Customer Reviews: One
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"One" paints an uncompromising portrait of the world's end. Though bearing echoes of preceding post-apocalyptic works, it blazes an original trail by instilling a numbing atmosphere of stark, stripped down survival. Man has fallen down the evolutionary ladder, and it's doubtful as to whether he'll rise, ever again.

In a flash, ethereal fire wipes away everything. Richard Jane is an undersea diver employed by an oil company. He and his team are submerged at the time of the 'Event', protected by miles of sea overhead. It comes with a crackling hiss of the intercom, then an underwater downpour of dead, bleeding fish - everywhere. Jane and his team are the only ones to initially survive, their entire company on the surface killed.

Of his comrades, Jane alone makes it to shore. From there begins an agonizing trek to London. What's happened? Who's at fault? Was the cause natural, mechanical...or war? Eventually, Jane encounters others, even welcomes a nurse and a young boy as his regular companions, but deep inside one desire smolders into an obsession: get to London, find his only son Stanley, the joy of his life. Has Stanley survived the world's end, is he numbered among the dead...or has something much, much worse happened to him?

Years pass. Survivors band together in pockets all over London. Something like life continues, but it is hard, emaciated, caustic. Still nothing is known about the 'Event', except this: after it, something came on the winds, from the sky and beyond...and infested the dead. They now walk, blindly, senseless, devouring human men and dragging off the women for awful, unknown designs. A desperate plan has been hatched to raft across the London Channel, yet Jane still hunts the dark, wet corners of a crumbling London, despondently searching for a son he no longer believes has survived... but still can't let go of, regardless.

Though post-apocalyptic tales have been "done before", Conrad avoids all the obvious cliches. Even the requisite "zombies" read differently, though they do bear a resemblance to those in "The Rising" and "Dead City" because wildlife is infected, also. However, Conrad proves an oft-argued point: a horror staple doesn't have to be dried up or over-told. The real center of this novel is Jane's sense of loss, his quest to find Stanley. In many ways, everything else serves as compelling backdrop matter.

Also, William's vision of a post-apocalyptic world is very realistic. There's no grand battle for humanity's future ("Terminator: Salvation"). There's no Mother Abigail drawing together good souls against a didactic evil like Randall Flagg ("The Stand"). There aren't even diabolical zombies readers can root against, such as Brian Keene's wonderful creations, led by the maniacal Ob ("The Rising"). There's no kitschy explanation of the "Event". Just a horrible end, scrabbling survivors, new kinds of predators, and slim hope for all.
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on June 28, 2010
I am an avid reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and happened to stumble upon this work. After reading several reviews I decided to give it a try. I wished I hadn't.

I wanted to quit after roughly 30%. I pressed on hoping I had just hit a rough patch. After 75%, I found that I had to force the "on" switch of my Kindle.

The initial apocalyptic event is interesting and imaginative, yet the author stumbles on several small technical details early on. Oh well, we can overlook those. The main plot of the first part of this story holds it's consistency; our hero is determined to return home to his 5 year old son and is forced to walk a considerable distance, but it's in the details that the author looses credibility. As an example, the author illustrates our hero enduring a dust storm only several paragraphs after telling us about the incessant rain. Is it hot or is it cold? It's windy, but quiet? It is difficult to form a mental image of the stage where this story is set when the details keep shifting.

OK, so our story has no credibility due to inconsistency, but every great story is truly about the characters, right? It's in the arena of character development this story falls apart. After finishing 75% of the story I believe our hero has the weakest stomach on the planet as the author has described him vomiting no less than 15 times. Throughout the entirety of the work there are innumerable long flashbacks as the main character thinks about his son and remembers their time together. By the halfway mark of this story I was convinced I had experienced every excruciating detail of the child's five years. The second part of this story occurs ten years after the initial event and yet our hero continues to have a pathological fixation on this boy. I understand where some madness would be commonplace and understandable in the story the author is telling here, but don't ask the reader to share it.

As much as I wanted to enjoy this story, I couldn't. If you are willing to skip paragraphs or more accurately, pages and pages of erroneous, confusing, and illogical detail, to get to a somewhat interesting plot maybe it's for you.
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on January 28, 2010
"One" is my first exposure to Conrad Williams. It is a brutally disturbing story, unflinching in its depiction of the collapse of civilization and the struggle of humans to survive when everything has been stripped away.

I am an avid post-apocalyptic fan...rehearsing the end of the world from my reading chair is one of my favorite things to do (yeh, I am a sick puppy). Williams story here is a brilliant one, no doubt. The only clue to what actually causes the world's end is in the "introduction", where he thanks a scientist for helping him understand the effects of a gamma ray burst. The story begins with something causing massive death from what looks like microwaves cooking humanity from the inside out. Nothing works, the sky is blasted, corpses litter the landscape...and it seems as if Richard Jane, the story's protagonist, may be the only survivor.

I like the fact that Williams never attempts to explain what destroyed the planet, or even if it is a global or localized phenomenon. What he deals with is the raw human emotions of loss, fear, rage, and bitter confusion. And hope, as Jane searches for his son and joins with other survivors who are just looking for a way to survive.

The story takes an odd twist just beyond the midway point, when a dust that has settled over the bodies of the dead turns out to be something other than dust. A strange new take on the zombie story results, and it is graphic, disturbing and shocking. The story moves inexorably to an ending which really resolves nothing, but is literate in the way it communicates how one man finds hope in the midst of hopelessness.

It is brilliantly conceived story, and has strong emotional impact. Williams is a master of portraying both external and internal landscapes, of getting into people's hearts and heads, and in making you squirm with disgust at the horror of a nightmare existence.

My only problem with the book is that the language is dense; it seems as if Williams is trying to make his mark as a literate horror writer. I possess a Master of Arts degree, and am working towards a Ph.D. I have written and published before. However, I stumbled over his wording, his use of descriptive language and his phrasing. His paragraphs were not structured well (in my humble opinion) and I often found myself having to re-read a page or two to follow the narrative. It may be an editing problem, but I suspect he was trying to come off as a poetic just got confusing and obtuse, at times.

Not always, though...and that is why I rate this a 4.5. It ranks as one of the best post-apocalyptics I have read...and I do appreciate a more literary (and brutalizing) approach to story telling...something that does not flinch from the horror of the story.

Highly recommended...and I have already ordered two more of Williams books.
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on July 16, 2010
...but it was a mix of too many things. Clearly it started as a story about loss, about a father who was losing his son long before the world suddenly ended. The science and mechanics of everything were way off as well, but that was just a distraction. It was that the narrative descended into madness at about the same pace as the protagonist, the zombies were unnecessary since the sterilization of the world or the poison dust would have sufficed as a plot driver to get them out of the UK, and the "twist" of the tiger-thing seemed to be inserted in an Agatha Christie manner just to wrap up the loose ends.

There are a long list of much better apocalypse books to choose from. Earth Abides, The Purple Cloud, or even This is the Way the World Ends, if you want a literary and literate story.
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on September 7, 2010
I will keep this brief. The book is good for the first half but the 2nd half seems to drag. He spends a lot of time throughout the book on flashbacks to his kid which, quite frankly, I skipped because it was getting quite annoying. The 2nd half of the book I feel he rushed through it leaving out the details necessary to paint a proper picture whereas these flashbacks are too detailed.

The concept was very good. I thought the ending stunk. I like a not so happy ending or a cliff hanger but in this case I was a bit bothered that the book was focused on his quest to find his son and his quest for the other part (which I wont mention) and in the end...well. I was unsatisfied.

The ultimate end was just dumb to me.
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on April 1, 2011
This book was written in two parts by the author. The first part was rather interesting. It was obvious that a catastrophic nuclear "event" caused the devistation and end to mankind as we know it. However, the actual event and what caused it is never mentioned. Also, part 2 of the book takes place 10 years later. I had to re read the first few pages of the second part before I realized that; I wasn't sure at first. Also, he immediatley had other characters in the second part which he just threw into the mix without any sort of introduction or how they met. Very confusing. Once again I had to scan over previous chapters because I thought I missed something. The book was filled with flashbacks of his family life with his son and wife which at times was a bit annoying. The ending was a bit confusing and just lacked any sort of continuity from the rest of the book.
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on April 22, 2012
I've just sat and read this book straight almost without break. Did I like it? I'm not honestly sure. I must have liked it on some level since I sat and read it, usually if I don't like a book I drop it, but this one? Hmmm.

Richard Jane is the kind of flawed hero you don't see very often, when an Event destroys the country (specifically the UK but we're never told if it's truly planet wide or not) he begins the long trek to be reunited with his beloved son Stanley. From the north of England to London and beyond, we follow Jane every step of the way hoping against hope that his son lives. The first half of the book is the initial aftermath and other than what appears to be a solar flare of some sort, we arnt given much more to go on, least of all anything supernatural, but the second half gets stranger yet with the emergence of a deeper threat to what remains of the human race.

There is no true feeling of time in the story, Jane's trek south could have taken days or weeks or years which if course, is entirely the point. Time as we know it is an artifact of our society and without watches and schedules, it means nothing. The only thing we know for sure is that the second half picks up 10 years later. I do feel that the introduction of the mystery girl was a mistake, we never truly understand what she is, only that she is part of the story and entwined somehow with Janes' destiny.

The story would have worked equally well as a pure post apocalyptic trek and my feeling is that the greater menace was perhaps a step to far, but as a piece of characterisation I was thoroughly moved. We are there, the oppressive, never-ending grey sky, the blasted remains of society and the nagging hope that goes beyond and into obsession.

Is Jane reunited with his son against all odds? You'll have to read the story for yourself. All I'll say is that the end was amongst the most beautiful and harrowing I've read in a long time. In fact, the whole story was a ride from start to finish.

Did I like it? I think I did. Yes, definitely. Just don't read it all alone in an empty house and remember to stop and smell your childrens hair once in a while.
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on November 29, 2012
Well it started out good until the supernatural stuff started and the book got weird. I liked the first 75 pages but the pages after that were kinda crappy. Theres better stuff out there to spend your money on.
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on September 25, 2010
If I could give this book three and a half stars, I would.

The apocalyptic event in this book (perhaps the gamma ray event astronomers have been worrying about) takes center stage in the protagonist's quest to get back to his son. Jane's dogged persistence is a little sad, but I don't doubt that I would feel the same way if I had to get back to my infant daughter. That part, to me, is very real.

As a matter of fact, the chronicle of post-End England is very well done and richly-drawn. However, it was the second half that fell short in my opinion. The parts about the breakdown of architecture and infrastructure under the unending acid rain is also well-told, but it's the enemy that took me out of the story. I'm not sure how I feel about the SPOILER ALERT alien-spoor zombie things.

The second half of the book takes place years and years after Jane finally makes it home, which was a mistake, I think. The book could have easily ended at the end of the first part with this second bit as a sequel, because it feels kind of tacked-on, as if the author had two separate ideas for post-apocalyptic novels but found that he didn't have enough story each for two novels.

By all means, read the book and enjoy it. It just kind of fell flat for this reader.
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on January 29, 2012
There's nothing majorly significant about this book. In fact, I found it confusing - and not in a good way. The author can certainly write, but it's an awful shame that so much of the book repeated itself. As for the constant references to the protagonist's diary and the letter from his son...yawn. I couldn't shake off the sense of disappointment toward the end because the book could have been a lot better: tense moments far and few between, menacingly confusing and repetitive, despite the brilliant imagery. Shame really.
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