Tuesday, May 8, 2012

77 Days in September: A review.

Ray Gorham's 77 Days in September is an apocalypse-in-progress tale set mostly in the area of Houston, Texas, and rural central Montana after an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) wipes out electronic devices and the electrical grid in North America.  I say mostly Texas-Montana because there are occasional pull back references to other areas.

Ray Gorham was born in Canada, but is now a resident of the small community of Shepherd Montana, just a little northeast of Billings.   He operates a log home business and this is his first novel.  There is a nice interview of him here.  Although he makes clear he is interested in survival preparation, and notes Rawles' Survival Bog in the end of book acknowledgements, the story does not have Militia or U.N. conspiracy elements.

The start of the story is a somewhat common  EMP strike.  The author is a little more careful with his scenario, and does a better job of backing up the damage claims that result.  As I noted when I briefly discussed One Second After, I am not entirely convinced as to the extent of the damage to electronic devices, but the author certainly has a lot of fictional writers who share his ideas.  In any case, the scenario he generates to get an EMP over the United States is very well done.  The start of story shifts around to a few different view points, but after about one-third (30%) the story settles on two main ones, Kyle Tait trying to get home from Texas and his wife, Jennifer,  who live outside the small town of Missoula Montana waiting for him. 

The novel has a little in common with Odyssey in so far as you have a Penelope figure, waiting for a faithfully for a husband who is taking a long time getting home.  At the start of the story,  Kyle is in Houston Texas returning home after helping out with hurricane damage in that state.  To be more specific, his airplane is on the runway just beginning its takeoff  when the EMP strikes.  It crashes to a skidding halt.  As the survivors slide down the emergency chute at the back, nobody comes to get them.
Kyle is walking home.
The story does not have the instant bedlam that seems to afflict the British collapse stories, where people are apparently trained from their early years to recognize the signs of collapse and head to the nearest Pequot dealership to take advantage.

Along his journey our hero meets some people who show varying degrees of willingness to kill him, most of them out of evil intentions, and at least once out of general terror.  Kyle occasionally slows his progress up to help people, and sometimes the people wind up being a bit of a nuisance.  People being a nuisance is pretty realistic.  And there are also a number of people are willing to help him along his way.  One of these helpful people involves an improbable, and overlong interlude with a Calypso-type temptress who tries to dissuade him from continuing the journey.  This Calypso-element must be some sort of common fantasy of the middle aged men who write these tales, as it is also found in more extreme form in the EMP-like novel (which I have reviewed but not yet posted) Des Michaels' Terawatt

Jennifer, is meanwhile at home with the kids.  She begins to have issues with a young man who wishes her to pay attention to him, now that her husband is presumed dead after his severely delayed return.  The course that this part of the story takes involves an awful lot of hand wringing, and introspection.  The entire scenario strikes me as being a bit forced.  Just the normal dangers of trying to keep a handle on three kids, and scrounging up food might have been a better filler for this end of the story.  As is common with this type of novel, there are prepared type people who are able to conveniently step in and help the wife and kids along to self sufficiency.  If it weren't for the annoying young man, this portion of the novel would have quickly become a cozy.

I have read a number of novels of apocalypse-in-progress set in Texas now. I am starting to understand the landscape.  But it not with the help of the authors.  There is an odd presumption that people know what the Texas landscape is like. So at times the novel seems to have him floating walking around through some sort of novelistic "anyplace."  As our hero moves out of Texas, some of the descriptions get a little bit better, but it is still an unfortunate but common failing of these types of story.
The book is a bit preachy with some completely out of place discussions on morality.  There is a discussion on why youngsters, particularly woman, should not have casual sex?  All very nice, but none of woman in the story are either in the position, or old enough for this to be an issue except Jennifer, who is clearly not interested in the annoying young man.  More to the point would be what behavior would be appropriate, besides the commonly noted looting of unattended property, when trying to get survival food.  That seems a much more likely conundrum, and much more difficult to answer from a Christian viewpoint.  What if there was no convenient next door neighbors with a big garden, and your trying to feed three kids, and your husband is likely dead?  That is a question with some pretty severe costs attached to it.

While obviously (based on internet footprint) of a conservative mindset, the author does not use his novel as an extended political rant against all things liberal and/or of the Democratic Party. A throw away scene with a Democratic Congresswoman in Boston is the most noteworthy, and comes off as being rather vindictive.

My other major annoyance is that both Jennifer and Kyle, in their separate stories, get complete free passes on their unwillingness to take, brutal, but morally justified actions.  Neither character keeps the weapons that they have at hand.  Kyle almost makes a hobby of getting himself out of scrapes that a little bit more caution would have had him avoiding.  His encounter with he survivalist homestead (which he sees because they keep the outside light on at night?) is not terribly likely in any fashion. 

Did I like the story overall.  Yes.  As I noted it is not perfect, but it has a lot of interesting episodes, and a better mix of character types than most novels set within a collapse scenario.  Although they tend to blather on a bit too much, both Kyle and Jennifer are likable people and it is easy to be cheering for them.  As noted, the story has a bit of a cozy element to it.  But the cozy is the single easiest way to bring a collapse tale to a conclusion without killing everyone off. 

As to our two descriptive - versus qualitative, ratings - 1 to 7 with 7 being high.  Repeat, descriptive not qualitative.  I will do them in the reverse of their usual ordering.

Readability is a little mixed.  The early multiple points of view are done reasonably well, but do slow up the progression to the main story line.  The middle portions of the book, as noted above have an awful lot of talking, and moralizing, and there is an odd, redundant, introduction of a journal written by Kyle that simply seems to tell relatively slowly what narration could have done better.  That it is half-filled with lots of "I miss you guys" makes for some slow going.  On the plus side, the many action scenes are well done, and move along fairly quickly.  Even the neighborhood meetings are handled fairly quickly.  I am going to put it in the middle at 5.

Realism is much easier.  It is people dealing with real issues in  a somewhat real-time (versus retrospective fashion).  You live the moment and the difficulties with them.  I am tempted to knock of a point for Kyles frequent rescues, but it is well within accepted standards of the genre.  The author appears to have a clue as to the capabilities of a firearms, and knives.  I am going to say it is about as realistic as you are going to get within a fictional setting and say it is a 7.
Ray Gorham (from Goodreads)


Stephen said...

I have it on Kindle. I liked it too, but you're correct, its full of holes.

russell1200 said...

S: I didn't mention it, but you also have to wonder why there weren't more people on the road with bycycles.

For that matter why didn't he take a bycycle. At 250km per day (156 miles), he makes it in less than two weeks, and gets through the most heavily populated sections before everyone is starving. Granted the guy in Terrawatt gave up on his bike at the first opportunity, but he was almost as clueless about caution as our hero in this story.