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MichaelBriggs

Sliding Fingers

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Slow Apocalypse - John Varley Mini review: A man gets some warning that apocalyptic events are about to occur. He hurriedly goes about trying to set himself up with canned goods and the like. The events unfold slowly. Wife doesn’t believe him. Daughter does. Earthquakes, fire, destruction, oil gone from the world.

Solid book. Interesting ideas. I do not necessarily dislike any of the characters. Interesting enough book, if slow. I’d recommend it.

Longer review with some rambling about Varley: Varley’s one of those authors I started reading way back deep in the past when I’d take “best of” short story books and zoom through them looking for authors to explore. He had several short stories that I rather enjoyed, "The Phantom of Kansas", “Press Enter#”, “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” among others. So I turned to his books.

Just as an aside, Jack McDevitt is another one I found at the same time through short stories. But with him, I rather disliked his short stories and vowed to never look for him in book form. Luckily I forgot that 15 years later when I found the first book I read by him. Sadly, I’ve found that being good at a particularly story length does not always translate into being good at a different story length.

If I recall correctly, I think I liked Varley’s short story “Air Raid”. And I know I liked it as the film Millennium. But I was about to turn to Varley’s novels. Millennium, the book, wasn’t that much different than the movie. And I’d seen the movie first. So it didn’t tempt me to look for more of Varley’s books, nor stop me in my progress. No, it was the Gaea trilogy that lead me to stop reading Varley in book form. At least for a short while. Way too long ago to remember why, though there is a vague recollection that the books were a mess.

Mammoth and the Red Thunder trilogy were good interesting reads. Mammoth lured me back to Varley’s books by having an interesting idea. Red Thunder . . .well, I kept putting that particular series off for years. Probably the mere idea of “kids” deciding enough’s enough, people should voyage to Mars, and so they’ll do it. Well, I thought that was what the books were supposed to be about. The “kids” weren’t exactly kids but that’s a different book series. No, I put it off long enough, might as well turn to Slow Apocalypse.

Varley tends to have interesting concepts. Good ideas. In the short form these ideas can be quickly expressed through an entertaining quick short story. But extended to book form, the ideas kind of fall apart. Get stretched out. Well, the book is titled “Slow” Apocalypse. He did let the reader know ahead of time. The story really does flow out slowly.

The concept begins interesting enough. A television writer who got lucky on one tv series and rose with its popularity, is now out of work and looking for a concept. He pays a military consultant to tell him interesting stories.

One of these interesting stories involves a deep undercover secret government lab containing a man who lost his love during the 9/11 attacks. That man noticed that most of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. Noticed how the USA doesn’t appear to want to annoy the Saudi’s, and so takes matters into his own hands. He was already working on a special chemical that would make it easier to get oil from oil deposits. Higher concentration of oil, less of water. He slows down production of that so that he could work on a mutated version of that chemical, with the intended purpose of destroying all Saudi oil.

The tv writer, and I suppose it would be easier on myself to use his name, Dave Marshall, finds this concept or story to be outside his normal genre of comedy, but believes it would make a good film. So he sets down to write it. The military consultant wakes up hung-over and realizes he might have accidently said too much. He calls Dave and asks him to come over. Dave does, is told that it was all real, and hey, look at these ‘need extremely high clearance to look at websites’. They show the Saudi oil fields on fire. But not the normal type of fire, because it isn’t the oil that’s on fire. It’s the other chemicals that got released when the oil was solidified or whatever it happened to it.

That deep cover scientist had no intention, it is assumed, of destroying all oil in the world, but just as he was able to mutate the biological agent that was designed to make oil flow faster, it itself can and did naturally mutate. To become airborne. And spread all around the world. Which is shown to Dave. Russian oil fields on fire, etc.

Then the websites let the military consultant know that he’s been bad to try to look at them. And to keep the line open. Security will be with him shortly. The military consultant, after destroying the computer, suggests that Dave leave. And prepare for a world without oil.

Even with all the evidence before him, Dave isn’t really sure how to take all of it. Until he hears military vehicles squealing up. Heavily armored military personal stream inside the building his military consultant lives in. And then shortly afterwards watch as that man plunges to his death.

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? Especially as all of the above occurred within the first two (or was it three?) chapters. The rest of the book involves Dave driving around trying to buy what he thinks he should buy to “prepare”. Informing his former writing team from that successful tv show he ran. Informing his daughter and estranged wife. Having his estranged wife not believe him. Weeks pass. Nothing much happens. Stock market fluctuates. News is suppressed. No big mean people show up and kill Dave.

News starts to filter out. The President admits something has happened, rationing of gas will start shortly. Slowly the apocalyptic events unfold. Slowly. Dave makes a plan to head off to his wife’s brother’s place in Oregon as it gets more rain and is better situated to live in during and after apocalyptic events.

Earthquake of 9.3-9.8. Massive firestorms. Panic, death, motorcycle gangs (I should toss in: if you are a member of a motorcycle gang, you probably won’t like this book). Book whimpers to conclusion.

Solid book. Interesting ideas. I did not necessarily dislike any of the characters. Interesting enough book, if slow. I’d recommend it.