Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Solar Flare: A Review

Larry Burkett’s Solar Flare is an apocalypse-in-progress that takes place within the Greater United States before, and during a series of enormous solar flares that knock out the power grid and electronic devices.  Since we just survived (based on the fact this has been posted) a smaller version of the event (more info)(hat tip: Six Bears), this is not an entirely remote concern.

Larry Burkett (1939-2003) was a very influential within Christian broadcasting circles in the last three decades of the twentieth-century.  His show was very similar to Dave Ramsey’s financial sense program,and in fact Ramsey credit’s Burkett as being one of his primary influences.  The primary difference between the programs that I recall, Burkett was more of a stickler about repaying one's debts.  However, at that time peoples debt levels were much lower, and the sophisticated versions of predatory lending were just barely getting started.

Mr. Burkett wrote a total of 70 books. Most of them were self-help financial books.  However, he also wrote a few novels: The illuminati, The Thor Conspiracy, Kingdom Come, and this novel.

Solar Flare is a book with a grand scope.  Although much time is spent with Jason Hobar, an astronomer who researches solar phenomena, and had previously  given warnings about the disastrous effects of a large solar storm.  For those who are not familiar with them, the solar storms are what create the Northern Lights.  In fiction,  very large solar storm have a similar effect to that of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from an air burst nuclear bomb.

A large portion of the novel is spent arguing about the possibility of the solar storms.  The novel is very political.  If there is a bad guy/gal, they will be liberal Democrats.  If there are good honest folks, the will be conservatives.  This extends to activities that most people don’t even really view as being political, and categorizations that even in 1999, might have puzzled a few people.

My favorite observation, is that when all hell breaks loose, he has the “inner cities” uniformly erupting in chaos, while the good folks of the suburbs generally behave themselves.  He even goes so are as to announce that without transportation, the people of the inner city cannot find a way out to the suburbs right away, so the Government is able rescue all the nice people (about 100 million of them) and put them in farming camps.

Mr. Burkett seemed to have a rather limited idea of urban geography.  Apparently in his imagination, all cities had a dense urban core, surrounded by a wide swath of suburbia.  He apparently was not aware that many modern U.S. cities (including Charlotte, and Atlanta, which he mentions) have no real core.  They are simply large suburbs.  There may be a collection of one or more little downtowns, but the various apartment complexes that house most of the people are scattered all over the place.  I think in his mind, the suburbanites and rural folks were the nice people that listened to his radio show, while the urban centers did not.  Lots of listeners = good guys; people who don’t listen =...   His lack of immagination, and vindictivenss becomes tiresome.  Having rather like his radio show, I was surprised at the tone of the novel.

This is a collapse novel, so there is some mayhem along the way.  It is not generally described in to much detail, but you generally get the point.  He is of the British school of collapse theory, and pretty much has large groups of people tearing up the place within minutes of the first effects of the first large flare.

However, as I alluded to before, the Government is on it’s A-game.  You see a President Philip Houston is a Republican.  In fact he is a Republican who looks an awful lot like George W.   As such, he actually listens to the lone scientist in the wilderness and does his best to take precautions.  Of course the evil CNN news staff does their best to thwart his efforts.

The military is generally able to contain the rioting gangs to the city centers, and are always one step ahead of them.   The good folks are packed off to their farming camps.

Eventually, most of the people in the food camps start worshipping Christianity.  They bring back the Puritans punishment of being put into the stocks, which makes all the snarky teenagers behave themselves.  By the end of the novel, the majority of the camp dwellers decide that they like living better in the countryside, and in one camp they even vote to ban television from their community center.  It is all one big theocratic cozy finale.

Did I like the book.  No.  It was dull and tedious.  Having listened to Mr. Burkett in the late 1980s, I was surprised at the tenor of the book.  A lot of collapse novels take shots at what the author views as the evils of today’s society.  But Mr. Burkett is seriously over the top.  How he mixes extreme Republican politics with communal agricultural work camps  that comes very close to being a soviet commune is beyond me.  For reasons that are little unclear to me, he throws in a coup attempt against the President.  It brings in some of the less interesting presidential succession  elements of John Barne’s Directive 51.

For our descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7, with 7 being high.

Realism:  No, not really.  In this case the solar flare is not a problem.  It could happen.  However, other than a statement like –there might be looting in the cities – there is not much about this story that has a very real feel to it.   The good guys are always smarter than the bad guys, and generally the bad guys are pretty easy to deal with if you are heroic enough in the author's eyes.   There is no discussion of where the food to feed 100 million people was to be found, and how it was to be transported.  It is not clear why everyone would love freezing or roasting in the work camps, not to mention the hard labor involved.  It is not like people in 1999 were a whole lot thinner or in better shape than us tubby Americans a dozen year later.  There are no witches or elves, so I will say that it is a 2.

Readability:  It is a very slow slog to get through the book.  If there is a nice little build up to action, the author will never fail to cut it short with the bad guys being handily defeated.  I suppose it the language itself is somewhat straightforward.  It’s not written in Chinese after all.  I’ll again call it a 2.

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