NOVELS / NOVELETTES > SUMMER OF THE APOCALYPSE by James Van Pelt
SUMMER OF THE APOCALYPSE by James Van Pelt

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Cover art by Paul Swenson

When a plague wipes out most of humanity, fifteen-year-old Eric sets out to find his father. Sixty years later, Eric starts another long journey in an America that has long since quit resembling our own, but there are shadows everywhere. Shadows of what the world once was, and shadows from Eric’s past. Blood bandits, wolves, fire, feral children, and an insane militia are only a few of the problems Eric faces. Set in Denver, Colorado and the western foothills, Van Pelt’s first novel is both a coming-of-age tale, and a story of an old man’s search for hope in the midst of disaster. Eric’s two adventures lead him through a slice of modern America and into the depths of one man’s heart.


"After a deadly virus annihilates most of the world's population, 15-year-old Eric undertakes a perilous trek across a devastated Colorado landscape to find his missing father. Forging through a wasteland of abandoned autos and dead bodies, Eric survives crazed looters, wildfires, and a hangman's noose before joining a ragtag community of fellow survivors. Six decades later, after watching his brethren fall prey to illiteracy and a scavenger lifestyle, Eric embarks on another journey through a vastly transformed America, with the objective of rescuing lost knowledge from an abandoned library. His adversaries this time include wolves, feral children, and brutal survivalists. His encounters with the nastier side of human nature paradoxically provoke recognition of humanity's inherent goodness and give him hope for the inevitable renewal of civilization. Van Pelt's first novel is a solidly written, if somewhat routine, contribution to apocalyptic fiction, whose redeeming qualities arise from Van Pelt's deft subversion of contemporary, disaster-driven fears to forge a testament to the resilience of the human spirit."   Booklist

"Van Pelt is a master of the telling detail, plucked from what had been mainstream life...the most mundane items contribute to an atmosphere that's simultaneously creepy, poignant and slightly absurd. Summer of the Apocalypse takes place on both the large scale of history, as a civilization falls, and the intimate level of personal relations: family, friendship, love...you'd do well to seek it out, for this is humanist SF at its best."   Locus

"Van Pelt's first novel is a searing look at our conflicting wills to survive and destroy ourselves. It's also a nostalgic look at modern Colorado and the fragility of our civilization in a tender contrast of the hope of youth and bittersweet regrets of age."  Denver Post

"Summer of the Apocalypse [is] a rather gentle, warm, and symmetrical tale of life after a plague nearly wiped out the human species. The father-son thing is strong here. Eric and his dad. Eric and Troy. Troy and Dodge. The generational tension is clear, and so is Van Pelt's thought that the tension cannot be resolved without remembering the past in the present and passig it to the future. "Everything circled around." Is this one, like the Van Pelt collections, fare for young adults? I called it "gentle," so it would certainly fit that market segment, but it is not kid stuff. Give it a try. I think you'll enjoy it."   —Tom Easton, Analog

"If you had asked, I would have said that it was unlikely anyone could find something new to do with the after-the-plague premise, but I would have said the same thing just before Kim Stanley Robinson brought us The Years of Rice and Salt a few years back.  Van Pelt’s first novel uses it as the launch point for his story of a young man’s search for his father, a coming of age story with some strange twists, and simultaneously contrasting it to another journey by the same character, but many years later when he is approaching the end of his life.  The writing is excellent, as you would expect from his many short stories, and he really brings Eric – and his world – to life."   —Don D'Ammassa, Critical Mass

"Van Pelt creates a story here that owes a bit to Stewart's Earth Abides and King's The Stand, but at the same time is completely his own. His main character and the events that shaped his life are so moving that I haven't stopped thinking about them since I stopped reading, and there's really no higher praise I can give for a novel."  SFFaudio

"Summer of the Apocalypse is an outstanding addition to any library strong in general science fiction and post-holocaustic futuristic worlds in particular."   The Midwest Book Review

"When a pandemic wipes almost every human of the planet sometime in the early 1990s, fifteen-year-old Eric survives. Sixty years later he is the elder in a small community of scavengers living in the remains of Littleton, Colorado. Van Pelt skillfully weaves the tale of teenaged Eric in the days after the pandemic hits Colorado with the elder Eric whose fears for his grandchildren and the other children born after the apocalypse take him on a quest to the University of Colorado Library in Boulder. Van Pelt's first novel is the best post-apocalyptic novel in years."   Genrefluent

"Today, the best writers in the science fiction and fantasy genre are equal or superior to their mainstream colleagues at the craft of writing.  To illustrate the point, compare The Road with Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt.  These two novels share a strikingly similar premise: an older man and young companion(s) travel on foot over a derelict highway through a ruined America.  Consistent with Cormac McCarthy's sterling literary reputation, The Road won the Pulitzer Prize and has spent much of the past year on all the national best-seller lists.  In contrast, as befits James Van Pelt's lowly status as a mid-list writer in the science fiction genre, Summer of the Apocalypse was entirely ignored by the mainstream press."   Yet Summer of the Apocalypse is the far better novel.  The writing of Summer of the Apocalypse is subtle where The Road is only brash.  Summer of the Apocalypse develops believable, three-dimensional characters; the characters in The Road are nameless (literally) figureheads.  In The Road, Cormac McCarthy attempts to compensate for awkward writing, lack of characterization, and an aimless plot by dazzling readers with the utter bleakness of his vision of the future.  Summer of the Apocalypse is also very bleak at times, but in the framework of a compelling story. In Summer of the Apocalypse, Eric and his two young companions are trying to get to the University of Colorado library, hoping to learn why their people are suffering ever more illnesses and stillbirths.  To Eric, the university symbolizes all of mankind's past wisdom, but his journey causes him to question that wisdom.  The trip to a monument out of the past, retracing Eric's earlier journey as an adolescent, also effectively underscores Van Pelt's theme of the barriers between generations. Like the characters of Summer of the Apocalypse, James Van Pelt has a purpose; he has something to say and he says it through an engrossing story. Fantastic Reviews

"A writer with unique insight into the human condition and mind-blowing imagination. I'd read a grocery list by James Van Pelt."  —Julie E. Czerneda

"James Van Pelt is a wonderful writer, whose science fiction appeals to both the mind and the heart.  His debut novel Summer of the Apocalypse is not to be missed."  —Robert J. Sawyer 

"Every time James Van Pelt writes a story, the world gets a little richer. This time he's written a novel. You do the math."  —Jerry Oltion

"James Van Pelt commands the history of science fiction as the instruments of his narrative. His award-winning prose is informed with a deep empathy for the human condition which highlights the genre in novel ways. After the amazing Strangers and Beggars and The Last of the O-Forms, Summer of the Apocalypse marks his first foray into single-title fiction."   —Jay Lake

"His first novel is out of this world."  —Charles Coleman Finlay

"James Van Pelt is one of the most humane writers in science fiction today."   —Carrie Vaughn 

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