Slow Apocalypse

Dystopian novelists are often less interested in how the world fell apart than in exploring the grim, desolate landscapes left behind. John Varley (a multiple Hugo and Nebula award winner) has thought a lot about the early stages of collapse, though, and his precise details make Slow Apocalypse read like a play-by-play end times scenario.

Dave Marshall, a Hollywood screenwriter on a downward career slide, hears a wild story from a military adviser--what if a scientist created a bacterium that would render petroleum useless and unleashed it in the middle of Saudi Arabia's largest oil field? Even worse, what if that bacterium spread around the world? Dave soon realizes this isn't just a movie pitch, and he starts laying in canned goods and other survivalist gear, which aggravates an already tense situation with his wife. (His precocious 14-year-old daughter, though, is immediately on board.) Things get a little worse, but it might be just a particularly severe gas shortage... until the oil fields at the south end of Los Angeles explode.

From this point, Varley takes Dave and his family step by step through the disintegration of social order, with painstaking attention to the geography of L.A. and Orange County. There's a strong old-school Heinlein vibe to Slow Apocalypse, particularly in its emphasis on self-reliance and mistrust of authority figures. As Dave's world contracts to his wife, daughter and closest friends, and their search for even a slightly less worse off place in the world, Varley never loses sight of the ethical impulses behind the best parts of the human spirit. --Ron Hogan, founder of

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