A Beginning at the End: Personal struggles in a post-apocalyptic world

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Beginning at the End by Mike Chen science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A Beginning at the End (2020) is set in a near-future world where, in 2019, a deadly worldwide pandemic kills some five billion people, including seventy percent of the U.S. population. Johanna Moira Hatfield, a teenage pop music star known as Mojo, tired of being browbeaten by her stage father, Evan, uses the sudden panic at her Madison Square Garden concert to disappear into the crowd in search of a new life.

Six years later, in San Francisco in 2025, MoJo has a new name, Moira Gorman, a job, and a fiancé who she’s not really in love with, but he represents stability in a society that’s still fragile and unstable, as well as safety from her father, who’s still looking for his MoJo. Moira’s wedding planner, Krista Deal, has a somewhat similar backstory: Krista faked her own death years ago to escape her drug-addicted, dysfunctional mother. Wedding planning isn’t paying the bills, though, so when Krista hears that Evan Hatfield believes MoJo is in the San Francisco area and is offering a huge reward to anyone who can help him find her, she’s naturally interested … not realizing that her client Moira is MoJo.

Moira’s co-worker Rob Deal has his own set of tragic family issues: he lost his beloved wife to an accident during the pandemic years ago, but has never been able to bring himself to tell his seven-year-old daughter Sunny the truth about her mother’s death. Rob tells Sunny that her mother has been in medical treatment all these years, and while Sunny believes him, she’s beginning to act out. Her misbehavior at school threatens to lead to her being taken away from him by the powerful Family Stability Board. Rob’s a loner with no real friends, but perhaps his new acquaintance Krista Deal can testify to the Board as to his adequacy as a father (especially if he pays her a little money under the table)?

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

Mike Chen

Mike Chen’s A Beginning at the End was published in early 2020, so it anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic (like another duology I recently read, Tosca Lee’s The Line Between and A Single Light). Here’s it’s not the actual disaster that Chen is primarily focused on, but the aftermath and particularly the lives of this group of characters. What remains of society is being put back together in new ways: some cities are back to some semblance of normality, while others live in the lawless outskirts of society. People in general are still traumatized by the deaths of so many, including their friends and family, and the flu-like MGS virus remains a threat, with outbreaks of new variants.

Moira, Krista and Rob are emblematic of this sense of loss and distress. All three, not to mention Rob’s daughter Sunny, have serious issues to work through — though interestingly enough, their personal problems are only indirectly tied to the actual MGS pandemic. These characters are flawed but likeable, and the novel’s ultimately uplifting plot gives a timely nod to the benefits of found family (often over a problematic bio family).

A Beginning at the End is a quieter type of post-apocalyptic tale, more about interpersonal relationships and individual healing than about the larger changes caused by the worldwide pandemic. Like Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, this novel takes a more introspective approach to the aftereffects of a worldwide epidemic, but I found Mandel’s book more skillfully and lyrically told and much more compelling than A Beginning at the End, which felt rather plodding at times. The pacing and excitement picks up toward the end, but I didn’t find Chen’s characters quite interesting enough to justify all the time spent on their personal struggles, as opposed to exploring more deeply the broader, more intriguing changes in this post-apocalyptic society.

Published in 2020. Four survivors come together as the country rebuilds in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic. A character-driven postapocalyptic suspense with an intimate, hopeful look at how people can move forward by creating something better. Six years after a virus wiped out most of the planet’s population, former pop star Moira is living under a new identity to escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world for those still too traumatized to go outside, but she never reaches out on her own behalf. Rob has tried to protect his daughter, Sunny, by keeping a heartbreaking secret, but when strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again. Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny meet by circumstance and their lives begin to twine together. When reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose. Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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