In October of 2011, Hugh Howey noticed something odd when he looked up his sales reports in his Amazon account: a short story he’d uploaded, Wool, had sold twelve copies in the first week of the month. He was pleased and surprised that people would read a short story. By the end of the month, it had sold 1,018 copies. Hugh can be forgiven for thinking this was the pinnacle of his writing career. Who could imagine that it would go on to be a million copy, New York Times bestseller? Wool is now just part of the whole series that he wrote in frantic response to all the positive feedback.
Tag archive: apocalypse
It’s a weird thing because music and my writing are very closely bound. When I write a story, I need the music playing in my head, and when I’m done the story, I know because the two meld. With short stories, this wasn’t particularly challenging, but with novels and their huge scope, it’s intensely sweeping. With novels, I know I’m done when I’ve got the movie trailer in my head.
Just when she thought she and mom were going home, the Redemption Brigade came for them. Margaret didn’t understand who they were at the time because she was only seven, and up until that day she had always assumed that all humans were friends, could never hurt one another or shoot one another. Only the rippers were evil. Only the night needed to be feared.
Forget the Mayan Apocalypse because that is so last week, or will be by the New Year. If planet Nibiru was on the way into our inner solar system, it would be the brightest star in the sky right now. As for planet killing solar flares, the sun is heading for the weakest solar maximum in a century.
I have a confession to make. I don’t believe there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse. I do, however, believe in pandemics, floods, hurricanes, huge power blackouts and slow government responses.
I’ve got nothing against cheesecakes–honestly–but funny things happen when you do a KDP Select free day.
Some people just download everything they find that’s free every day. I have thought of them as compulsive collectors, but there is a method to the madness of acquiring everything. What if a book breaks out and becomes a bestseller? What if the price shoots to ten dollars? Our collector simply checks his or her Kindle and presto! They picked it up for nothing a year ago, and now that they know it’s good they can read for free. They’re building a library.
But that means that an author can find their novel associated with a book from a totally different genre on Amazon. In the case of Apocalypse Revolution, the best free day I had saw 1300 downloads in four hours. It just so happened that Amazing Cheesecakes was also free that day, and people were downloading it at the same time.
This meant that in the alternate product display underneath my novel, Amazon stated, “Customers who bought this also bought…” You guessed it: Amazing Cheesecakes.
Now it certainly seems like a great cookbook, but when I cook (which is pretty often) it usually involves fire–in my case the BBQ, even in winter. What can I say? The kids like burgers, sausages, boneless chicken, etc. Don’t worry, my wife makes some great pastas, so the kids will reach adulthood with unclogged arteries. But alas, baking is not my forte, and I’ve never been that interested in cooking.
But here’s the problem: while I think whipping up some cheesecake and sitting down to read about the apocalypse might be a nice way to spend the evening, some people might get to the middle of the novel and discover their appetites have been disturbed. I mean, all that red jam spilling down the side of their cheesecake might not look so appetizing after reading about the assault on St. Mike’s. Horror or horrors, an amazing cheesecake might go to waste.
Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeesica Tamturk, the AC author, was a little alarmed to discover that this association was reciprocal. On her Amazon page it said, “Customers who bought this also bought Apocalypse Revolution.” Not exactly a cookbook.
But those people at Amazon have written some smart algorithms. It only took a couple of weeks of purchases for Apocalypse Revolution to be associated with other apocalyptic novels, and for Amazing Cheesecakes to be associated with other cookbooks.
Although it’s kinda of funny: I liked being associated with Amazing Cheesecakes–and Phone Kitten. Oops, as of today Phone Kitten is still suggesting Apocalypse Revolution. Maybe our novels are more alike than I thought.
The Great Blackout of 2003 came without warning. I was clacking away at my keyboard just wearing shorts because the mercury was high, and when a bead of sweat ran down my temple I decided it was air conditioner time. But before I could even stand to head for the thermostat, my screen went blank and everything went silent. That quiet was the eeriest part–no freezer or fridge hummed, the ballasts on the florescent lights no longer buzzed in the background. My house and my computer had abruptly died.
My first thought was to call my wife–who was off with the kids visiting my mom far out in the suburbs–to tell her not to rush home for dinner. My cell phone couldn’t find a signal–weird since I live downtown. That was my first clue that this was more than a local blackout. The landline worked, but after a quick chat with my wife I discovered the blackout was at least city-wide. Now I was starved for information, so I dug eight C cells out that miraculously had enough charge left to operate a radio and got the next big surprise: static. There wasn’t a single FM channel in operation, but I finally found an AM sports channel that had a working back-up generator, and the radio guy had all the excitement of a sportscaster as he described a multi-state, international blackout. The whole north-east and a chunk of central Canada were suddenly living like it was 1799, except with cars–no traffic lights, just cars. That was the day I learned that an electrical grid is a fragile construction.
Which is why it gets on my nerves when an author of an apocalyptic novel doesn’t understand that. I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, since I write apocalyptic fiction myself, and I’ve been shocked by the ignorance. In Hollowland most of humanity has been overtaken by a zombie plague, but some surviving humans pump gas at a station in the middle of the desert. Uh? Just what’s powering the pump at this gas station? Not electricity that’s for sure.
In another novel, Selection Event, 98% of the planet’s population dies from a flu virus while our lead character, Martin, is underground for a year-long psychology experiment. When Martin comes back to the surface he heads to his parents’ house to see if they survived, and when he gets there he rings the doorbell and it works. What? Everyone died two months ago but the electrical grid is still up?
I tried to suspend my disbelief because areas around Niagara Falls continued to have power during the 2003 blackout thanks to smart power workers who isolated their section of the grid. The Niagara Falls hydro-electric generation plants provide very reliable power.
But in Selection Event Martin discovers from old newspapers that environmentalists had lived long enough to blow up all the dams in the west in order to let “the rivers run free.”
Now if environmentalists lived long enough for tooling around with dynamite, surely nuclear power plant technicians had a little warning too. Despite the Simpsons’ negative portrayal of nuke plant workers, those people actually take their jobs very seriously. If they knew they were all dying of a flu, at the very least they’d put the plants into a safe shutdown mode. Ditto for power plants fired by coal, gas or oil, cause you sure as hell wouldn’t want the explosions that go with unmonitored fossil fuel plants. High pressure steam pipes just can’t be left unattended, and if they are things will go wrong very quickly. These plants aren’t like the Starship Enterprise, which seems to need a massive crew but can be operated just by Captain Kirk in a pinch.
Don’t get me started on solar and wind, because these incredibly variable sources of power are destabilizing for a grid, creating unexpected power surges and deficits as clouds and wind vary. They can’t provide a base load, and if other power sources are gone one surge will trip breakers everywhere on the grid, and there’s no one to reset them.
Now if just knocking one power plant offline could bring down the entire eastern seaboard, image what knocking out dozens of dams, nuke plants, coal and gas plants would do? Hydro is probably the one source of power that could conceivably (although not likely) carry on for a few days without human monitoring, but that would have to be a section of the grid that is not interconnected with the national grid, and in this case the environmentalists had done away with that option.
So if you’re writing an apocalyptic novel, keep in mind that the first thing to go will be the electrical grid, and it will be gone in a matter of hours without human monitoring. Once the power is gone the refineries shut down, so then you gradually lose the gasoline, and well, then it’s back to 1799, only with better guns.
What do zombies and the New York Times Book Review have in common? Until recently, I’d have said absolutely nothing. Why would one of the most prestigious book reviews in the English speaking world start talking about zombies?
But last week my wife fired up her Kindle, went to her subscription to the NYT Book Review and was astounded to see an article titled, “Zombie Resurrection,” by Terrence Rafferty. Apparently zombies have gotten so big that even the New York Times can’t ignore them, and vampires are just so last year.
But while Rafferty makes a few good points, his leap that the rise in the popularity of zombies is a reflection of society’s anxiety with the “planet’s dwindling resources” is off the mark. In fact, his statement is one of the reasons zombies are popular.
I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I do remember the late seventies and early eighties, when everyone from my teachers to politicians to media pundits stated with great certainty that we were on the brink of nuclear obliteration. I remember our school showing a particularly gruesome BBC drama called Threads, which followed a couple of families through a nuclear holocaust and the collapse of society afterward. It ended with rape and the birth of a deformed child. Now that was horror. I was shaken to my core and wondered why my parents weren’t moving us out of the city.
How does a kid deal with this extremely gloomy prediction of the future? Why I delved into post-apocalyptic fiction, of course, which was very popular back then, and it was oddly reassuring: I’d be the one emerging from the bomb shelter, fighting the mutants and surviving. Post-apocalyptic fiction was actually less pessimistic than the TV news because it showed that there would be an “after,” and indeed invented the concept that something as final as the apocalypse was in fact not the end of humans, but a fall of civilization more like the end of the Roman Empire. New governments would form, but it would be chaos and dark ages for a while.
Anyone watching TV news these days must be feeling about as frightened and depressed as I was as a kid in the late seventies. The Center for Disease Control in the last few years has issued terrifying pandemic warnings about SARs, the Bird Flu and Swine Flu, apocalypses that were about to take place and didn’t, however they might just reappear next fall.
The world is burning up and sea levels are drastically rising according to environmentalists; the economy has crashed and burned forever according to just about everyone. Society is on the cusp of great disaster, no matter where you look. Gold keeps hitting record highs while the stock market reels.
So how does an avid fiction reader react to all this doom and gloom? Why they read about the zombie apocalypse, of course. Suddenly so many problems are solved. The debt crisis goes away and so does your credit card balance. Global warming is not a problem anymore since you can’t even find gas for your car. The pandemic prophesies of the CDC turn out to be correct, but it’s one manageable disease: just don’t get bit by a zombie and you’re good.
Better yet, you get to do something about all the trouble. You can shoot as many zombies as you want without guilt and without fear of incarceration. Life becomes an exciting, first-person shooter game.
Rafferty of the NYT is right about the zombie craze being a reflection of our fears, but he’s missing that point that he and his fellow media pundits are responsible for that fear with their endlessly pessimistic predictions of the future.
Since the end of the world is coming anyway, people want to read about what happens after the presses of the NYT stop running. It’s actually a very interesting world.
And you get to shoot zombies.