Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire. It’s an apocalypse, all right.

pocket-apocalypse

Read December 2016
Recommended for fans. Forgiving ones.
 ★     1/2

It’s an apocalypse, all right–a three-hundred page written disaster.

I’ll be blunt. I don’t read this series for the gorgeous writing; I read for the fun menagerie of fantastical animals. Pocket Apocalypse feels even more tossed off than is usual for McGuire, the majority of the writing a workmanship ‘telling.’ It’s a style that works when one is going through unusual locations, as in Discount Armageddon (New York City sewers), introducing non-human sapients in Midnight Blue-Light Special (math-loving cuckoos), or unusual creatures in Half-Off Ragnarok (frickens). But Pocket brings nothing new to the storytelling table and leaves out all that was good. . Instead, Alex Price is taking leave from the zoo to venture to his girlfriend’s Australian home to deal with an outbreak of werewolves.

The book feels like a novella with a couple of short stories tacked on. It begins with a flashback where Alex froze in a confrontation with a werehorse. Never mind that we’ve heard all about the drills Alex’s parents put their kids through, or the almost-lethal games the siblings would play. Sigh. It’s followed by a short episode in which Alex’s assistant Dee follows him on a research trip to look at some migrating screaming yams. Although Dee is a gorgon, with actual snakes for hair, she completely disbelieves the plants exist. Then, instead of the purported migration, we find a circle of plants that moves a few feet when they are disturbed. It’s the first hint that neither character (why a Gorgon who works with unusual species such as basilisks would disbelieve Alex) nor world-building are particularly consistent (they plants move in response to disturbance and hibernate in the winter. By definition, that isn’t migration). So much for descriptive precision in our lead scientist character. We’re off to Australia. Sort of. First we have to argue with the grandparents and get the Aeslin mice through security.

The writing is tedious. Potentially cute anecdotes such as mice on the plane are marred by eye-rolling PSAs about deep vein thrombosis and snooze-worthy explanations of things that really don’t need explanation: “Again, I chose not to argue. If it meant the mice were happy and under control for the duration of flight, they could raid the minibar as much as they wanted… The mice could find their own way. They’d managed to wander off without my assistance, after all.” Too. Many. Meaningless. Words. Oh, and Alex’s main reaction to other people talking? Blinking. A lot.

Hope that things would improve when Alex reached Australia were doomed. The Australian dynamics were less about werewolves and more about Alex’ interactions with his girlfriend Shelby’s family. Her dad somehow characterizes Alex as ‘Covenant,’ which hasn’t been true for generations and makes no sense given the completely opposite philosophies. He’s also provincial enough that he resents an ‘outsider’ despite needing information about weres. Honestly, if I was Australian, I might be a little bit offended, as the locals come off like nothing so much as insular, gun-toting reactionaries that tend to race for their guns and can’t ask an analytical question to save their lives. I suppose it is supposed to come off as Alex and Shelby vs Australia, but instead it just feels like a couple of people in the middle of stupid, illogical infighting in the middle of a stupid, illogical group (their solution to body storage? A locked unrefrigerated shed). 

Plotting goes off the rails here. Although Alex is supposed to be ‘expert’ he really doesn’t have much to offer–all they do at home is kill weres asap. When challenged that the Australians could just rely on ‘lore,’ Alex claims he knows something new: a ‘cure’ that may kill as much as it saves. Interestingly, once he makes a single attempt to create the ‘cure,’ it isn’t mentioned again. There’s also a lot of confusing bits about how loupism is a virus that effects anything over 70 pounds or so. We know this from Alex’ history with the werehorses with herbivore teeth and suspiciously hoof-like appendages, but later in the book we’re told that the original species of animal is indistinguishable after transformation. It’s like information Alex supplies becomes whatever is needed at the time; there’s no laid-out explanation for the stupid Australians. When Alex takes an initial opportunity to share information with the group, he tells them it could be a nation-wide disaster, followed with the obvious advice of monitoring bitten people for 28 days and to try and track down the source patient.

It’s just a mess for me, missing the humor, the fun and the creativity of the other books in the series and replacing it with a low-grade description of the worst visit-the-girlfriend’s-parents saga ever. Since the plotting relies on an unbelievable amount of stupidity and closemindedness followed by convenient discoveries that have almost nothing to do with actions of the leads, it isn’t enjoyable on a mystery level. I missed the creative new creatures. Though there’s a ‘Field Guide’ at the end of the book, it is an unnecessary device as everything centered on the werewolves. Honestly, I’d only recommended it if you love everything McGuire does.

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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6 Responses to Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire. It’s an apocalypse, all right.

  1. neotiamat says:

    Ouch. Mind, while I’ve not read this book, I’ve read enough of McGuire’s other late-series stuff to suspect that it is very accurate. It’s weird, her series tend to *start* very well, and then….

    • thebookgator says:

      You make an excellent point–I’ve found that to be true as well, except with the October Daye series, in which book one and two feel like she’s finding her feet. I liked Feed, I loved the first in this series, and think her short stories in this series are fun. Her strengths are normally world-building, not really plotting.

      • neotiamat says:

        Agreed. She’s very good at world-building, she’s good at raw writing (language, dialogue, basically making it all easy to read and flow well), and her characters are usually interesting if not overly deep. Plotting tends to be fairly rudimentary, yes.

        I suspect that at a certain point, the world-building runs out, the weakness of her plotting then comes out, and the characters gradually wear out their welcome. It is sometimes faster, sometimes slower (I think the Toby Daye series does decline, but it lasts strongly until, oh, book 8-ish or so, while Velveteen goes off the rails with book 3).

        I have not actually read Feed — how similar is it to her other work?

      • thebookgator says:

        You nailed it. World-building starts to fall apart and the characters start to feel too similar to all the others. Feed… first person, which seems to be the voice she likes. Interesting world-building (zombie outbreak with need to test, etc), interesting lead character(s). Falls off badly with plotting, particularly near the end. 🙂 So, in that sense, like all of her stuff. 😀 You know my zombie fascination, so that part was reasonably fun for me.

  2. Karl says:

    I don’t read McGuire, after your excellent review, I don’t see me starting to either. A nice job in doing a public service !

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