivers both comfort and sustainability. Americans can’t live without the former before committing to the latter. But we find out soon enough the reality that people can’t make nature adapt to them, they must adapt to it. There’s no middle ground. You adapt or die.

The book asks the reader to decide if the journal is part of a large-scale hoax or the most detailed account ever recorded of Bigfoot, an animal dismissed as the product of crackpot theories over the years. The author then does something even bolder at the risk of losing the reader’s interest – no survivors were found, just the journal, so we go into the story without having even the hope of an ending where the people we read about are still alive.

Without spoilers, there’s a reason for this, which I found out at the end, and Brooks brings it home full force with a satisfying conclusion.

The book’s title is clever and speaks to why Bigfoot hides and thrives still today, and the regular interludes in the book describe actual recorded behavior of primates in the animal kingdom. This lends credibility and creepiness to the horrors that play out. This book immerses you if you let it, and it serves as part cautionary tale, part survival guide, and part character study on society and what we individually are really made of.

I highly recommend it, especially to fans of Brooks’ other survival work, and for those who want to make that gut check.

The Spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Brooks sets up the narrative arc with creepy foreshadowing. There are interludes where experts describe certain animal behavior. You get one description of chimpanzees hunting in packs and disemboweling smaller primates. Gruesome and it lets you know what’s coming.

Brooks knows how to introduce the horror in slow drips. I remember the first encounter Kate, the protagonist, has with a Bigfoot. She thinks it’s a boulder in the middle of the road:

Then I saw the rock move. It shifted in place, grew, then disappeared behind the trees. I also thought I saw it change shape, lengthen, narrow, even spread out limbs like a tree. Arms? I rubbed my eyes, blinked hard.

Fast forward to some truly tense showdowns when there is no longer any doubt that these creatures exist. The sasquatches mangle one human to draw out the others and then when it fails, they, in horrific fashion, tear the man apart.

One of the monsters’ key tactics: rocks as artillery. The houses take a beating when cantaloupe-sized rocks shatter the mostly glass walls of the homes, exposing the humans even more.

The Alpha turns out to be a female, a monster behemoth, gruesomely scarred and relentless in her pursuit of her prey. All the other sasquatches show absolute deference to her and when she kills the community’s founders, it’s a squeamish scene that strikes a primal fear in you.

Kate claims her own status as the alphas of the human survivors when trapped in a bathroom, close to imminent death, she wraps a towel around her hand and lights it on fire just as the Alpha sasquatch shatters the bathroom door to make Kate her next snack. Kate punches her, putting her fist straight into the beast’s mouth for a barbeque surprise. Truly badass.

At the same time the humans use what was once a weakness with the glass exteriors to create a minefield of shattered glass to slow down the predators from getting to them inside.

It almost works but one of the bravest characters doesn’t survive a one-on-one showdown with a beast. Mostar is a survivor of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and she is the catalyst to get this American group to act early once she understands they are being stalked by something unnatural. At her end, she draws the beast in and stakes it through the heart as it smashes her with the weight of its lunging body.

There’s a lot of tactical play that takes place throughout the third act, and it’s absolutely delicious. The final showdown is screen worthy and plays out in vivid technicolor ultraviolence. Kate embraces her leadership role and the group makes an Alamo-type last stand where the humans finally unleash their inner killer instinct and bring to bear everything they have in their arsenal of homemade weapons and traps in a gambit to outlast the bigger, stronger tribe. It’s bitter to see the humans fall one by one in this battle of attrition, but there’s the knowledge that this is the only way. It’s truly a contest of survival in the basest sense – kill or be killed.

Kate’s boyfriend Dan is gruesomely stomped to death by Alpha after his melee attack with his custom coconut knife misses her heart, but Kate hurls herself at the beast in the very next heartbeat. Using her aluminum-covered shield to distract the monster, she drives “the Damascus blade through skin and muscle, heart and lungs.” It finishes off the matriarch and solidifies victory for the humans, all two of them.

In the epilogue, Brooks plants the seed of an idea in your head. We don’t actually know if Kate and her now surrogate daughter Palomino survived the winter that followed – we only have Kate’s recovered journal – but the narrator suggests several theories, the most interesting that some primal instinct took over Kate and she made it her mission become a predator herself and hunt down the remaining sasquatches so that those horrors would never come back. So, yeah, she’s somewhere in the wild, a stone cold killer of Bigfoot. It’s chillingly good and fits right into this tale of survival of the fittest.

4.5 of 5 stars.

– Josh

EP. 77 Mars is for Badass Marines, Venus is for Creepy Alien Cities | Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

Polish cover of Caliban’s War featuring badass Martian Marine Bobbie Draper (2018)

There is a lot to love about James S. A. Corey’s fully realized Expanse universe. It just might help you forget about how bad Star Wars has been derailed and make you fall in love again with sweeping space sagas that can deliver on what the sci-fi genre is capable of.

We’re slowly making our way through the solar system with this series, which concludes with book 9 in 2020 or 2021. We’re in for the long haul though. This second entry brings us to Mars, and introduces a character that I love as much as the Rocinante crew. Bobbie Draper is one tough Marine and takes everything the Martians, Earthers, and Belters throw at her. Listen to our break down of the book.

-Josh

Social Divides in the Solar System

illustrated by Jun Cen

Try turning off all the lights at night, moving through your house in total darkness, through interiors where no ambient light reaches, feeling your way down familiar hallways, counting the steps on the stairs until you reach the landing above and moving deftly around corners as the walls guide you. I did this as I went from my basement reading spot to bed, getting a sense of the life Chocky lived, with only four senses instead of five. But I did this only, as the author of the story might put it, in a touristy sort of way.

The Tourist” by Alex Sherman (on Tor.com from free) creates a world that more than sufficiently immerses you in its scant 16 pages; it feels plausible. Just like in James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series, moving out into the solar system creates social divides, haves and have-nots, and the Morlock-like denizens in the belly of this hostile far-flung rock in the desert of the solar system are at once fascinating and pitiable.

The tourist is studying for a Ph.D., hoping to learn more about what is essentially a lost civilization deep in the Amazon forest of the stars.

Like any speculative fiction of note, this story turns the reader’s expectations upside down in the best of ways. The tourist can’t see what’s going on (literally) and is dependent on the local guide to help find what he came looking for. But Chocky isn’t just introduced as a device to help the tourist along – he has his own needs, desires, and fears.

The tourist only has a short time to be with the moles/Squatters (as they are called), but in that period he discovers more about the society than any before him, and perhaps gets more than what he bargained for.

This story could be allegory for how we might treat whole segments of society — whether it’s Blacks, the poor, the elderly — and ignoring their pain and suffering, conveniently placing it in the dark. Or perhaps that’s just me projecting in the time of covid-19 and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd by police.

Either way, I can see myself as being both the disenfranchised and the privileged — Chocky and the tourist — and wondering that if their roles were reversed, would things be any different.

4 of 5 stars

Josh

Opposing the Devil Requires Plan A, and Plan B

The Hugo-nominated novelette “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll is a riot. The opening scene sums up the hijinks readers can expect:

“The whole asylum is his, and let no demon forget it! For he is the Cat Jeoffry, and no demon can stand against him.”

The story is brimming with personality, and I love its layers of depth told in a simple fashion from Jeoffry’s perspective. I don’t have a cat, but I’ve seen enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know the author captures feline habits and quirks perfectly. 

Jeoffry has no equal and can smite imps and chase down devils who would dare oppose him or torment his human owner. That is until he comes up against Satan. It is nothing short of a battle for the soul of humankind and it’s up to Jeoffry to resist the devil’s temptations and outwit the father of lies. It gets hysterically good. 

When you’re done, you won’t soon forget Jeoffry and his human. And of course, there’s “NIGHTHUNTER MOPPET!” along with cursing cats. 

5 of 5 stars.

Read for free at Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2019/07/10/for-he-can-creep-siobhan-carroll/

– Josh

Enduring Favorites Make Apple’s Sci-Fi Best Sellers List

The Corridors of Time.jpg

The 1966 Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson hits the #1 spot on Apple’s sci-fi ebook best sellers list this Memorial Day weekend. After coming off the incredible time-travel novel Recursion from Blake Crouch, I’m looking for another book in the same vein to grab my attention. The description of The Corridors of Time has me fairly jazzed up:

The corridors of time connect the ages to each other. Through them, one can travel backwards and forwards over the history of man. But rival factions have waged war for centuries: the gates onto time are bitterly fought for and jealously guarded.

📊Explore the full rankings of science fiction best sellers from the weekend in our interactive graphic where you can change the view and get deeper insights.

Several authors had multiple books, with John Scalzi having a whopping six best sellers.

John Scalzi

  • THE LAST EMPEROX
  • THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE
  • THE CONSUMING FIRE
  • OLD MAN’S WAR
  • THE GHOST BRIGADES
  • THE LAST COLONY

James S. A. Corey

  • THE BUTCHER OF ANDERSON STATION
  • LEVIATHAN WAKES
  • THE CHURN

Pippa DaCosta

  • TRUST
  • ESCAPE
  • TRAPPED

Becky Chambers        

  • LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
  • RECORD OF A SPACEBORN FEW

Cixin Liu & Ken Liu     

  • THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM
  • DEATH’S END

Messing With Time Is Just Complicated

Spoiler-free review.

Blake Crouch creates a compelling time-bending story that keeps readers invested and guessing all the way through. It takes a disciplined mind to bring to life a story where the implications of time travel are thoroughly considered and brought to life in vivid fashion.

Every change in the timeline wreaks unintended consequences (but that’s every time travel story). Then the characters get a shot at resetting and fixing things (again, every time travel story).

But the fashion in which Crouch shapes these tried and true tropes is brilliant and beautiful. It’s a heart-breaking tale of hope, regret, and sacrifice.

Recursion lives up to its name (and book cover art) with a never ending loop of ‘what ifs’. It’s tight, complex, and demanding of your attention.

The experience is immersive too. I was trying to play out the scenarios along with the characters, working through the implications of messing with the past. But I was helpless, as the characters are, when the best laid plans fail.

Many stories falter or stumble in the third act, but Recursion shines, bringing our protagonists through harrowing trials and never taking the easy way out. This story is extremely good and could sit firmly in a top 10 list of time travel stories in any media.

5 of 5 stars

– Josh

Book 1 from Hugo-winning Wayfarers trilogy tops Apple SF best sellers

May 17, 2020

The first book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers sci-fi trilogy moved up from #8 last week to the top spot on the Apple ebooks sci-fi best sellers this week. At $2.99, the novel “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” is a steal. The trilogy won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction series.

Other bargain books round out the top three:

  • #2 BRAVE NEW WORLD | Aldous Huxley $1.99
  • #3 CHILDREN OF TIME | Adrian Tchaikovsky $2.99

The priciest best seller is the stunning Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu costing $25.99.

Having read the first book, the story redefined for me what science fiction could be. It’s a complex, mind-warping ride about the possibilities of technology and other civilizations.

Sidenote: “Halo: The Fall of Reach” has been a best seller for at least two consecutive weeks. I remember it having great space naval battles, but Master Chief got short changed in the narrative. There are better books to spend your money on in my opinion, even for hardcore Halo fans.

Explore more best sellers below and click on the image to interact.

– Josh

Click image to interact

SF Best Sellers from Apple Stuffed with Star Wars and Classics

May 11, 2020

It looks like “May the Fourth Be With You” continues to hold sway over fans of a galaxy far away. No less than seven Star Wars books are currently Apple ebook best sellers, including the highest priced book on the list, the $15 adaptation of the film “The Rise of Skywalker.” Maybe it will make fans happier than the movie did?

Several Hugo and Nebula short-listed books from 2020 and years past also make the list. And I’m happy to see an Arabic translation of “Dune” cracking the top 50. Great sci-fi has no limits.

We also have another sci-fi classic, “Ender’s Game”, going strong. That book got me into reading again, so I’m glad to see a new generation discovering it.

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– Josh

Click for interactive version

Q: What will the Top 100 Best Selling Kindle ebooks of 2019 cost you? A: $538

kindle 2019 best sellers

Subscribing to Kindle Unlimited ($10/m) will give you access to $400 worth of the top 100 best selling Kindle ebooks for 2019 but how many of these would you actually read? It’s the Netflix problem, but in book form.

So you basically save 75% off the cover price if you subscribe to Amazon’s ebook streaming, um, ebook renting service rather than licensing ebooks outright. Are there any gems here? Browse by clicking on the image and see for yourself.

Most common among the 2019 best sellers are $5 ebooks (44 titles), all of which are on Kindle Unlimited, but none of the four most expensive best sellers ($15 each) are part of the service.

Priciest Kindle Best Sellers ($15 each) Aren’t on Kindle Unlimited:

#1 Where the Crawdads Sing
#59 The Guardians: A Novel
#18 Educated: A Memoir
#53 Becoming

Personally, looking at this list gave me that feeling of browsing the Wal-Mart bargain DVD bin. But hey, to each his or her own.

– Josh

 

An Age of Games and Dragons: SFF Bestsellers on Kindle 2007-2017

kindle bestsellers_sff07-17_

Click image to interact

The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones book series ruled the 2010s in sales on the Kindle e-reader (owned by Amazon). The first book in each series was a best seller for 5 of the 11 years. George R. R. Martin’s ongoing fantasy tale had a consecutive 5-year streak while Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga held a record for 4 and then reappeared in 2017 after a 3-year hiatus.

While Amazon categorizes The Hunger Games in the “Teen and Young Adult” genre, I would disagree. This was an important fictional story for the new century that transcends such a simple designation. The story stars a younger set of protagonists but centers on heady topics such as authoritarianism, survival, and society’s decay (in the form of a live televised blood sport where children are forced to kill each other). On some levels, it rivals Game of Thrones in scope and depth of character and does so without the need for full-on graphic violence. And a big bonus; the story is complete.

The Hunger Games’ main character defies an entire government and society designed to make her fail, and Katniss’s will to survive her brutal reality is still one of the most riveting narratives in dystopian written fiction.

– Josh