Review: Slow Apocalypse

Posted: March 28, 2014 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: John Varley, Science Fiction

Sometimes it’s way too easy to make a call on a book. There are some indicators that, when they come up, scream, “Run away!” One of the classics is when you get to the end of the first chapter and the last sentence is something with a flavor similar to: It all started less than 24 hours ago… Oh, yeah. Those? They’re doooozies.

SLOW APOCALYPSE (Amazon) was my introduction to John Varley’s work. I was looking forward to a good read going in, what with the cover quote from Tom Clancy, even if the title promised something significantly less than exciting. I mean, who puts “Slow” in the title of any kind of book they want to sell? I don’t know.

The premise is that there’s a scientist who loses his girlfriend in the United States World Trade Center attack, and then decides to serve up a dish of revenge to those responsible. His method of attack: create a strain of bacteria that will cause subterranean stores of oil to turn solid. Unfortunately for everyone (literally), the bacteria finds a way to go airborne and takes out every oil store in the entire world. The side effect of this solidification process is an excess of hydrogen gas that wreaks havoc with the earth, causing quakes and eruptions and giant jets of flame bursting from the ground.

Where does the story start? Dave Marshall, a sitcom writer living in Los Angeles and the inimitable hero of our story, finds out about the impending oil disaster from a military contact of his in the first chapter… and then the whole story proceeds to fall apart. Yeah, I know. Chapter 1? I thought the same thing.

The whole rest of the story (nay, the entire book) is one big, long series of observations and so little of anything else. Oh, let me count the ways.

  1. After stocking up on foodstuffs Dave turns on the TV and watches… and watches… and watches all of the mess that begins to happen in…THE SLOW APOCALYPSE. Dun, dun dun!
  2. Craziness starts to happen in LA (earthquakes, explosions, rioting, etc). Dave roams around the neighborhood, sets up for the long-haul at home, and views some of the destruction in person. Copious amounts of street names, building names, valley names, hills, and corners abound.
  3. The craziness ramps up as violence escalates. Dave decides to find a way out of LA by driving around the city. Enough map references here to drive my Aunt Margie back into the mental asylum.

Now, yes, there’s more that happens. There’s some turmoil in Dave’s family (estranged wife and teenage daughter). Some of Dave’s friends are in danger. There’s some nasty biker gangs that make a few appearances. There’s plenty of social commentary about how we’re too fat as a people, don’t care enough about things that really matter, and get tied up in those things that don’t. There’s all the stuff that you’d probably expect to make a showing in an actual situation like this.

A journey through a slow apocalyptic event, centered in California. Takes too long to do anything or go anywhere. Read something different.

But the problem is that it’s all so BORING with a capital B (repetition included on purpose).

Yes, it’s a story. Yes, it’s realistic. Yes, it’s even probable. But is it anything I’d want to read? No. Uh, double no actually. And yet I did, as we always do. Oh, the torture the EBR reviewers endure so that you loyal readers can know to avoid these books like the warm, half-full jugs of way-past-expired milk that they are.


Now, Mr. Varley has been around for quite some time. Obviously, he didn’t get that cover quote from Tom Clancy by writing books like this. I’ve seen a lot of places where people said they seriously love this guy’s books. Maybe this one was just a stinker. Granted, it was a pretty bad stinker. So, I say go find a book of his that has some decent reviews and give it a try. Just stay away from this one.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Very little, but there's some of just about everything in small doses
  • Violence: Again, very little, but when the gore comes in it comes in small bubbles and spurts (heh, heh--get it?)
  • Sex: Two scenes that are over fairly quickly, but get somewhat detailed

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