This isn't so much post-apocalyptic as during the apocalypse. As the title suggests, this is a soft apocalypse, i.e., there's no one apocalyptic event, there's a series of smaller events that cumulatively lead to the disintegration of society. It's an interesting premise but there are some problems with it.
I was hoping it would start with the present day but the first chapter takes place a little over a decade into the future. Each chapter is 6 months or more in the future.
I like the idea of a soft apocalypse, but there's a difference between a soft apocalypse in one country and something that's world wide. If it's world wide I need an explanation. There's a vague reference to global warming but that's about it. I feel like some of the apocalyptic events weren't necessarily thought out very well. There's a reference to water riots in Arizona, which I can certainly see happening. But parts of Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, are a desert. California has been in the grip of a massive drought for years. Even the eastern part of my state, which is agricultural couldn't be sustained without irrigation from the western part of the state. So what's happening? Are aquifers drying up? Becoming contaminated? Are states no longer honoring their water contracts?
Food is scarce but the focus seems to be on distribution problems rather than production. But there's no real explanation for why distribution is such a problem (prior to a release of invasive bamboo). Is it that the roads haven't been maintained or something else? Is it that the problems with production (and certainly there would be if there's a massive water shortage) supposed to be inferred?
At least two nuclear bombs go off and while there is concern about an irradiated water source no one expresses concern about a nuclear winter even though that would create further problems with food production, not to mention staying warm.
I'm also a little irritated by the notion of environmentalists making a situation worse because they think there needs to be a massive die off of the human population to save the earth which is something I've also seen in other books.
The problem here is that environmentalists create a particularly invasive form of bamboo to "slow down" cities. They want to make it harder to move around and distribute goods, including food. But any real environmentalist would never deliberately plant a horrifically invasive species that would kill almost all the native species in the area. It would destroy ecosystems, probably beyond any possibility of recovery.
I also doubt very much that we'd have the technology to create designer viruses in little more than a decade.
It's interesting that McIntosh has a note at the end about hoping people will want to visit Savannah despite his portrayal of it as civilization crumbles. I never got a strong sense of place from this story. It seemed like generic American small town (not even a city) and for a while I thought maybe it took place in the northeast.
I thought Jasper's focus on finding true love was strange. In normal society, okay, fine. But the world is literally falling apart, millions, maybe billions are starving or on the verge of starvation, they're living hand to mouth and he uses a dating service? I get random hookups and I get falling in love with someone who belongs to your tribe or that you meet along the way. But most of his mental and emotional energy seems to be spent on finding "the one" rather than survival. It just doesn't ring true to me. It's not that I think "true love" is something reserved for people above subsistence levels, I just think if you don't know where your next meal is coming from you'd be more focused on that than finding love.
I through Jasper's (and McIntosh?)suggestions about why Deidre killed herself was interesting. Maybe it was that she was afraid to be happy but I would the real reason was the violation of who she was. It's one thing to choose the happy virus, something else again to know it's been forced on you, to realize that you'll no longer be yourself, your thoughts aren't really your own. If you don't know it's been done until the change has taken place, it seems to me that very change would prevent you from caring about the loss of self.
I think Ange's punishment is going to stay with me for a while. It was a terrible way to go.
I was hoping this would be the book I was looking for, the one that would give me a real sense of living in a declining country but it wasn't.