The Stand is probably my favorite Stephen King novel, and probably my favorite post-apocalyptic book. In fact, whenever I read a post-apocalyptic story, I’m hoping at that it will capture some of that lonesome, open-road magic that made The Stand so great.
I have to say that more than any other book, Edward W. Robertson’s book Breakers has come closer to meeting those unreasonable expectations.
Breakers follows two men (in New York City and LA) as they struggle to survive while an extremely deadly plague wipes out 99% of the human population. About halfway through the book, the main characters realize that the plague originates from a race of alien invaders who have now swooped in to take over our decimated planet.
Here are the things that struck me about the book:
1) Harrowing scenes of NYC and LA as the havoc of the plague takes hold. The scenes read like a gruesome travelog. Robertson does a great job of working in landmarks and everyday environments, which help to give the reader a distinctive and realistic flavor of each city.
2) The prerequisite trek across a desolate countryside, complete with scenes of abandoned highways and idyllic natural landscapes. One particularly inspired scene compares foraging in the wilderness to a real-life version of The Legend of Zelda. It reminded me of a couple of passages from Alex Garland’s The Beach, where another unhinged protagonist compares survivalism to video games.
3) The aliens in Breakers are pretty one-dimensional. They don’t talk; they just wave their tentacles, round up humans like cattle, or incinerate them with laser pop-guns. Yes, this is somewhat creepy, but it’s also the M.O. of the Martians in Mars Attacks. Breakers is the first book in a series, and there are hints that there’s more to the aliens than meets the eye, so maybe this complaint is addressed in future books.
4) The ending. Robertson opts to split the characters up on converging paths to the climax. This is my all-time favorite structure for an action ending, since the first time I saw Return of the Jedi. Yes, in my opinion, Return of the Jedi has one of the best endings in action-adventure history. Luke in a battle of wills with his father and the most evil man in the universe… Han and Leia leading a jungle assault… Lando hurtling toward the Death Star… Even when you consider those cutesy, Teddy-Graham-looking Ewoks, it’s still a great finale.
Robertson’s multiple climaxes (OK that doesn’t sound right) wrap the book up in a very satisfying way. And that’s something to celebrate. “Yub nub!” As those damn Ewoks would say.