Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Made Paul Goat Allen Cry

Today I received what is quite possibly the review of a lifetime.

If you'd told me a few years ago that Paul Goat Allen - longtime reviewer for The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and Barnes & Noble - would ever deign to even *read* one of my books, I would never have believed it. But today, he wrote this:

Bottom line: The Aftertime trilogy is Littlefield’s magnum opus – just a timeless, towering work of apocalyptic fiction. And although this saga is a “must read” for fans of apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, I believe it transcends genre fiction and would appeal to anyone who reads fiction. This trio of novels gets my highest possible level of recommendation.

(See below for the rest of the review.)

Since I read those words, I've been sitting in my chair practically immobilized with gratitude, pride, and pinch-me-this-can't-be-true astonishment. I am having trouble processing this feeling. It's more than signing a contract, more than receiving a royalty check, more than seeing one's name in print for the first time. I don't say this often because it sounds - well, presumptuous. But I really do hope to write books that mean something, that alter, if only in a very small way, the experience of another person on this earth. That means more to me than any award, list, or honor I'll ever attain.

So...a big, huge thank you to Paul and to everyone who takes the time to let an author know when a book touches them. I am grateful to every reader and reviewer who takes the time to read and respond to my work. For us authors, it's the greatest gift.

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“A Monumental Post-Apocalyptic Work” – Littlefield Pens Her Magnum Opus With the Aftertime Trilogy
by paulgoatallen

Although I’ve read a ton of genre fiction during my lifetime, one of my favorite categories is – and always will be – apocalyptic fiction. I’ve even gone so far as to compile an extensive list of all of the noteworthy apocalyptic fiction releases dating back to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) and am currently in the process of trying to read them all. Many of my all-time favorite reads are apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1960), Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977), The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006), Lamentation by Ken Scholes (2009), The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010), etc.

But I’m here to tell you that Sophie Littlefield’s Aftertime trilogy (Aftertime, Rebirth and the recently released Horizon) may be one of the best post-apocalyptic sagas ever written. Initially set in the Sierra Foothills of California where a genetically modified plant inadvertently released into the world has turned much of humanity into flesh-eating Beaters, the Aftertime trilogy is simply a monumental post-apocalyptic work, a trio of novels that has gone a long way in redefining the genre. Never before has such a powerfully moving post-apocalyptic series featured such a realistic, authentic – and downright unforgettable – female lead.

The majority of post-apocalyptic fiction over the decades has characterized women as helpless, hopeless liabilities. Victims in high heels or objects to be coveted because of their ability to further the species. But – thankfully – the times, they are a-changin’. Littlefield’s iconic protagonist, Cass Dollar, is indeed a woman of the 21st century. She is a fighter, a survivor. She’s smart, courageous, and determined. She is a mother, a lover, an unlikely hero at the end of the world.

But she isn’t some badass warrioress – she is a deeply flawed everywoman who managed a convenience store before the world ended. An alcoholic who had her daughter Ruthie taken away by social workers, Cass wants nothing more than to be a good mother to her daughter… all she has to do is survive long enough to find a place where they can live free of the threat of Beaters, or murderous bandits, or starvation, or hypothermia…

Cass Dollar is a heroic character indeed but Littlefield took the idea of the self-empowered female at world’s end even further: the entire trilogy is replete with tough and tenacious female characters: like Sammi, a 14-year old girl who has lost her father to divorce and has seen her mother killed in front of her.

The message here? Women are just as strong and smart and courageous as any man. Sexual gender has absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability – or will – to survive.

But it’s so much more than female empowerment – while Littlefield has penned this sprawling, epic, end-of-the-world storyline, the ultimate message, I think, is universal and surprisingly intimate. It’s about self-forgiveness. So many of the characters in this trilogy are filled with self-hate and guilt for the mistakes that they’ve made in the past, that they’re missing out on the fleeting beauty and potential for love all around them – even if it is at world’s end! One sequence in particular struck me:

“Cass drank in the sun and dug her fingers into the earth and breathed the good air and allowed herself to wonder if maybe she was more than the sum of her addiction and her sobriety, more than just Ruthie’s mother, if maybe she’d done her penance and suffered enough and deserved something only for herself. Even with the scars and the regrets, some of her spirit remained, and some of it was good, and some of it was worthy…”

I absolutely loved Horizon – it was such a fitting way to end this trilogy – and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had tears rolling down my face as I read the last few chapters. And while the conclusion certainly wasn’t a happily-ever-after ending, Littlefield stayed true to the trilogy’s overarching theme: there is happiness and hope out there; you just have to work for it. The following excerpt, I believe, not only sums up this trilogy perfectly but also makes a great philosophy for living one’s life:

“She did not yet know the limits of her strength, but she was ready to be tested, and tested again. She would be tempted and discouraged and broken, but she would come back each time, into this world that had been bequeathed to them, into the dangers that threatened them and the joys that waited, buried but not impossible, for them to unearth and cherish.”

Bottom line: The Aftertime trilogy is Littlefield’s magnum opus – just a timeless, towering work of apocalyptic fiction. And although this saga is a “must read” for fans of apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, I believe it transcends genre fiction and would appeal to anyone who reads fiction. This trio of novels gets my highest possible level of recommendation.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've got to read this. Lucky I found it
Annette

Josin L. McQuein said...

Wow - that's an awesome comment by any standard, but coming from who it did... just WOW.

Congrats. Let yourself float around the room for a while, but don't forget to come back down. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have to say i was sceptic to these books at the start, but after a couple of chapters i was hooked.Im doing audiobooks only and found yours on audible.

Grats for the good reviews.

Anyway.. Thanks for the hours u gave me with good reading.

Greetings from a old Viking from Norway

;)
Torgeir

Sophie Littlefield said...

Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. Like Josin said...floating around the room :)

Judith Starkston said...

Congratulations! I'm so happy for you, but not surprised at the praise you've gotten from such a respected source. Enjoy cloud 9. You deserve it.