Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

Rating:  ★★★

This is a story about what happens after the “end of the world”. We follow four characters and their intertwining stories: Moira (or MoJo) an ex pop star trying to escape her past and stay hidden from her father, Rob, a widower figuring out how to move on with life after the tragic passing of his wife, Krista, a woman trying to make something of herself and forget her terrible childhood, and Sunny, Rob’s daughter, a kid growing up in a post apocalyptic world.

The story started fairly strong. I liked all the characters. They seemed fully fleshed out. They were mostly likable. They had their own wants and needs and desires. Their stories and the way they intersected was interesting, even if a little mundane (think wedding planning, parent teacher conferences, etc.).

Here’s the thing. When a book says “post apocalyptic” I’m expecting there to be much less civilization present. The world building didn’t make a lot of sense to me for a post apocalyptic story. Most of the Earth’s population was wiped out by a flu virus (think 1 billion left alive out of 7 billion). Some people have gathered in the cities and are trying to rebuild. They still have internet, cell phone service, and apparently french fries and cheeseburgers. Most people suffer from what they call “PASD” or, “Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder”. They go to group meetings for support. They hire bounty hunters to find their loved ones.

Some pockets of people reject that way of life and go out to start a new way of life centered around farming. Others apparently remain as bandits and gangs in the deserted lands between the cities. The world just seemed too populated to really be considered “post apocalyptic”. Was the flu a major disaster? Sure. But nothing about the world really felt like it ended. Things in post apocalyptic life in the metro centers seem mostly normal. There is still flight travel and buses and customs checks and such. I guess in the end I just didn’t buy into the world building.

It was really driven home when one random character states the metro(s) of New England are still struggling due to winter storms while Minneapolis was doing alright. Minneapolis gets more snow then much of New England. South of New Hampshire and Vermont (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut) winter is actually pretty mild. Where I’m from, it’s rare that snow lasts more than a week. New England just isn’t that fragile. I realize this is one tiny line in the whole book, and yeah, sometimes southern New England has a brutal winter, but as a whole it felt overwhelmingly under researched.

Another example (warning, spoilers ahead) is when the government decides that Sunny would be better off without her dad because her dad, who holds a job and raises her alone and yeah, is grieving, but otherwise okay, is “unstable”.  And in order to rebuild society, family units need to be stable.

You know what will screw up a kid real fast? Being ripped from a loving home. Again, I just don’t buy it. Whatever Rob did was done out of love. He was not abusive. He did not abuse alcohol or drugs. He was providing. Taking a seven year old away from her only family is about the quickest way I can think of to destabilize them. Sure, government workers are sometimes incompetent, but in this book none of it rang true. (Aside from the very obvious, why doesn’t Rob just pack up with Sunny and move?!)

The nature of this story is more sappy sweet than I like, and for it to work there are a lot of conveniences built in. I did read through it fairly quickly, and it could be entertaining if you are willing not to look too closely at it. People will likely compare this to Station Eleven, and those comparisons aren’t entirely inaccurate, but unfortunately, A Beginning at the End is simply not as well done.

A Beginning at the End releases on January 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

36 thoughts on “Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

    • I liked the optimism of this one- but the world building just didn’t feel logical. They still have power for the most part…. it just didn’t feel post apocalyptic. Which is of course, what drew me to it. Lol. Either way- I think it’s safe to skip!

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  1. Sounds like this was a good premise that just didn’t work quite the way it could have. Oh well. I do agree, though, hope and optimism in post-apocalyptic books is important also. (It’s not a requirement of course, but they can’t always be dark and depressing.)

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  2. With a post-apocalyptic novel, I would assume everything is very raggedly in the style of Road Warrior, or perhaps people are starting to rebuild. If the world is still fairly “as is” in current society, I’m not sure what makes that post-apocalyptic. Sounds more like post-pandemic.

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  3. You’ve explained the issues in this book really clearly Sarah! It’s not always easy to sum up how the small inconsistencies can let a book down, such is the case in this story. It’s a shame as it seemed to have so much potential from the synopsis. Awesome review!

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    • Thanks! It is a shame because it was a decent story if you aren’t digging too deeply, but it started with that New England storms thing and I sort of laughed. Construction and road projects and whatnot continue year round here. Saturday and Sunday it was in the 60s. And that spurred me to look at other stuff and then it just sort of fell apart. Really not a bad book, I liked it more than not, just the world building never came together for me.

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  4. This is a very strange post-apocalyptic world, indeed! Granted, the very thinned-out population would not leave the world in total disarray like a climatic upheaval, or an asteroid impact, and it stands to reason that civilization could survive – but not as intact as you describe it in this novel: if only one in seven individuals survives, we could expect the loss of many people able to make civilization work. There might not be enough doctors, for example, to keep hospitals functional; or not enough technicians to keep the lights on and the water running, and so on, while it seems that nothing of the above happens. Very puzzling premise, to say the least… 🤔

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    • Sorry Maddalena- I totally missed this the first time around. There are hints of power being off and on and such, but the biggest thing for me is the food. A lot of our food is imported- and farms take so much hard work (and electricity!) to run. I just had a hard time believing beef was easily available? Then again, maybe with less mouths to feed it’s easier to scale everything down. I’m no expert, it’s just not what I expected when a book says “post apocalypse”.

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      • Food would indeed be a big problem if not THE big problem: there have to be enough farmers to grow fruits and vegetables, and to raise cattle – not to mention harvest and butcher and distribute. If so many people have gone, things could not be so… peachy as I understand they are described…
        Or maybe we are too used to see the kind of world described in The Walking Dead by now… 😉

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      • Haha! I actually never watched past the first season of walking dead. I’m not sure why. I think it felt too… soap opera ish for me?

        But yeah- food was what I got hung up on in this book. Restaurants were still open and such, and it’s mentioned that some of the people who stay in communes farm, but in that situation I’d expect only excess is going to market, not that they were farming enough to supply whole restaurants in metros.

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  5. Appreciate your thoughts on this one even though I liked it a lot more lol. I feel like the post-apocalyptic stuff worked okay, there wasn’t a total collapse and you can see an effort being made to restore infrastructure. Also that the cities have walled off certain areas and sort of become much smaller, there was a feel for that–and how they were trying to encourage people to populate them with the veil of ‘safety’. But also there’s the dystopian element of government control after this disaster which is the family unit thing and the stricter control of who should be responsible for the children. I agree that Rob didn’t do anything wrong–things were done from love. I think if the event that keeps heading up each chapter (where people mysteriously left/died/who knows) was explained more we’d get a better feel for why these controls are in place. I read it as the government being afraid to lose more people, and especially kids, so if the parent is not dealing with themselves and their own mental health properly (what Rob did to Sunny was understandable but also speaks to a greater issue within himself and his inability to confront his own reality with the death of his wife) I can kind of see things from a paranoid government’s point of view. The reality is that things may seem like ‘everything is under control, the world is back to normal, carry on’ but everything could so easily collapse. This is also why the gov. is controlling what media goes out to the general public too.
    Anywho. Sorry you didn’t like this one more and sorry for the essay LOL 😀

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    • Don’t be sorry- I appreciate your thoughts too! And I see where your coming from- I didn’t get that sense of urgency from the text about everything collapsing- but it’s definitely a valid point and the world building makes much more sense when viewed under that light. I guess I just would have liked to see more disruption to drive that point Home. Like when the 2nd flu outbreak started- why wait two days to shut down travel? Why wouldn’t you do it ASAP? I guess maybe I had too many questions.

      I did enjoy the characters and their stories and think it was great when I wasn’t looking too closely at the details.

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      • That makes sense too and I get it because I also LOVE post-apocalyptic stuff and part of the fun of it for me is always the collapse of society thing, but I think in this case the author was trying to tell a story that even when the world is crap there can be hope so I didn’t mind that he skipped a lot of the ‘downfall’ part and instead shows us a society in recovery.
        Yeah, I was annoyed that the government didn’t say something sooner too, like what were they waiting for, but also I got the sense again that they were trying not to panic people because of that mysterious event of people disappearing, like holding people together was another aspect of public safety when viewed in the light that the people were providing resources in the form of labor and money for the cities so they didn’t want them to leave (I remember there being a fee for people to live in the city).

        Anyway, I guess this one just hit the right notes for me lol. I’m glad that you enjoyed some aspects of it! 🙂

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      • It’s not in any way a bad book! And I didn’t mean to make it seem that way. I just felt a couple things were off. If he had dragged it out for 500 pages I might’ve been more upset, but I’m not sorry to have read it. I enjoyed it more than not and in the beginning I loved it! And I love the message of hope! It was just as more details were revealed I had more and more questions.

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    • You know, I have to wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if they hadn’t called it “post apocalyptic” and instead just said “post pandemic”. Because I wouldn’t have had so many questions/hang ups if I wasn’t thinking “Apocalypse”. Either way- this is safe to skip. Glad I could help!

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  6. Pingback: Month in Review: January 2020 | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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