The tribe has spoken: Will McIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, is a fantastic page-turner about the near-future economic apocalyptic meltdown of America (and the world) and life in the aftermath. Set primarily in Savannah, Georgia, the novel takes place over the course of one decade beginning in 2023. It follows the life of the first-person narrator, Jasper, and the friends he first meets in a small band - or “tribe” - trying to cope and survive while society falls apart around them.
Besides the dire economic turmoil the country and world is experiencing, highly communicable and deadly man-made viruses are rapidly decimating the population. In one community that Jasper and his friends visit (to pick up supplies with money they have earned by selling stored energy they’ve collected) where people have been infected by one of the viruses - one that makes them move like zombies before they suffocate and die - they are called “gypsies” and blamed for bringing the disease to the town. They get out of the town just in time to avoid being shot by soldiers who are killing everyone left alive there so the sickness won’t spread further.
Jasper and his friends had high hopes growing up for bright futures, but at the start of the novel they are homeless. Jasper has to face the prejudice against the homeless and a day-to-day existence where desperate street thugs and groups of radical terrorists called the “Jumpy-Jumps,” who dress in the uniforms or costumes of the employed, think nothing of mugging, raping, and murdering. The police are stretched too thin and refuse to act when they’re told a crime is happening, even as it’s occurring near them.
One particular highlight in this novel full of memorable moments involves the abduction of one of Jasper’s friends, Ange, by men armed with rifles and her attempted rape. When the police are told about the situation, they do nothing to stop the men. Jasper and his fellow tribe members decide they need to rescue Ange themselves since the cops won’t and arm themselves with whatever they can find, like steak knives. When Jasper kills one of the men with a knife, the memory of it haunts him.
Another notable scene is when Jasper and his girlfriend at the time, a flamboyant singer called Deirdre, go to a packed local Wal-Mart when Deirdre gets a craving for Lucky Charms and apples. The workers and the manager are protected by security guards, but when a worker displays a sign that says prices will be doubled due to “the new viral crisis” which “has caused disruptions in shipping,” the customers in the store become very disgruntled.
While in the checkout line and learning that the apples and two boxes of Lucky Charms will now cost them $24.00, Deirdre initiates a riot and subsequent looting when she begins throwing the apples at the manager and security guards. A Jumpy-Jump wearing surgeon’s scrubs hurls “a can of soup at the security guard,” that hits him “above the eye.” Jasper joins everyone else in getting a grocery cart and filling it up. In the apocalyptic world that Will McIntosh describes in Soft Apocalypse, you have to do whatever you can to survive.
Soft Apocalypse foretells a future that ends not with a bang, but with a whimper (reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand( in gripping, fast-paced style. Hugo Award-winner McIntosh’s short stories have appeared in several publications and can be found in anthologies like Asimov’s Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Science Fiction: Best of 2009, and the very cool collection of zombie short stories, The Living Dead.