It is the year 2085 in the corporate and environmental wasteland that was once the United States of America. All 50 states have seceded from the Union. Lawlessness is the law of he land, and the fate of what’s left of humanity rests on the shoulders of a young factory worker named Truckee Wallace and his companions: an android with dreams of becoming human (Commander Data-style) and a talking goat uplifted via brain matter spliced from a mad scientist.
All of that is to say things are going just great in FKA USA, the raucous debut novel from Reed King (the pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling author and television writer; unsurprisingly given that pedigree, a film adaptation is already in the works).
Truckee is tapped by the president of Crunchtown 407, part of a corporate conglomerate-turned-nation state that develops genetically engineered foods on the backs of indentured workers, for a special assignment: to save the remnants of this dying world by delivering Barnaby the goat to a West Coast laboratory, one last Hail Mary to stop a long-gestating, world-ending plot involving brain implants and smart machines. That’s all easier said than done, though.
In a hallucinatory quest across a devastated North America, the young nobody from nowhere and his ragtag crew encounter all manner of horrors. On the surface, the degenerate masses they happen upon seem outlandish (consider the Elvis-worshipping religious fellowship), but there is something unsettlingly prescient about the obscene obstacles in Truckee’s path—a quality distinctly linked to the present moment. The result is a narrative akin to a faded American flag composed entirely of LSD blotters.
The book got us thinking about other unusually bonkers end-of-the-world scenarios. Consider these other pedal-to-the-metal apocalyptic jaunts, and let us know what you’d add to the list in the comments.
The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden
Two words to describe Drayden’s first novel: delightfully disorienting. It wages a pitched battle between two very different demigoddesses in an alt-future South Africa: one a girl only just reaching her deadly potential, the other a fallen hellbeast hell-bent on clawing her way back into power. Their encounter promises to have cataclysmic consequences for the unfortunately mortal as it plays out against a bonkers near-future backdrop littered African folklore and scads of incongruous SFF tropes, from sentient robots, to genetically engineered animals, to hallucinogenic superdrugs with nigh-spiritual effects. Plus murder. Lots and lots of murder.
Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
Three words this time: monster bug invasion. Like a zanier Stranger Things, this raucous mature YA novel follows 16-year-old Austin Szerba, who might have, maybe, possibly triggered the End Times in Ealing, Iowa—in the form of six-foot-tall praying mantises. The wild, bloody action is counterbalanced by Austin’s confused, tender, and hormone-driven inner life, as he comes to terms with his blossoming bisexual identity at a very awkward time for civilization. For anyone who remembers how your teen years can make everything feel like the end of the world, it’s a perfect, perfectly gonzo read for all ages.
Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde
Literary detective Thursday Next is always leaping into one quagmire or another, skipping throughout the pages of the world’s classic fiction. In this second outing, Thursday and Co. are racing against the end of the world by way of a tide of mysterious pink sludge—which turns out to be an aggressive infestation of Dream Topping (that’s Cool Whip to us Yanks). At the same time, Thursday is also knee-deep in some unfinished business occurring amid the stanzas of Poe’s “The Raven.” Along for the ride is the righteously cranky Miss Havisham, which is exactly who I’d want by my side at Armageddon. Am I alone here?
This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, by David Wong
Picture it: the world is going out not with a bang, but thanks to an epidemic of monster spiders. Raise your hand if you’d rather curl up and die than try to figure a way out of this! This sequel to John Dies at the End ratchets up the panicked mania to previously unseen levels while preserving the meta humor that made its predecessor such a treasure. Remember the “spider in the hairdo” urban legend? This is a novel of spiders using your body as a meat host. Happy nightmares!
What’s the weirdest end-of-the-world scenario you’ve ever encountered?
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