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Extinction Journals
Jeremy Robert Johnson
Swallowdown paperback $9.95

review by Alasdair Stuart

Dean is either the luckiest man alive, or the unluckiest man left alive. He's survived World War III, and now finds himself alone in a nuked Washington, DC, standing over the fallen corpse of the President. The President survived too, but whereas he chose a protective suit of Twinky bars, Dean chose a suit of cockroaches. The cockroaches killed the President but as near as Dean can tell, he wasn't feeling that well anyway.

Jeremy Robert Johnson's novella of the apocalypse is a supremely weird reading experience, sitting somewhere between Chuck Palahniuk and John Wyndham. On the one hand defiantly old fashioned, Johnson's story is in many ways the traditional 'last man on Earth', cut from the same cloth as Richard Matheson's I Am Legend or Harlan Ellison's A Boy And His Dog. There's the same sense of an Earth blasted flat, the same, almost embarrassed feeling of having lived through something so impossibly huge and yet somehow remaining the same. There's also the same, in this case literal, insectile sensation of something being completely and utterly wrong, of the world being horrifically broken and never setting itself right. This feeling of incomprehensibly huge horror, of catastrophe on a scale that cannot be articulated is a common thread through all apocalypse fiction with the BBC film Threads producing one of the only examples bleaker than Johnson's. This is a world that has ended and Dean, unfortunately, has not ended with it.

However, Johnson takes this traditional setting and does something utterly contemporary with it. Dean is remarkable for his normality, the same sort of flat, unexceptional young man that Palahniuk writes about in Fight Club. He's mundane, even dull, but there's something in him that makes him want to survive, that drives him to sew cockroaches to a business suit so he can survive the war. Dean is a survivor, but he doesn't deserve to be and that gives Johnson a fascinating protagonist to play with. Whether interacting with what is either an angel or an alien, wrangling his suit or finding a peace of sorts in the closing scenes, Dean is a fascinating, tabula rasa main character defined as much by his suit as by his will to live. This normality also serves to accentuate the skin crawling horror of what has happened as well as driving home the point that what is normal has been changed forever. The final scenes in particular are romantic or repulsive depending on your point of view.

Extinction Journals is a hybrid, a mutant child of 1950s' paranoia and contemporary dystopia. Bleak, funny, apocalyptic and affecting it stays with you long after you've finished it.
Extinction Journals

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