Edition 27: Book Review: Apocalypse Machine by Jeremy Robinson
Reviewed by Damien Smith
Apocalypse Machine is the latest Kaiju Thriller option from Jeremy Robinson, who I initially discovered through reviewing SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest.
Yes, this is about a huge creature stomping around destroying things. Yes it’s an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic monster fest. Yes monster apocalypses have been done to death. However, it turned the genre on its head in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s the only apocalyptic story, or Kaiju story for that matter, that I’ve read that starts with an injured toe. Secondly, it ramps the scale up several orders of magnitude with a monster whose size is measured in miles. It turns out, the five known mass extinctions on Earth have a common cause.
Our protagonist is the aptly-named (as will become increasingly clear) Abraham Wright, a polyamorous science writer who is smack in the middle of the action from the get-go, from a chance discovery by the aforementioned injured toe during a trek up an Icelandic volcano to the simultaneous eruption of a chain of dozens of volcanos heralding the emergence of the titular Machine, to everything that follows. Abraham becomes the first and only person to directly encounter the Machine on multiple occasions, and each time is visited with a vision of the future that helps guide his steps.
A good portion of the first half of the book is dedicated to establishing just how outmatched humanity is. The Machine spends some time merrily trundling across Europe stomping on every nuclear reactor it can find. Brief yet intense encounters with the armed forces of Russia and the USA inevitably occur—with the super powers coming a resounding second—and the focus quickly shifts to evasion of both monster and nuclear fallout. There are some horrendously illuminating interludes detailing the misfortunes of various random characters who fall afoul of toxic volcanic gas clouds, tsunamis, meltdowns and other subsequent disasters, which set the mood of the narrative wonderfully.
Halfway through the book, when I was wondering exactly how humanity could stop this creature, we switch to fifteen years later and it becomes apparent that we couldn’t. It was abrupt and jarring, but really effective.
There is a strong supporting cast of complex characters who catalyse Abraham’s growth to become the new father of humanity. There are also some cracking one-liners like when the now action-hero Abraham is plummeting from a great height—“the twisting ropes could keep my parachute from functioning right, and then I’ll just be a very confident stain on the ground”—that help maintain the breakneck pace of the plot over several hundred pages.
Along with the characters, there is a powerful sense of doom with an undertone of hope throughout the story, and some fantastically described post-apocalyptic environments and creatures. Further interludes characterising the remnants of humanity work really well, as does the gradual—but never complete—reveal of the Machine and its true nature and origins. My one gripe with the story is the unlikely speed of a continent-flattening tsunami that covers some 6,000km in a matter of minutes. Given the rest of the story, I forgave this as some over-the-top dramatic flair, but it irked me for a while.
This is not just a story about a huge, stompy monster. It’s also about environmentalism, the ever-threatened tipping points we seem to be approaching on this fragile rock we call home, and it is about faith in ourselves and humanity with some strong religious undertones. I’ll admit halfway through when we switched to fifteen years on I felt a little cheated that humanity hadn’t really had a proper chance to redeem itself, but reading on I realised that we hadn’t earned it at that stage of the narrative.
Thoroughly recommended. Action packed, hard-hitting, poignant in its own world-breaking way and a really enjoyable read.
Apocalypse Machine (Jeremy Robins)
Breakneck Media, 2016
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.