Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review - Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Soft Apocalypse
Will McIntosh
eBook (Nook)
218 pages
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1597802765
ASIN: 159780276X


“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper”
- T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Have you ever wondered what the end of the world might look like if the actual events leading up to it happened slowly, over years or decades? Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse is an unusual end-of-days story in that the devastating changes that force the collapse of modern civilization do not happen over-night in a tragic flash of all-out nuclear war or global pandemic disease but in a slow, some would say, glacial, multi-layered sequence of events. Unemployment is estimated at a staggering 60%. There are the destitute, the sometimes poor, the always poor, and, as in every age throughout history, the filthy rich. But the jobless middle class has become a mobile nation. Tribes of those who were once office workers, film makers, artists, accountants, or secretaries have lost their positions in The Last Great Depression and now roam the country-side freely. They subsist only on what they can find in the wild or by what they can barter with neighboring tribes for drugs, alcohol, sex, or energy. Outbreaks of designer viruses and the spread of bio-engineered super-bamboo erupt where least expected. Some of the most deadly viruses are neurologic, others flesh eating, and still others cause zombie-like symptoms. Strange things – gases, diseases, pollutants, industrial wastes and whatnots - are rumored to be floating in the air making the gas mask the newest fashion accessory. In Soft Apocalypse we see something completely unusual in a story of this nature - the end of the world is coming but its many miles down the road and moving rather slowly. We’re able to take a step back and sneak a bird’s-eye-view at it and while we can’t stop it we can contemplate the events that lead up to it.

In my opinion, and for what it’s worth, I believe that the Soft Apocalypse may be a more realistic and authentic finale to our way of life than the so-called big bang. I think McIntosh’s idea of a lumbering catastrophe that takes years to develop is a brilliantly creative departure from the formulaic tried-and-true cataclysm story. The suggestion that the end of the civilization will culminate in a slow, erosional collapse rather than a quick “wow-look-at-all-those-bombs-falling” event is an intriguing notion. So, in his version of the apocalypse the world does not end in a single, major tragic event but, over time, in a slow, many-fingered, multi-causal string of unfortunate incidents that force almost every aspect of society to fail.

Soft Apocalypse is, in my estimation, an excellent debut novel. It is well-written, fast-paced, and the amount of detail McIntosh has included concerning his vision of a disintegrating society is disturbing. One could almost say he’s founded a new and creative genre of post-apocalyptic story - the Slow-pocalypse or the Decline-ageddon or, better yet, the Soft Apocalypse. Whereas past writers of this form typically resort to the immediate or near instantaneous destruction of civilization Soft Apocalypse depicts a sluggish yet steady decline as society morphs from the norm in measured increments. There are other works that give us the feeling of this slow death (Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney come to mind) but this is the first time I’ve actually read an account of the gradual deterioration fully fleshed out in all its gruesome and morose phases. It proves that in the right hands an interesting concept that’s become almost cliché can be re-written from a fresh, original, and imaginative perspective.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading

Will McIntosh Author Home Page

Will McIntosh Audio Interview

Soft Apocalypse Short Story

Tor.com Review of Soft Apocalypse

The Alternative’s Book Review Rant

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