Kali - Destroyer of Worlds by Mike Kuykendall
File Size: 1084 KB
Print Length: 386 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1501030469
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author's website: http://mike-kuykendall.blogspot.com
Several years ago I read an article in, as I recall, the New Yorker about the problem of suicides at San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. I've sailed under the bridge once or twice and have driven across it many times. The road surface of the Golden Gate is about 200 feet above the bay, a little more than two thirds of a football field. From the water, the bridge certainly looks high, but to a New Yorker, not that high.
The Golden Gate is the second most popular suicide spot in the world, ranking only behind China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Third place is held by Japan's Aokigahara Forest. Since the bridge was finished in 1937, an estimated 1600 people have leaped to their death from the span. The precise number will never be known because many people are not spotted jumping and/or never recovered after they impact with the bay. If you are one of the very few who survive the fall, you're going to be hurt, the water is cold, the tides swift, and fish have to eat too.
The physics of the jump are grim. It will take you about four seconds to reach the water and you'll hit it at a speed of approximately 75 mph ( 120 km/h), then decelerate to zero in a fraction of a second. Your organs are going to want to keep going and thus your heart, lungs, spleen, etc will often rupture or tear free of your interior. Multiple bone fractures are a given. Most people die almost immediately, but about 5% of jumpers don't, drowning in the cold water or thrashing about as they bleed internally to death.
The article was mordant but interesting reading, but the part I found most compelling was the observation of a man who was one of the 34 people who are documented to have jumped and survived. He told the writer of the article that as he lept off the side of the bridge and the plunge became irrevocable, he realized nothing in his life was so bad as to justify the action he'd just taken.
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, begins at just such a moment. The chief protagonist, 12 year old Rebecca Wilder (no, this is not a YA title), has walked almost an hour into the woods intent on cutting her wrists open and ending her life. Parentless, a temporary resident in a series of foster homes, and deeply disturbed, Rebecca succeeds in opening an artery and begins to bleed to death. Like the Golden Gate jumper, the hard reality of death makes her rethink her decision. Unlike the jumper, she's in a position to change the trajectory of her choice and scrambles to stop the flow of her life's blood.
As she does, all hell breaks loose.
Hell, in Destroyer of Worlds, are two nearby but undetected neutron stars, each approximately 13 km in diameter, that collide, releasing blasts of gamma, X-Rray and microwave radiation from each body's pole. A neutron star is what's left over when a star about two times our Sun's mass comes to the end of its life cycle and ejects its outer layers. (Ten times our mass and you end up with a blackhole. What's created by stars in between that range is unknown, but I bet there's a good Scif-Fi yarn in there somewhere.)
The resultant beams of pure destruction intersect with Earth in the vicinity of northern Virginia, incinerating Washington, DC and hundreds of miles of the eastern US. A follow up blast of microwaves then slowly roasts many of the exposed survivors, leaving the US in ruins and the rest of the world in chaos.
This vision of the apocalypse is not pure speculation. Over the years, several scientists have theorized that some of the mass extinctions that have taken place in prehistory were caused by events of this type. And you'll be happy to know that there are detectable neutron binary systems spinning in our section of the galaxy, with the closest estimated to be about 1,500 light years away. If/when the two stars finally collide, they could be trouble. (I know I've given some of you something new to worry about, but, after all, you don't read a book such as Kali if you think the universe is all lollipops and fluffy bunnies.) And I thank God and Mike that I didn't have to read more about global warming and the UN.
Paradoxically, the arrival of Armageddon on Earth saves Rebecca's life. Positioned literally in the eye of the radioactive storm, she survives as everything around her dies. The abrupt decapitation of a unfortunate bicyclist by a flying chunk of doomed airliner enables her to crudely stitch her mutilated wrist back together using a bike spoke as a makeshift needle and bit of yarn from her frayed sweater as thread. (One of many "makes you wince" moments you'll experience in Destroyer of Worlds.)
As the maelstrom continues to rage around her, Rebecca goes insane and is reborn as Kali, the Indian goddess or aspect of death, time and change. The exact details of this transformation are left ambiguous in the novel. Has Rebecca actually been possessed, or is her new persona simply a manifestation of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia? It is left to the reader to decide. But regardless, as Kali makes her way through the post-apocalyptic landscape, it quickly becomes apparent that ending up on her bad side is a ticket out of this plane of existence.
There are other survivors of the disaster whose fates we follow. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who realize they are doomed but decide to remotely attempt to remove the fingers of America's surviving military commanders off their nuclear triggers. The first Hindu American sub commander (a nice juxtaposition with our eponymous heroine) who slaughters his own crew and waits alone beneath the waves in an Ohio-class boomer for the orders that will enable him to unleash his ICBM's against the enemy, any enemy. A drunk who finds himself transformed into a local sherrif caring for a group of dazed survivors. The inevitable religious fanatic.
One character's fate in particular stands out in the novel. It is Abe Renson, a cancer-riddled dump truck operator who is caught in the irradiation zone while eating lunch and paralyzed in place. Over the course of several days, Abe slowly transforms into...something while feeling every moment of the process. It's a powerful scene that's compelling but painful to read. A literary equivalent to a scene in one of those Saw movies where someone gets to watch a needle sloowwlly approach their eyeball or is required to partially dismember themselves to escape a trap.
And obviously, when the transformation is over, Abe rises to play his part in the fun and ruin taking place outside the diner.
I'm not going to reveal any spoilers in Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, but I will say the book ends on a note of hopefulness (and many less characters than when it started). I found Kuykendall's writing style compelling. After a while, you feel like you're living the story, not reading it. But if you like to start the day humming a tune from Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, this is not the book for you. Unless you like to carry a chainsaw while singing a few lines of "The Hills Are Alive."
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds is a gruesome, grim, well-written apocalyptic tale that bores a bit into your soul. Professionally edited and written. Not exactly good fun but more like a roller coaster ride through Hell. If this genre is your thing, buy it.
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