Friday, August 29, 2014

The Perseid Collapse: A Review

Steven Konkoly's The Perseid Collapse is a near future (2019)  apocalyptic novel set within the first 48 hours of the "event" and  featuring a series of bug-out and bug-ins in southern Maine and down toward Boston..  The apocalypse is left intentionally vague but has elements of an EMP-strike and a meteor strike.  The novel is part of a series, with Jakarta Pandemic (reviewed here) being a standalone prequel, but this novel being very tightly woven into the continuing storyline going forward.  It is not a true standalone novel, although I would say that the action does end a reasonable pause in the events.

Steven Konkoly lives near the coast in Southern Maine, and is now a full time writer.  I say now as when we first met him, when we reviewed the Jakarta Pandemic (2010), he was a moonlighting medical sales pro.  He has since written four other novels in addition to this one, so he is putting them out at a very quick pace.

He notes that he got help with the general preparation measure from Randy Powers of Practical Tactical, so if in his previous novel he was writing as someone who was interested in survival issues, the author is now clearly within the folds of the converted.

The title of the book comes from the Perseid Meteor Shower that occurs every year from around July 20th to August 12th each year with the shower best seeing in northern latitudes away from city lights.  Timed with this meteor shower is some sort of large meteor strike on Washington D.C. and an EMP-strike over the North American Continent.  Their some sort of distant air burst around Cape Cod, that causes a tidal wave to smash much of the Boston to Maine coastline.  Some early segues in the early introductory portion of the story leave the reader with the conclusion that this is all a secret plan by a particular group within the Chinese government.

The novel features the three neighborhood families that hung together in the Jakarta pandemic.  These families were preppers during that novel, but those events have made them up the ante  even further by adding more supplies and a bug out location further away from the populated zones.

But of course nobody is exactly where they are supposed to be, and the title wave reaches far enough inland to smash up their homes well enough that they can't just jump in their vehicles and head to safety.  And thus you get the 48 hour post event clock, presumably inspired by the Jack Bauer in the TV show 24, except that here we have both a rescue operation and a race to safety going on.

The adventure starts at Jewell Island, Maine, known for its WW2 lookout towers, where Fletcher family is sitting on a sailboat looking at the annual meteor shower.

Jewell Island, Maine (from here)

They then head home, and rescue what they can from their sodden homes, and take care of deadly naughty neighbors, and some deadly refugees from the tsunami.  At this point the group splits up.

Scarborough, Maine:  The blue dot is right next to the fire station.  The ocean is just South of the bottom of the shot (from Bing Maps: Birds eye view)
The women head 26 miles west to their lakefront bug-out home near Limerick Maine.  They of course run into naughty local yokels who failed to make the cast for the movie Deliverance by virtue of being heterosexual, and almost five-decades too late.

The destination of the bug-out: a house somewhere in the area of Limerick, Maine (More Bing: Birds eye view)
The three men head to Boston.  They will run into militia style evil local yokels on the way and have a very grand time of it.

Their target point is the Warren Towers at Boston University.

Warren Towers, 700 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Boston University:  the destination for the reverse bug-out.  Bing Maps: birds-eye view from river (looking south)
Ever the full service reviewer.  Here is one of the typical floor plans of a residential level.  Found here.

All of this, and more takes place in two days.

What is interesting is that the author has done a fair amount of prepper-style research and is clearly trying to represent a realistic, granted an exciting one, scenario.  Rather than just crib ideas from other novels, he has done some actual research on EMP strikes, and even without really coming out and saying it, admits that the known impact is not certain.  I am dubious as to the size of the effect when the source is a nuclear strike (versus solar flares), but it is nice to see somebody doing more research than just reading other fictional novels on EMP strikes.

He also spends a fair amount of time discussing and detailing contents of various types of weapons, and bug-out bags and coming up with a scenario where all of them wind up being needed.

So is this how it would all really work out, or at least something close to it?  Part of the problem is that this is the second near term apocalypse in this world, so it is arguable that people will be a little quicker to get violent this time.  They have seen it before, know it is going to get worse, so are quicker to turn evil.

But the problem with their encounters is that they seem to exist more as plot points, evil scenarios if you will, than realistic world events.  It is almost like your trapped watching the heroes playing a first person shooter video game.  Nothing has any motivation outside of how they effect the protagonists. By the time we get to the end, you have nameless, undescribed people, who our hero has never met lunging at him with knives.  Its almost like one of those Halloween haunted trails were people jump out at you to scare you. 

The concept of an evil militia is all very entertaining, but their activities are so far beyond the pale of societal norms that they appear to be escapes from the psychotic ward rather than highly opportunistic criminals.  Their activities are so risky that they are almost certain to end badly, even if our Rambo-like heroes don't show up.  It is more of an excuse to have one of those popular "apocalyptic fight for the bridge" scenes that is a staple of bugout books, than realism.  And it is set up so easy.  All the bad guys are in place, and accounted for.

This is a militia we are talking about.   Granted an evil-militia, but still a militia: military wanna-bees.  Where is the guy parked in an out of the way location with his home made ghillie suit and his Barrett .50?  They're preppers too after all.  Even if completely out of position, somebody outside unaccounted for, possibly in the woods where they are taking their captives, sorting through materials, is going to put some serious holes in our heroes.
Then you have the urban folks shooting it out with the Marines in Boston.  Why?  Marines, as is obviously shown in the novel, have an insane amount of firepower.  And not nearly enough manpower to lock down a complex environment like Boston.  Why such a small group of marines would feel compelled to take on such a huge number of folks, many of whom would be in reality just trying to walk home to the outer suburbs, or in some cases (as is the case in the story) sitting around waiting for the authorities to rescue them.

As realism goes, its just a little odd: exciting, but odd.
So it has some odd moments.  But did I like it.  This installment of the series is all right, but I am concerned.  The fact that this is the second apocalypse to occur within 4 years makes for some interesting thought patterns.  People may or may not have prepped this time around, but they have a much better idea of what to expect.  The occasional cut away scenes to give you a little bit better of an idea of what is happening in the big picture are very well done.  And even if the good guys tend to get a little too Rambo at times, they are a nutty bunch.  Except for maybe the wife, they all seem a little fuzzy, like some form of nervous breakdown may be in the cards.  If the bad guys were a little less cartoony, it would make the whole affair much more intense.   My concern is that as the story continued, the good elements became scarcer, and the weird over-the-top elements dominated.  Since this book is reliant on the continuations, I will withhold judgment.  [Note: having read the second novel know I would give it an ambivalent, negative recommendation to the series].
How might it be better?  The problem is that it is too cerebral, and plodding at times, to be a pure example of a men's-action genre novel, but too crude in its depictions elsewhere to be a literary-thriller.  AS D.J. Taylor but it in the Wall Street Journal when reviewing Nick Harkaway's Tigerman
"Tigerman," a careful survey of the evidence suggests, is what is known in the trade as a "literary thriller." What does this mean? Well, on the one hand, [it] is chocking full of aimings, blamings and maimings, in particular an absolute whipsnorter of a scene in which its hero storms a cave packed to the ceiling heroin bricks and armed guards. On the other hand it has clearly been written by some of great intelligence, keen on larding his narrative with nod to T.S Eliot and the "objective correlative," who enjoys quiet, reflective passages as much as loud, chaotic ones.  A "proper" writer in fact - and this distinction is not meant to offen the authors of non-literary thrillers - cable of being compared to Paul Theroux and Lee Child.
In effect it needs to be either tightened up and turned into proper non-literary action adventure, or tightened up in a cerebral way to make a little more sense.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism:  It's at prepper book set in the very near future.  The short time frame of the story means that most aren't starving yet. But the tsunami  puts a lot of folks out of their homes pretty quickly, so even there the desperation starts early.  We have an extreme version of the hero being armed with an instant kill carbine, but at least he reloads it occasionally. It is a 7.
Readability is good.  At times it is a page turner, but it spends a fair amount of time in decision making dialog and argument, and the endless lists of all the different bug-in, bug-out, bug-whatever bags gets to be tedious.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Lovely Way to Burn: A Review

Louise Welsh's A Lovely Way to Burn is a murder mystery set in the middle of a pandemic that his hit London, and the British Isles in general.  It is intended to be the first in a series of three novels, but works well as a stand alone.  In an interview she has said that the later books will not share characters with the first one: a good thing as not too many of them are still around to fill out the dialog for the follow on novels.

Louise Welsh (1965-) was born in Edinburg, she is now based out of Glasgow Scotland.  She has been the owner of a used book store, a radio reporter, and a writer of crime fiction. This is her first crime fiction set in an apocalyptic setting.  Although the author is openly gay, and professes an interest in various equalitarian social causes, this world view is not force fed to the reader in the novel.

The blurb:
A pandemic called "the Sweats" is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but [shopping channel spokes mode] Stevie Flint I convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr. Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes.
Actually, there isn't much mystery to the fact he was killed, the problem is getting anyone to investigate one more dead body in the middle of a pandemic. So Steve, the shopping channel spokes model,   starts her own investigation.
The murder investigating by Stevie is reasonably well done: not lock tight, but interesting.  What I was also intriguing was  the various local permutations of what is obviously becoming a big collapse.  Stevie gets a lot of pressure to show up at her (go figure) short staffed work place, some of the folks she talks in her investigations are on their way out the drive with kids belted and stuff piled up in the back of the car.  More than a few witnesses don't survive to the end of the story.
The subtheme of the dubious commercialization of medicine weaves its way through much of the story, but tends to get overwhelmed by all the death.  It is also not particularly clear that some of the bad actors wouldn't eventually have gotten their due except for the distractions of the pandemic.
It was mostly fast paced and a page turner at times.  Stevie gets herself in some tight spots, but she is not an idiot, or a meek mouse, so while she does get a bit of help here or there, she does a reasonable job of getting herself out of trouble as well.   As a spokes model, she is obviously good looking, and aware of it, but the author does a good job of not letting that dominating the story.  It's just a fact that occasionally becomes important.

As is typical, I thought the plague was just a little too fast-acting.  She seems to have modeled it off the worst stories from the black death, rather than the more likely correspondence with other killers such as AIDs, Polio, or the Spanish Flu of 1918.  Oh well, as I said, that's normal.
So I liked it.  If you like murder mysteries, and you like apocalyptic stories (both in my case), you will probably like this story as well. If you are a fan of one, but not the other, you may find the mixture a bit distracting.  The next in the series is supposed to start up in a prison, which could make for a very tense, interesting situation.  A murder mystery amongst the dying murderers?
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is straightforward. It is in the here and now, and none of the technology or science is speculative.  The characters are drawn from everyday life.  It is a little too short in timeframe to have people starving in the streets, but looting and mayhem and people heading for the hills are a feature. It is a seven.
Readability is also straightforward.  Granted a murder mystery can slow you up while you try to figure out what is going on, but it is frequently a pager turner and generally keeps the action moving: a six.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Have Waited, And You Have Come: A Review

Martine McDonagh's I Have Waited, And You Have Come is a creepy near-future post-apocalyptic novel set in water logged, disease ridden Durham Massey (close to Manchester), England.  It takes place around the old city park area, where only a handful of households are now living.

Martine McDonagh (per her bio)  has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and has worked for many years as an artist manager in the music industry.  This was her first novel.

The story is an odd jumble of a story.  Told from the point of view of Rachel, a lonely woman, who has been abandoned, in unknown circumstances, by her boyfriend.  She seems to be slowly unraveling, as the world around her continues to slowly decay even further from its already collapsed state. As become clear as the story moves on, part of the reason that the 36 year old heroine, has survived long enough to narrate the story is that she was interested in the urban version of  prepping prior to the collapse.  But now her boyfriend has run off somewhere, and it is rather obvious that she is suffering from depression.

As narrated by Rachel, we never get an ideal, time-line style, recounting of how everything fell apart.  Global warming and an  at least partially linked pandemic played a major part.
And Rachel is not alone in feeling the effects.  Where did her boyfriend run off to? What is with the odd commune that lives in the big house nearby.  The collapse of society has left more than a few people loose at the moorings.

Where the story starts getting creepy, real quick, is that Rachel has picked up a stalker.  There is just enough civilization around, in the form of neighbors who would lend a hand, that the stalker cannot completely show his hand, but the chaos of the situation makes it difficult to figure out exactly what is going on.  You get narration from Rachel, and narration (of sorts) from the stalker, but neither of them have their wits about them, so it makes for a very strange tale.

Eventually Rachel gets a little out of her funk, and takes measures to protect herself, but it makes for a strange ride. One with an ending, that I have to admit, I did not foresee.  I did like the book, and it did finish up strongly.  But for a relatively short novel (181 pages) it is rather introspective and a little slow going at times.  Rachel's depression and funk, as they would be in real life, get to be a bit tiresome;  But its fun when she gets going.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is very high. It is a collapsed near future.  There is a few remnant prepper items that Rachel has, but nothing extraordinarily high tech.  It becomes obvious that while Rachel was the prepper, it is here boyfriend who came to take more of a leadership role as the crises got going.  It is a seven.

It is a difficult read.  With so much confused narration, and slow lyrical pacing, it is not a fast, easy read: a literary 3.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Man in the Holoscene: A Review

Max Frisch's (translation from German by Geoffrey Skelton) Man in the Holocene is a novella (111 pages) telling the story of personal survival of an aging retiree who has wandered off from his retirement home into the Swiss Alps.

Max Frisch (1911-1991) is a famous Swiss playwright  and author.  Around the time of this writing this novella (1979),  the author was getting older and setting up a foundation to look after his affairs on his death.  He was splitting time between New York City, and his villa in Berzona, Switzerland.  Although the village the story takes place in is unnamed,  it does take place in the Canton of Ticini, where Berzona is located.  All of which indicates that there is some autobiographical speculation to the old man's plight.  The story is generally considered to be one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.

The story is fairly simple.  A retired business man is alone in his cottage in the Swiss Mountains.  Not being originally from the area, he is somewhat isolated and alone.  There is a continuous, huge downpour, that threatens to cause rock and mud slides that he fears will bury the village or at least block the way out.  Eventually the old man decides to walk over the mountains through a pass that will take him to a more settled area.

The old man unfortunately is slowly loosing his memory.  He has taken to writing down all sorts of information on scraps of paper to keep from forgetting things.  As the story progresses, old man considers lost empires, and long vanished species, as he is slowly loosing himself.  "We die alone and forgotten is a concept that the novel ponders", although it does not come to the pat nihilistic conclusion one would suspect from the story outline.

I did like the little story.  There is enough depth to it that I am sure I would benefit from a rereading.  It is of course not particularly apocalyptic in a global sense, but the novel explicitly compares our own personal death, with other long vanished kingdoms.  We all have our personal apocalypse waiting for us at some point.

Our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings were really intended for a more casual style of tale, but what the heck, here we go: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism:  The story does actually involves issues of supply, and concerns of being cut off.  It is an uncommon story of survival, but a realistic one: a 7.

Readability:  It is a novella, so it is short.  But there is a lot of thinking and philosophizing going on its short length.  In general, the issues are spelled out fairly clearly, so you don't need any esoteric knowledge, or a sixth sense for symbolism to catch a lot of what is going.  A relatively painless literary 4.