Level 7

Apocalyptic fiction is a funny thing. It’s pretty much exclusively an artifact of the second half of the twentieth century, and it tends to fall into one of a handful of genres: the tautly political pre-war thriller, the hopeful rebuilding-society political screed, and the nuclear wasteland adventure story. With few exceptions, they’re pretty dire. In the twenty-first century, it’s looking like “apocalyptic fiction” is going to describe Darbyite Christian nonsense, so we should perhaps look back with nostalgia on these works whose unworldly scenario was, for a brief dark period of human history, not only believable but considered a certainty by wise people. So, nuclear-apocalypse fiction. Level 9 rather transcends its genre by not really fitting well into any of the obvious pigeonholes. It staggers extraordinarily close to the awful, but manages to avoid being a really bad book in a number of ways, starting with the unclassifiable genre. It’s to some extent a psychological thriller, but the psychology of the characters is so unrealistic as to render that somewhat moot. Again it staggers out of the way of awfulness by sheer plot contrivance: the characters are chosen for their psychological aberration, so their inability to display recognizable humanity is an asset to their depiction, not a liability (we call this the Evangelion dodge). It goes on in this vein: it’s focused on details rather than situations, but so is the protagonist; it presents the actual war in so drily flat a tone as to render it seemingly meaningless: once again we have our narrator to thank; and somehow this all works. The inhumanity, the fundamental alienness of it all, makes it an irresistable read. It’s very odd: it shows none of those hallmarks of brilliance a good book should have, but it weaves its way skillfully among all the ways a book can be bad, hitting none of them.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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