Soundtrack For The Apocalypse

You’re driving across a wasteland ravaged by nukes/zombies/aliens/President Snow. You need tunes to set the mood. What would be playing in the background while you stare moodily into the middle distance, contemplating everything that’s befallen you?

Here’s my playlist for the end of the world, along with a few notes for when each song would be most appropriate to play.

Life During Wartime, Talking Heads
This is a nervous, edgy tune, and any song whose lyrics start with “There is a van, that’s loaded with weapons” has to be in my apocalypse. I imagine this song as the scene-setter, a hint of impending trouble; maybe it’s playing in the background on the radio as our heroes go about their lives in the days before the collapse.

Ghost Town, The Specials
Originally written as a lament of bored young people, the song’s mournful horns are apt accompaniment for cruising the lonely streets of a city emptied by chaos.

I Might Be Wrong, Radiohead
The guitar line in this song carries a hint of menace. It reminds our travelers of the constant danger that lurks in the blasted ruins of civilization. And Thom Yorke could do a cameo as a radiation-wasted hermit, skulking through alleys in a shabby robe as he murmurs cryptic warnings that our heroes fail to heed.

Escape from New York

Roadrunner, Modern Lovers
Occasionally our heroes catch a break: a cache of food, a safe place to hole up, a hot shower, a fast car. This is the song to play when they feel good and hopes rise. But you know it won’t last.

Redneck, Lamb of God
Every apocalypse needs bad dudes—very bad dudes. And they need a musical cue as they roll up over the horizon, preferably on motorcycles. This is their song.

Oh, Sweet Nuthin’, Velvet Underground
You’ve lost everything, even the pack on your back. You’re beaten and bruised and alone. You have two choices: lay down at the side of the road and wait to die, or keep walking. You choose the latter, even if you don’t know where you’re going, or what lies ahead. From your dry, cracked lips comes the ghost of a chorus, half remembered from the time before everything went to hell. You start to sing. Your voice is low and rusted with thirst. Lou Reed fades in from underneath, an angel in black to keep you company.

The Phoenix, The Cult
The Phoenix would be a good choice for an action sequence, like a chase scene through the desert, or a close-up knife fight between our hero and the lead villain.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, REM
An obvious choice, I know. But it’s still a good song. Roll credits…

Book Review: The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell, is a supernatural thriller with a chilling dystopian coda. It’s also a bit of a disappointment.

Imagine if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was alive and writing pop songs for Katy Perry or Robin Thicke. These tunes would have a masterly command of melody and a technical brilliance. But there would also be something not quite right about them.

You could feel, somewhere deep in the chord changes, Mozart straining to elevate the three-minute dance tune into something sublime. The problem is that the form itself resists such elevation.

A good pop song can be surprising and delightful and well-crafted. But it’s still just a pop tune, and if you try and force it beyond the natural limits of what it’s supposed to accomplish, you end up with music that may have moments of joy, but ultimately fails to satisfy.

That’s how I felt about The Bone Clocks. It tries to take its supernatural genre tropes and stretch them into something grand. Mitchell is a magnificent writer, but the supernatural world he’s created in The Bone Clocks feels less like the work of a master novelist, and more like an overheated D&D module.

boneclocks

This isn’t the first time he’s incorporated elements of the supernatural into his work; The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet played with telepsychic abilities and immortality cults. But the supernatural was only hinted at in that novel.

The Bone Clocks pulls away the veil and makes his supernatural system the centerpiece of the book. It includes souls that migrate into new bodies, mind control, and psychic powers. As a reader, I’m not opposed to this kind of thing. In fact, I love it.

Unfortunately, Mitchell’s system doesn’t benefit from closer inspection or deeper explanation. Despite his magnificent gifts as a writer, he fails to make his supernatural system palatable.

Instead, you get lots of cringe-inducing pronouncements about “the Deep Stream” and “the Shaded Way” and “Anchorites of the Dusk Temple of the Blind Cathar.”If you have to initial-cap a concept to give it weight and grandeur, you’re trying too hard.

Part of the problem might be the design of the novel. Then engine of the plot is a war between Horologists (good immortals) and Anchorites (psychic vampires).

The main character, Holly Sykes, is literally nothing more than a vessel for the Horologists. Holly’s role as a vessel links her to events that drive the plot, but she’s merely carried along, rather than driving the story forward herself.

Holly’s involvement with the Horologists and Anchorites is more of a contrivance than an organic result of the choices that she makes in her life. For me as a reader, Holly’s lack of agency in connection with the war that drives the plot lowered the stakes of the outcome of the conflict. It’s a structural weakness that makes it harder for the book to support all its grandiose nonsense.

The novel’s climax is a pyscho-kinetic dual between the Horologists and Anchorites. It’s got a lot of flash and bang, but it feels obligatory, and perhaps written with the film adaptation in mind. In short, it disappoints.

However, Mitchell redeems himself in the final section of the book, where he draws an all-too-probable sketch of the collapse of civilization.

The world isn’t undone by a spectacular apocalypse; instead, the fall was caused by oil running out. Without cheap fuel to drive consumer economies and support highly centralized food production and distribution, societies crumbled.

Holly Sykes, now an old woman, lives a pastoral existence in a small village in Ireland. Folks grow their own food, mend their clothes, and trade with one another in a basic barter economy. The global communications network has mostly collapsed. What little electricity there is comes from solar panels, and what little fuel there is goes into the community tractor.

Mitchell doesn’t romanticize this reversion to a pre-industrial existence; people work hard, suffer discomforts, chafe against the confines of the community, and go hungry. But folks seem to get by through their own labor and ingenuity.

At the start of this section there’s still a vestige of government order: a local council with a mayor, backed by a central authority. But that central authority collapses, and we see how fragile democracy, justice and human rights really are. Rule reverts to vicious men with weapons and the willingness to impose their own order through violence.

I would have much preferred Mitchell to spend more time here than elsewhere. He doesn’t need supernatural tropes to craft a great story. He could write a kick-ass post-civilization book that would be gripping and frightening because of its plausibility, not because Anchorite disciples of the Shaded Way lurk in dark corners waiting to drink your psychic essence.

‘Wasteland Blues’ Book Signing In Bryn Mawr, PA

I’ll be signing and selling copies of Wasteland Blues at Luddington Library’s Local Author Fair on Saturday, Nov. 15. If you’re in the Bryn Mawr area, stop by and say hello. I’ll be signing books from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.

The Fair features 30 local authors as well as free workshops on writing, publishing, and finding an agent. The event runs from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm. The library is located at 5. S. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010. I hope to see you there!

Luddington Local Author

Are You Using #MSWL? You Should Be

If you’re a writer looking for an agent, check out the Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) on Twitter. It’s a great resource where agents post exactly what they’re looking for–sometimes with great specificity.

There are tons of requests for YA manuscripts, which shouldn’t surprise me given the genre’s popularity. But if you aren’t writing YA, sometimes it feels like that’s all anyone wants.

That’s why another excellent option is the Manuscript Wish List website, which lets you search agent postings by genre–a great feature! I used it to search for agents looking for historical fiction.

Querying agents is time-consuming, and blind queries are mostly a waste of your and the agent’s time. The Manuscript Wish List gives us writers a better way to target agents who might be receptive to our work.

Have you ever used #MSWL? If so, what’s your experience?

Summer Reviews Praise Wasteland Blues

Several new reviews for Wasteland Blues were posted in August, and I thought I’d share some excerpts. I read every review with a bit of trepidation because you never know how your work is going to be received, but so far the feedback is encouraging.

The book got a four-star review recently from a reader named Samantha. Thanks Samantha! You can read the full review on the Wasteland Blues book page at Goodreads, but here’s a couple of highlights.

Samantha’s review starts off pretty good, though with a bit of a back-handed compliment:

Oh this book. I’m really glad I read it, in spite of no hype around it and an almost seemingly boring plot. [Hmmm. Seemingly boring? Scott, we may need to work on that.]

Overall, the review is positive. This paragraph made me happy:

It has most things I love in books: interesting characters (everyone in this book is legit crazy which just makes it more perfect,) exciting surprising things that happen on their journey without being ridiculous, and a slightly confusing world that you get absorbed in.

And this is a great line:

…you can picture everything so clearly, from the dust caked on your face to the debris from the Before Times you have to maneuver over.

Last but not least, I was really pleased to read the conclusion:

In short I loved this book, and the only reason it’s missing half a star is because I felt it ended too soon. I wanted more awesome things to happen.

New reviews also showed up on Amazon. LeaG wrote:

This was a great read that was hard to put down.

And Joyfulintaos wrote that the book:

…easily belongs with the likes of Howley’s Wool, McCarthys, The Road, and King’s Gunslinger series. A surprising array of travelers and events keep the reader enthralled. I HOPE this is the first in a series because I did not want my adventure with this crew to end.

Thanks to everyone for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts! It’s encouraging to hear that readers want more of the story. Scott and I are working on the next book, so stay tuned.