The Road review: Bleak, Depressing, and Utterly Devoid of Hope — How the End of the World Really Looks

The 2006 Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy is bleak, by any standard of the definition. If you want a glimpse of what the post-apocalypse really looks like, you’ll find it here. The story focuses on one man and his child wandering on a road south to escape the cold in a gray ruined world with a sky that never shows the sun or stops raining ash.

The world that once was will never be again. In the aftermath of the apocalypse there is no wildlife at all, and humanity is slowly nearing extinction as cannibalism becomes the norm. Those few details exist to let you know how hopeless the world is, but the central struggle is a father trying to keep his son alive and to find some meaning beyond the stretch of road he can see in front of him.

I would contend that this is the alpha of post-apocalyptic novels. There’s no respite from the natural elements and human dangers in a world that’s edging to oblivion.

There were few nights lying in the dark that he did not envy the dead.

The story puts the reader right into its world. One example is the bitter relentless cold. I can remember back more than a decade to a nighttime Army exercise in winter with “cold to crack the stones,” to borrow a phrase from McCarthy. I can’t imagine living day-to-day not being able to get warm and being perpetually miserable.

They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold.

There’s a moral compass that the father tries to stay true to, and it’s his son that likely keeps him from giving in completely or to his darker nature.

What makes this book rise above others of similar ilk is the relationship and the conversations that the boy and his father have. What they talk about and how sparse their conversations are hit exactly the right tone for this world. There’s not much to talk about and they have very little energy to do it. The story is pure in the sense of a father and boy being able to rely on each other and live only for each other, and that in itself has some haunting beauty, despite the father knowing that they are on borrowed time.

Then there’s the gallows humor:

What’s the bravest thing you ever did?
He spat into the road a bloody phlegm.

Getting up this morning, he said.
Really?
No. Dont listen to me. Come on, let’s go.

Every decision they make means life or death. Living that way for years on end would tear down even the most resilient of people. The father desperately needs to get his son to the coast, someplace warmer, but then what next? That’s a question he himself does not have an answer to. Don’t expect a traditional narrative arc where you’re given the answers at the end. I think the story, at least for me, is part fiction and part study for reflecting on your values.

The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night.

I learned a lot from “The Road” — examining more closely what I have in life, the resilience of the human spirit, the fragility of the world, putting relationships first, and not giving in to your darker self, to name a few.

The novel is bleak, depressing, and utterly devoid of hope, but that’s what the end of the world really looks like.

5 of 5 stars

-Josh

p.s. I did an analysis of votes by Goodreads’ fans for top dystopian fiction by creating an interactive graphic. Design inspired by “The Road.” Check it out.

Sci-Fi Nominees, and a Winner, from the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020

So what book tallied the most votes in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020 for science fiction? (The winners were announced Dec. 8.) I think a much more interesting question is “How did the number of award votes compare to the lifetime ratings for each book?” Well, it’s not hard to browse and find out, but I wanted to do a more direct comparison and see how books published across the year stacked up.

Fans of books published in the first quarter remembered their love and came back to vote for Q1 books (Riot Baby and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories). Midyear books (April-July) were strongest for both lifetime ratings and award votes. But the books that faired the best for voting season came out in August and September. Three of the four books with the most votes had at least twice the number of votes as lifetime ratings and were published in August or after. These include Harrow the Ninth, The Space Between Worlds, and the genre’s award winner To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. To see book details, explore the interactive data graphic. – 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

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

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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

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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

Star Wars’ Sarlacc Passes Judgment

sarlacc viz

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It was the cry heard around the galaxy. The 2015 film “Star War: The Force Awakens” allowed Disney to reboot the book narratives around our favorite Jedi. Decades of novels that told very different stories of what happened after the second Death Star was destroyed were essentially sidelined. A new crop of novels appeared, and I just kind of shrugged. It’s still too painful to talk about.

I couldn’t help but a have a little fun with the Star Wars galaxy and show how bloated it’s become. The merciless Sarlacc (from Return of the Jedi) has gobbled up most of the Star Wars stories to leave only the strong few.

As much as I loved Star Wars a long, long time ago, I only casually pick up some of the newer offerings. Star Wars for me just doesn’t warrant the time investment anymore. Rogue One was the last ‘story’ to really deliver in my opinion. May the Fourth be with you (and may the Force get back on track)! Enjoy the Sarlacc’s final judgments!

– Josh

 

 

Hungry for more Hunger Games?

 

hunger games viz image2

Based on Goodreads’ book data, the answer is ‘yes’.

With a prequel novel to The Hunger Games trilogy coming in May 2020, it looks like the odds are in the favor of series’ fans. Ten years after Katniss took on Panem and started a revolution, we’re now getting a tale about a young President Snow. But the jury is out on whether this villain’s story can captivate audiences the way the exploits of the heroine from District 12 did.

My quick take on The Hunger Games: This was an important story for the new century. I have a strong emotional connection to the tale, which is ostensibly a young adult series, but centers on heady topics such as authoritarianism, survival, and society’s decay. I remember when (spoiler) died. Yeah, I cried. There, I admitted it. And Katniss’s defiance of the Capitol and her will to survive a brutal televised blood sport is still one of the most riveting narratives in dystopian fiction.

All three Hunger Games stories make the list of books on Goodreads that have a million or more ratings. The first story in the trilogy has more 5-star ratings than any book on the list, save for book one of a series starring a certain boy wizard. NOTE: There are 54 books with 1M+ ratings based on 2017 data. It’s likely higher now.

It’s interesting to note that the first books of the Hunger Games and Harry Potter series were in a deadheat in 2017 for most overall ratings. Harry has since surpassed Katniss with 6.6M ratings vs. 6.1M ratings respectively as of April 2020.

Explore the “1M+ ratings book club” by clicking on the image and get ready some more Panem mayhem!

-Josh

 

Committed? Speculative Fiction’s Longest Series

We took a look at some of the most celebrated fantasy and sci-fi series in contemporary speculative fiction. Seeing the results made us feel a bit better about our sometimes soul-torturing decisions on what series to leave off our bucket list.

This isn’t a definitive list, just a conversation starter. We sourced it from a 2017 blog post at Adam Whitehead’s blog The Wertzone, so it may be a bit dated. But don’t worry, “A Song of Ice and Fire” (aka Game of Thrones) won’t be changing anytime soon…

Let the debate begin over what was left off and let the celebration begin on getting one step closer to deciding which series are worth the commitment!

– Josh

sff long series

Click image to interact