A Tidy Armaggedon is a post-apocalyptic novel released April 25, 2023 from Canadian publisher ECW Press. Written by B.H. Panhuyzen, it’s a sombre and subdued story about the strangest apocalypse I’ve ever encountered.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
What’s it About?
The world is utterly transformed: every product of human creation has been organized by an unknown hand into a vast grid of nine-story blocks, each comprised of a single item type: watering cans, lighthouses, fake Christmas trees, helicopters, plastic spoons, and everything else Earth’s culture and technology have ever produced, stacked in homogenous towers and separated by a maze of passageways.
Navigating this depopulated environment, a small contingent of diverse soldiers tries to make sense of this enigmatic apocalypse while desperately searching for survivors. They are led by Elsie Sharpcot, a Cree woman who has endured the military’s rampant racism and misogyny, and Dorian Wakely, her PTSD-afflicted second-in-command. Both veterans of the war in Afghanistan, they lead a group of army misfits while they all struggle — against the elements and each other — to survive.
Passing with fear and wonder through this museum of human achievement, provisioning themselves from its resources, the group races to outrun the approaching winter and find a home.
This book is the furthest apocalypse from Mad Max that you can get. Instead, it’s a transfixing and brilliant attack on consumerism and, in a way, humanity’s inability to look before we leap. A great deal of our progress, this book suggests, is also our downfall, much like the words of Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm:
It’s hard to describe what this book is without ruining the magic of jumping in blind. Without saying too much, the soldiers in the story are attempting to find their way through these seemingly never-ending stacks upon stacks of … stuff. It’s fascinating in that the reader and the characters have no idea what’s going on or why these things have been accumulated. It’s hard to tell whether the novel is meant to be literal or some sort of collective dream or simulation – which is part of the fun. What it definitely is, though, is a critique of humanity’s penchant for making so much stuff. It has a real environmental focus in a way that isn’t subtle but also isn’t didactic or placing blame. I thought it was well-balanced (but it could also be because I’m definitely on board with anything that critiques wastefulness or has an environmental message).
The book is a bit slow (which I don’t mind, though other readers might find it drags a little), and while there is an ending, or, more so, an explanation, I can understand if people don’t find said ending entirely satisfactory. I love an ending that makes you ponder, so it worked very well for me. I also like a ponderous novel, and I had trouble putting this book down at night.
This novel definitely has a found family aspect. In this case, it’s the soldiers: Sharpcot, Wakely, LeClerc, Virago, Tse, Deeks, Loko, and Bronski. They are a diverse bunch, with a lot of women for a military unit, but the very fact of their unit’s makeup is explained in a way that points out the racism and sexism that still exists in the military. I really enjoyed the gender parity of the group, as it allowed the women to be more open and vulnerable, which in turn led the men to do so. While all the characters are soldiers, only three are seasoned, with the rest being privates barely out of basic training. Deeks was my favourite, as she was always making sarcastic jabs and quips. I couldn’t stand Bronski, but despite his rather abrasive personality, he also wasn’t vilified. He, like the others, felt real. It’s third-person slightly omniscient, as it jumps around at times into other characters’ heads but stays mainly with Sharpcot and Wakely.
The plot is both straightforward and decidedly not. It’s a survival story, but not the type you usually encounter in an apocalypse.
If you want an almost literary fiction apocalypse novel (like The Road or Station Eleven) that contains quite a few tropes but in ways you don’t expect, you should totally check this out. I thought it was fantastic.
A Tidy Armageddon is available wherever books are sold.