Friday, November 30, 2012

Markets in prepping

New York is asking for something like $50 Billion in aid, and last I checked New Jersey was around $30 Billion.  So there is an obvious market in disaster clean up.

Put there is another market, that the media is just starting to catch up with.  Disaster preparations by individuals.

Note, we are not just taking about people who think there will be a complete societal breakdown, the traditional bomb shelter survivalist if you will.  They obviously exist, but the market for what I would call mid-range preparations is even larger.  If society collapses, your natural gas fueled generator is only going to do you so much good.  But the folks at Generac, the best known of the residential-style standby generators, is one major component of the prepping market.  The natural gas may go off at the end of the world, but it is a lot more reliable than the electricity for the events in between.

Hurricane Sandy and the Disaster Preparedness Economy
Andrew Martin, New York Times, 10 November 2012 (hat tip: NC)

...The cold war may have been the start, when schoolchildren dove under desks and ordinary citizens dug bomb shelters out back. But economic fears, as well as worries about climate change and an unreliable electronic grid have all fed it.
Driven of late by freakish storms, this industry is growing fast, well beyond the fringe groups that first embraced it. And by some measures, it’s bigger than ever.
Businesses like Generac Power Systems, one of three companies in Wisconsin turning out generators, are just the start.
The market for gasoline cans, for example, was flat for years. No longer. "Demand for gas cans is phenomenal, to the point where we can’t keep up with demand," says Phil Monckton, vice president for sales and marketing at Scepter, a manufacturer based in Scarborough, Ontario. "There was inventory built up, but it is long gone."
But there’s little question that the market is in the multiple billions of dollars. The size of the generator market in the United States, including residential, commercial and industrial models, is roughly $3 billion...
Both Walmart and Costco now sell a year’s supply of food, much of it freeze-dried. Costco’s offering is 120 gallon-size cans of food for $1,499.99. Sears offers emergency/survival rations for dogs. And the National Geographic Channel has a reality series called "Doomsday Preppers," which "explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it."
David Lyle, the chief executive of the National Geographic Channel, said the program was a breakout hit in its first season. The second season will begin on Tuesday.
"You start by thinking, ‘Wow, these people are odd.’ Then there is this creeping realization: Who is crazy now?" says Mr. Lyle, who notes that other shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Revolution" deal with similar themes, like living off the grid (albeit with zombies). "How interesting that some of them believe that the oil supply will run out and that will result in civil unrest. And now with Sandy, you see people having brawls in gas lines."
 It's a relatively long article, and I trimmed a lot of it.  If you have time, I would take a look.

And while Sandy is fueling would I would call disaster preparation (short to mid-term correctives), as the last paragraph noted, that is not the only issue that people worry about.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The growth fetish

At least some people are starting to see that an economy of continuous debt accumulation only works if you have continuous growth.  And continuous growth in a system with (at least some) finite constraints is not workable.  In history there has typically been a falling back, or sometimes a collapse to bring the everyone back to earth.  The advent of the industrial revolution at least for a time delayed that inevitability.  Collapses in a modern sense have usually been of a relative nature.  Not a collapse back to zero in absolute terms, but a temporary cessation of growth.

Growth: the false god
Flashman, Macrobusiness, 9 October 2012 (hat tip: NC)

From the self-development books of Oprah and Tony Robbins to the world records in the Olympic Games, the act of standing still, or of tomorrow not being better than yesterday, is the ultimate sin. From computer processing speeds, to pixels on phone cameras to waistlines queuing for the food buffet, everything must be faster, better or bigger. Achievement and victory, inculcated since school – themselves ranked against each other for parental selection – are the ultimate virtues...
Yet economics beyond growth is exactly what we need if some kind of equilibrium is to be restored in the domestic and global economy. Forgetting for the moment Malthusian arguments about resource scarcity, or indeed the science of climate change, for the insidious political economy of a highly unequal world to subside and for the backbone of democracy – a middle class where most are in the middle – to reassert, we essentially need a no-growth environment.
But how can such an agenda be pursued? If capitalism is inherently not the answer then is socialism? Probably not. Marx fetishised growth as much as the market, just with different methods. China’s Great Leap Forward and Stalin’s Five Year Plans, after all, were blatant growth-pursuing exercises that would make Wall Street blush. Is deep ecology the answer? Not if you don’t wish to wear a hairshirt. Reducing our standard of living to the level of people Bono sings about is never going to be popular. Ditto for primitivism, survivalism and fundamentalist religion as well.

What is interesting is that he notes that most modern economic philosophies on the right and left require growth to make their theories work with the possible exception of left wing anarchists, and right wing isolationists would fit in the hairshirt category.

What is unfortunate is that the only real solution he comes up with is more technological hand waving.  Nanotechnology to the rescue!

We can hope.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The collapse of the redoubts

Fer Fal has a discussion about how the survivalist redoubts, as promoted by John Rawls, are not necessarily the best places to ride out a collapse.  There is not a lot of love lost between Fer Fal and Rawls so a bit of sniping has always gone on between them.  Rawles has the fan base.  But Fer Fal has the advantage that he has lived through (at least on type of) a collapse. 

Fer Fal makes his case this way:

Retreat Areas May Be Hit By Automatic Budget Cuts

People that live in the inner Argentine provinces have a saying, “God is everywhere, but his office is in Buenos Aires”. That is why half the population lives there. Finding work, getting more complicated paperwork done or going to a good university, you have to go to the big city. Argentina may be an extreme case of that, but there’s still a lesson there.

With thousands of acres of beautiful and affordable land, why do people still choose to bunch up in nasty Buenos Aires? Because it’s the only place in a 3rdf world country where you can get anything done, its where all the money ends up. The rest of the country is always in a far 2nd place in terms of priority. The power grid needs fixing, water supply, roads, Buenos Aires gets the money first. Its not surprise that you find some of the worse poverty in the more distant provinces.

I’ve explained this behavior before, comparing it to a living organism. When there’s not enough food, a living organism will keep its core alive while sacrificing other non-vital parts. Same thing happens with a country and its government, it will keep its core alive, and same thing will happen in a state level, the capital getting most of the attention so as to keep it going while the smaller the community, the less help it will get.

 He is less extreme here than he has been in the past.
Note that part of the discussion is from a map that shows that it is rural counties in the United States that are getting the most Federal Funds that are threatened by the looming budget cuts.
I have posted a number of times (one example) about the slow economic collapse of the U.S. rural areas, and that to some extent theis collapse mirrors that of the much earlier collapse in the inner cities.  The rural collapse is happening far away from the media centers, and there are not the racial undertones to also highlight the issues, so it is still a surprise to most Americans when they find out that rural America is not that Norman Rockwell-imagined existance.  This is the land of the Meth epidemic. 
In general, jobs have left the rural areas.  This leaves behind the desperate who cannot move, those who find a source of handouts, and the elderly - who unfortunately can overlap with the first two catagories.  These are all high input citizens with regards to Federal spending.  In some States, these areas have tended to vote Blue, and in other areas, they have tended to vote Red.  There is a bit of history attached to those voting patterns, but likely also the relative economic health is an issue.  Slow collapses don't particularly have to be even collapses.

(Thumbnail) Fed Funds per Capita (Diver via CNBC of pdf)

One area of collapse-fiction, that has often assumed just this sort of collapse is Cyberpunk.  The genre being most famously represented by the movie Blade Runner, and the novel Neuromancer.  Although they aren't usually thought of as collapse novels, that is because most of the stories center around the dangerous folks with the cool high tech gadgets.
I have been reading K.W. Jeter's Noir.  It is written relatively late in the history of the genre, so some of its thoughts are a little more filled out than some of the earlier action-adventure style novels. The hero here is talking to the noir-equivelant of a playboy bunny type reduced to sex work.
K.W. Jeter, Bantam Books, 1998
"There ain't shit in Kansas." A little cloud of unsunned memory passed across [her] face.
"That's where you're from? I was just guessing." McNihil felt sorry for her... She... had all the pretty genetics, a child's face grafted by survival-orientated evolutiononto an adult's body, one that hadn't needed to be surgically pumped up to achieve its Blakean lineaments of desire.  Born than way, thought McNihil.  The came out of the rusting wastelands at the center of the continent, boys and girls together , walking the dead roadsof Kansas and Ohio all the way to the Pacific Rimcities (p50).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cold, hungry and dark

Maybe some of the suspicion about the shale gas boom comes from the fact that many of its main architects act more like real estate speculators than energy providers.

Of course the eco-opponents of the whole idea will grasp and imagined straw in their opposition, but there is a certain general problem with the new fossil fuel prosperity.

U.S. Energy Insecurity: Why Fracking for Oil and Natural Gas Is a False Solution
Food and Water Watch,  14 November 2012 (hat tip NC)

Briefly, Food & Water Watch finds that (hat tip):
  • The popular claim that the United States has 100 years worth of natural gas presumes not only that no place would be off-limits to drilling and fracking, but also that highly uncertain estimates of domestic natural gas resources are accurate;
  • Even assuming that the industry’s dreams of unrestricted drilling and fracking for natural gas come true and that resource estimates prove accurate, plans to increase the rate of consumption of U.S. natural gas easily cut the claim to 50 years, well within the lifetime of college students today;
  • Among these plans are 19 proposals, as of October 26, 2012, to sell U.S. natural gas on foreign markets to maximize oil and gas profits. Combined, these proposals alone mean that annual natural gas exports could reach the equivalent of over 40 percent of total U.S. consumption of natural gas in 2011; and
  • Even if the highly uncertain estimates of “tight oil” reserves prove accurate, and even if the oil and gas industry wins unrestricted access to drill and frack for oil, the estimated reserves would amount to a supply of less than seven years.
Along similar lines, there is a new book coming out:  Cold, Hungry and in the Dark

From its Amazon description:
Conventional wisdom has North America entering a new era of energy abundance thanks to shale gas. But has industry been honest? Cold, Hungry and in the Dark argues that declining productivity combined with increasing demand will trigger a crisis that will cause prices to skyrocket, damage the economy, and have a profound impact on the lives of nearly every North American.
Relying on faulty science, bought-and-paid-for-white papers masquerading as independent research and "industry consultants," the "shale promoters" have vastly overstated the viable supply of shale gas resources for their own financial gain. This startling exposé, written by an industry insider, suggests that the stakes involved in the Enron scandal might seem like lunch money in comparison to the bursting of the natural gas bubble. Exhaustively researched and rigorously documented, Cold, Hungry and in the Dark:
  • Puts supply-and-demand trends under a microscope
  • Provides overwhelming evidence of the absurdity of the one hundred-year supply myth
  • Suggests numerous ways to mitigate the upcoming natural gas price spike

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hunter Gatherer Collapse: California

We have done a variety of posts on the collapse of large settled communities, Empires, and the like.  We have tried to expand beyond the typical Maya, Rome, discussions and bring up some the lesser known settled cultures that collapsed.
I have noticed a sub-theme within some sustainable style literature, often appearing to come with a communist anarchist style mindset that hunter gatherers do not have the same problems as agricultural communities.
That appears to be a gross overstatement.  While it is true that hunter gatherer population does not grow as large on any given plot of land as do agricultural communities, the best evidence is that they also go through cyclical ups and downs, it is just that it is usually at a more localized level, so that unless you get some sort of weather extremes, it will not likely be over as large of an area, and the collapse will not involve as many people.  In other words, if you have a situation comes where the holding capacity of the land, through a drought, becomes equal to 10 people per hectare, the hunter gather community with a density of 15 people have less distance to drop than the agriculturalists with 125 people per hectare.  In the overcompensating downward thrust, one will lose about half its people, while the other will loss 95%.

As an example of a decentralized community collapsing:

Beginning at 10,000 B.C. California was occupied by foragers.  Human densities were low and the people did not seem to be having much effect on the environment.  For example, fur seals were breeding on the beaches a bit south of San Francisco and the pups would have been very susceptible to being taken by foragers.  No boats were needed, just clubs.  Yet for thousands of years the seals and the early Californians coexisted.  It would appear that foragers were so few that they did not kill enough pups to reduce the herds to the point that the seals needed to abandon the mainland and breed only on offshore islands, as they do today.  Since the pups were seasonal, this may have been an annual bottleneck in food supply that kept the human population down.  However, as some point the bottleneck was overcome by finding a food that was available or storable at the time of year of the former bottleneck - probably acorns - and the people became sedentary collectors. Group sizes increased and more people began to take the fur seal pups.  Around 2,000 B.C., the seals stopped rearing their pups on the mainland.  Then the now much more numerous people began to exploit shellfish more intensely, allowing less time for them to mature between harvests.  The average size of shells in the shell mounds declined over time.  The human population along the California coast become more sedentary and began to act more like farmers, seriously impacting their environment.  As I discuss later, it was about this time that there was an increase in warfare after this transformation.
His comment about being like farmers is a little unfortunate, because it is allowing the record keeping drive the story.  There is considerable evidence of mass killings, with large amounts of game being wasted by less settled groups.  But because they are less settled it is difficult to get a chronological record of their activities.  We don't know what happened to the large game hunters numbers when all the easy prey in North America was killed.  At the local level, there was likely a very rough transition, although a transition that would have been smoothed out a little as the climate was moderating and for the first time agriculture would have been possible.
When you look closely at what we can see of the prehistoric record, there appears to be much more of a continuom of behaviours between the two groups with the agriculturalists generally being able to build up larger populations, and thus suffering  more dramtic swings in populatin.  Swings that are also easier to record because of their sedentary life style.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fallout coming your way

Do you want to see what happens if some nearby point of interest is nuked.  Go here Ground Zero II
First put in the zip code or name and hit search.  Than select you weapon - all the way up to asteroid, although the very common B61 (USA) is dead in the middle of the slide bar. Than hit the Nuke It button.
The fallout can be adjusted to the wind by clicking carefully on the compass rose points.
One disconcerting item for those who live near the major military bases - they are very large.  Which means that if the somebody with sufficient bombs wanted to knock them out, they would almost be forced to use multiple warheads.  So those of us within a possible upwind pattern could see a lot of glowing dust coming our way.  Of course if you are stationed at one of those bases, disconcerting probably is not a strong enough word.

My nearest (somewhat) downwind military base: Fort Bragg, NC

When you turn to the fallout gauge, the damage starts spreading.  You have to pull back and slide to the northeast to see the results.  In this case the fallout with a constant gentle breeze is almost at the southern bedroom communities of Raleigh, our state capital in 6 hours.

Same ordinance, this time showing fallout.

Raleigh is not perfectly downwind from Fort Bragg.  But it is almost perfectly downwind from the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill, NC.  So it has a more than one way to find itself glowing.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Karankawa Thanks Giving: Pirates and Indians

The Karankawa are a lost tribe of Native Americans that lived along the Texas coast at the time that a variety of European explorers came wandering through.  They rescued some of the earliest Spanish explorers, are connected to the destruction of the early French settlement in the area, and we have featured them in a number of battles with the early Texas settlers.
However, they one item does make them stand out from your typical native tribal folk.
They are said to have battled with pirates.  And not just any pirates, but pirates associated with Jean Lafitte, the pirate who is famous for helping the Americans fight off the British at the Battle of New Orleans rather late (to say the least) in the War of 1812.
All of this is going on after the war.  Lafitte had taken over a camp on an island where eventually Galvaston, Texas, came to be.  He actually left, and took at least some of his men with him, prior to the Pirate-Indian battle.
Most stories, as noted below, have the fight occuring over a woman.  Just as likely the Karankawa were tired of unruley pirates/adventurers trapsing around through their hunting areas and started harasing the Americans.

The Early History of Galveston (PDF)
Doctor J.O. Dyer, Galveston, TX 1916
The year 1821 brought Long trouble with his men. They were impatient' and had a difficulty with the Carancahuas. Long was forced by his men to attack them on February 20, 1821, at the Three Trees, on the high shell ridge, near the bay shore on Galveston Island.
Many accounts have been written of this battle, mostly fictitious. The battle has been erroneously attributed to Lafitte, who with two cannons and two hundred men attacked the Indians. The locality where the battle took place was surrounded by swamps and cannons could not have been used.
Long's account, given in an early issue of DeBow, states that the fight lasted fifteen minutes; that many Indians were killed; that Long lost on killed and seven wounded, two of whom died; that Long had but thirty nien. It is hardly probable that Long gave out this account. Colonel Hall's account said that Long had one hundred men, surprised the Indians, killing thirty and taking one woman and child prisoner. Long had seven wounded.
Mrs. Long's account said the battle lasted a few minutes, the men firing three volleys. Ten Indians were killed and many wounded. One woman and her children were captured. Several were bitten by rattlesnakes in the swamps. Long had but three wounded. George Early received an arrow which pierced his thigh; Dr. Long removed it, and Mrs. Long nursed the wounded. (The arrow head that wounded George Early was presented by Mrs. Long to the author's family, and is in the Texas exhibit at the Rosenberg Library.) General Long returned the wounded and captives to the Indians and made peace with them. They never bothered his wife when left alone at the fort in Bolivar during the winter of 1821-1822. Yoakum says that Lafitte fought the tribe the year before. John Henry Brown gave the old story of the Indians capturing a vessel loaded with wine, were drunk and dancing, that Long attacked them with thirty men, killed thirty two Indians and captured two boys, one of whom was accidentally killed. Long lost three killed and a number wounded (page 9-10).

I say pirate-adventurers, because James Long of Tennessee, was as much of a capitalist-revolutionary-brigand, known as filibusters, as he was a privateer.  If you read the (confusing) details of the back and forth between Long and Lafitte and Lafitte's men, you will see that it is likely that there was some intermixing of the two groups manpower.  The opportunistic pirates joining whomever they thought could bring them the most prize money.
Long continued on with his adventures, and eventually was captured by the Mexicans and executed in 1822.  The Karankawa as a group did not make it much further as fighting broke out with Texas settlers.  Within a decade,  most of them would be gone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wrong catastrophe assumptions

In one of my normal reads I came across some interesting thoughts from someone who is involved in (for lack of a better phrase) the emergency management industry.  Note that I paraphrased his two key points.

Wrong Catastrophic Disaster Assumptions
Eric Holdeman, Emergency Management Blog, 18 September 2012

  • [The assumption that elected or appointed officials will take the appropriate course of action]. 
  • [The assumption that all emergency workers will be available to allocate to various missions. The workers themselves will often be caught up in the disaster].

He makes some other points, but to my mind they are not particularly on topic.

What I find slightly amusing is that both of his points are almost the normal assumption in most apocalypse-in-progress type stories.  Maybe he should read  a little fiction and get some ideas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Collapse of Empires: The Maya

There is more evidence in as to what caused the collapse of the Classical Mayan Empire.
Tainter would say that they became to complex and were no longer able to adapt to increased challenges.  Diamond would say that they slowly degraded their environment until a modest reversal caused the whole house of cards to collapse.
Both of their theories are loose enough that they can claim that the evidence that a period of extended drought coincided with their collapse.  But the problem with such loose theories is that they have little real predictive value. How complex is too complex, and how much degradation is needed?
Bruce Bower, Science News, 8 November 2012 (hat tip: Big Picture)
His team analyzed a stalagmite that grew in Yok Balum Cave from 40 B.C. to 2006 A.D. Rainfall estimates for each year of rock formation were derived from measurements of oxygen that accumulated in the stalagmite as runoff from rains entered the cave.
Yok Balum lies near a half-dozen major Classic Maya sites. The scientists compared the climate data with historical records, carved on stone monuments at these sites, of Maya warfare and political events.
Researchers have argued for decades about whether the Classic Maya collapse stemmed more from droughts or from warfare and weakened political systems. Kennett says the new evidence is consistent with climate changes interacting with social forces to pull Classic Maya civilization in different directions.
Douglas J. Kennett, et al, Science, Vol. 338, November 9, 2012, p. 788

Population increases and the expansion of Classic Maya polities were favored by anomalously high rainfall and increased agricultural productivity between 440 and 660 C.E. High-density Maya populations were increasingly susceptible to the agricultural consequences of climate drying. We propose that a two-stage collapse commenced with the 660 C.E. drying trend. It triggered the balkanization of polities, increased warfare, and abetted overall sociopolitical destabilization. Political disintegration in the Petexbatun region foreshadows two multi-decadal dry intervals that further reduced agricultural yields and caused more widespread political disintegration between 800 and 900 C.E. This was followed by a second stage of more gradual population decline and then punctuated population reductions during the most extreme dry interval in the YOK-I record between 1020 and 1100 C.E.

It seems to my mind that the biggest problem is that people expand to the limit of the calorie supply.  It doesn't really matter how advanced, or complex the society is, be it the Homeric Greeks, the Romans, or the when the weather turns against them, they die off.  Even hunter gatherers had these problems.  They are just not particularly well recorded because most non-agriculturalists did not leave enough permanent remains to make their collapse very clear cut. 
What makes the big collapse impressive, is the height from which the fall takes place. In the case o the Maya, all the way from the top of a very tall Pyramid.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Updated Review Tab

I have updated the review tab.
It is saying there is an error in saving, but as far as I can tell, it is all loaded up and working.
I will try to remember to double check tomorrow to be sure.  My guess is that the table I am importing (via Excel) from Word, is starting to max out in size.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Green Gospel: A Review

L.C. Fiore's Green Gospel is a dystopia of the here and now with vague foreshadowing of some sort of environmental apocalypse presumed for the future.  Taking place in Oregon and Florida during a time period that brackets the 911 Twin Towers destruction it centers around the violence of the state, and through home grown  eco terrorism, the violence of individuals.

L.C. Fiore has published in a number of short format venues.  Green Gospel, his first novel, was winner of the Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award for superior work by debut author.  The author lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife.
The story takes the point of view of a number of disparate folk.  Most of them are the various inhabitants of balmy village on the coast of Florida.  The type of small town whose population multiplies every winter as the snowbirds come south to avoid the arctic climes.  The main character however is Eddie, a young waifish college age gal who has just escaped from the law on the West Coast.  Although the details are not made clear until the middle portion of the book, it is obvious she has some sort of connection to a group of eco-terrorists.  She staggers into town in rather poor shape.
In the flash backs we get a better sense of what her group iwa up to.  That the author has sympathy for their cause is made obvious from the way that none of the groups targets are portrayed with any sympathy.  In the case of Eddie, you have wealthy college student of little accomplishments, messing around with a number of peoples livelihood or possessions, and the general telling implies the justice of her cause.
Eddie herself is a rather cold fish.  She gets involved with the plight of all sorts of injured birds, or hungry cats, but generally acts rather aloof, or with great disdain toward the people she associates with.  There is  a little back story that appears to be an attempt at explaining her attitude.  That it is not particularly successful is, I am guessing, because it is somewhat the authors own persona coming through the pages.  In any case, while Eddie doesn't particularly try to hurt people directly, you wouldn't want to get in her way either.
One of the primary themes of the book is how societies maintain the status quo.  Even people working to take corrective actions, are often only willing to work within the confines of society.  Eddith, as the star of the "green faith" is contrasted with the less extreme lovers of natures,  true believers of the traditional Pentacostal Evangelical faith, and soldiers (through Gulf War flash backs) and police defending the current order.  There is a constant theme of how the context of violence greatly changes or perceptions of its nature.
In the end, while the novel does a fairly good job of poking holes at the myths we surround ourselves with, although the “Green Gospel” doesn’t appear to be so much an answer, as a nihilistic reaction.  As Eddie notes:
She considers the last few years wasted. She no longer believes in goodness.   The churchgoers  she's met take for granted the inherent goodness of very living thing.  She believes this is a fatal weakness (p. 102).
Some nights she lay in bed thinking about all that was wrong witht he world, the starvation, the irresposible  raping of the land, and she wept.  She wept at the devestation and pain and she wept at ther own helplessness in the vase of it all. She hadn;t known she could feel such depth of emotion for anything (p130).
In the end, only destruction is the really successful path.  The Reverend Dancer is more of a building sort, and has his own way of being environmentally proactive.  But he is such an oddly twisted soul, that it does not stand out as a particularly encouraging example. Further his efforts are literally bankrupt, and he must commit to Edie's methods to save his own efforts.
The book is an interesting one.  Mostly it is a relatively light exploration of the philosophies of power and subserviance wrapped up in an extended set of character studies. There are some highlights with some interesting methodologies toward mayhem, and it does wrap up with a nice crecendoing conclusion.  The lack of quotation marks is annoying, and some of the characters are maybe not as believable as others. But the author certainly cannot be faulted for putting forth an effort to flesh out some rather complex folk.  For those who have a taste for modern literary fiction, I would very much recommend it.  It reminds me a little of the moodiness Robert Edric's of Salvage.
We move on to our descriptive categories: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7 with 4 at the midpoint and 7 high.
Realism is pretty straightforward.  It is a modern day dystopia.  Or put another way, a pessimists view of the real world.  Eddie is possibly a little overly successful for her stated experience level, but it is a story after all.  It is a 7.
Readability is not the literary quality, but literally "how easy is it to read and understand."  The category was almost designed for the dystopian settings which run the gamete from the plain and simple La jetée ciné-roman picture book, to the very confusing noir Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.  In this case we have something in between.  It is not exactly a fast paced page turner, and it does have a certain amount of symbolic content (Eddie has the arch angel at the top of the Christmas Pageant Live Tree).  But the story moves along with most of the symbolism being somewhat obvious and can be ignored as you wish.  It is a literary 4.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Zazen: A Review

Vanessa Veselka's Zazen is a an soft apocalypse in progress.  Extrapolating on current (negative of course) trends, the United States is suffering a slow grinding social and economic collapse.  The story is told from the viewpoint of an over educated waitress with punk-hard left sensibilities living in (likely) Portland, Oregon.

Vanessa Veselka, now a resident of Portland, Oregon. has slightly confusing.  The various biographies you pick up on line (here and here) don't piece together all that well.   She identifies herself as having  been a teenage runaway, an expatriate, a union organizer, cab driver and a student of paleontology.  At some point her biographies added train jumper and sex worker (teenaged more than a stripper-less than a hooker), but those items appear to have been dropped. She is a mother, was a punk  musician (and quieter under own name), and now writer. This novel, her first, won the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize that  "represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise."
The novel has made a splash in the main stream media circles.  Which is likely why it hasn't had much notice from the dystopian/apocalypse niche folks - pushed through different marketing channels.  It is a grab bag of entertainment.  As Levi Asher at Literary Kicks put it:
I just finished Zazen and I feel like I've read about five different books. It's a hilarious satire on hipster counterculture, a touching family drama, a dystopian nightmare, a meditation upon Buddhism and geology, and a suspenseful story about urban terrorism. It's got fortune cookies, a head-of-John-the-Baptist pinata, countless conversations about veganism, and a surprisingly well-organized orgy.
The book has all this.  Because he is "literary", Mr. Asher downplays the dystopia and the apocalyptic elements that are the central glue of the story.  It is a coming of age story for the slightly older quarter-life crises set.  The title, Zazen, is the meditative position used in Zen Buddhism.  This mixed grabbag of realities is the meditations of an aging left leaning feminist punk rocker.
Because this is a punk-anarchist view of the world, the left is skewered at least as much as the right is.  Our anti-hero Della, the paleontologist trained waitress, has some leftover hippy parents with extreme views.  Nothing makes them happier in life than to see their son marry an African American woman, or their daughter show up at a family occasion with her girlfriend- multiculturalism as message.  For someone who has been a union organizer, the author takes some surprising shots at the way which unions support the status quo within a dystopian society so as to be able to work within the system.  This of course highlights the anarchist-punk arguments of being captured by the system when you try to work within it.  The slow Republicanizing of the Tea Party, would be the analogy from The Right.

The greater point of the book seems to be the attempt of an individual to not only make sense of the chaos that is our world, but also to have a meaningful purpose.  Various wanna-be architects of change consistently fail to have any effect what-so-ever while a case of mistaken blame/death leads to major social upheavals.  The very beginning of the book has Della  wondering at the Buddhists who set themselves on fire in protest and are able to remain still and calm while they burn alive.  Near the end, in a discussion with a young delinquent -skate boarder that Della runs across somewhat at random:
I took one more beer and let him have the rest.  The sun was setting and I wanted to say something helpful but I know he wouldn't understand so  I said something stupid that made no sense because I had been thinking things all day and there was no way I could explain them and I shouldn't even have tried.
"Everythings on fire," I said . "The guy who won't sell you the beer, your dad, the Ravage all around us, your feelings about the music you like, it's all on fire."
"Well I wish it was fire for real," he said and kicked his board down, "because this all sucks."
"Yeah, well, me too. I wish it had all burned away so I wouldn't have to watch."
At one point Della is asked? 
I understand your a scientist? 
    I am a waitress.
What do you study?
   Patterns of extinction.
The authoress (as told in the acknowledgements) describe Della to her five-year old daughter as:
someone who was afraid that the world was full of sadness and that everything beautiful just got hurt.  Violet looked at me for a second than said, "Yeah, but Della's Wrong."
Although the excerpts might make it seem like a post-modern Buddhist text, the proceedings are not that heavy handed.  There is far too much farce and humor, and it doesn't come off as particularly pedantic.

So based on the fact that I have quoted from the text and was not picking it to pieces, I think it would be fair to say that I liked the book.  Della is a bit detached from her surroundings, and it is rather obvious that she is herself recovering from some unknown trauma, but her detachment is a very common type of detachment in our modern world;  Her desire to make sense of the world, and have some real stake in it is met with the wall of confusion and difference that makes up our modern world.  She tries to map it out, but the interconnections all loop around back on each other, and in the end it is just all too chaotic.  While very much a left leaning tract, the deadliest barbs are directed at the follies of the left, both the establishment left, and the anarchist left.  The more general themes about the nature of reality, or understanding of it, and our place in it, are universal themes.
We have our descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings: Realism and readability:  1 to 7, 4 the midpoint,  7 being high.
Realism is a little difficult because satire to some degree is intentionally unrealistic.  It overplays its hand.  But the world is a strange place when get off your couch and turn off the television, so a lot of the satire here is not all that far off mark.  The setting is a natural extrapolation of today's trends not that far off in the future.  There is actually some technical matter, if not exactly a how-to manual, buried within.  It is a six.
Readability is literally how easy of a read is it. 

It's not a comic book.  The story is a little meandering and confused at times- confusing in the way that life can be confusing.  It's mostly mundane life with odd little bits that begin to add up to a more menacing situation.  Matters of deep philosophy lurk throughout the undercurrents so there is some effort at literary execution.  Call it a literary 5.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles: A Review

Kij Johnson's The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles (illustrator: Goñi Montes) is a novella length cat-astrophe-in-progress set in (presumably) medieval Japan at a time when cats were still very rare in Japan.  At the moment there is a free online version here.

Front cover picture

Kij Johnson is a fantasy and science fiction writer.  She has won both the Hugo and Nebula for short fiction for The Man Who Bridged the Mist.  She has been an editor for Tor, but recently took a position with the University of Kansas English Department.
I did see a little poetic summary (here) of our story:
In Japan lived a cat who was small
with her aunts by a gardened old hall,
but the earth shook and turned
and the garden was burned
so the cat ran away from it all.
It's a fuzzy (or at least furry) little feel good story about a cat who looses its home and extended family after a massive earth quake, followed by a city wide conflagration that burns down the abandoned building that an extended family of cats has been living in.  The small black cat is left without home or family.   Fearing her family story (fudoki) will be lost, she heads North to find the place where one of her original ancestors came from.
Along the way she begins to understand more about the world, meets variously (mostly) helpful people, and has a number of interesting little adventures.  She learns that it is important to never give up hope, and that everyone has some sort of story of their own.  Although she realizes that "North" is a bit larger of a place than she first thought, curiosity and a sense of purpose make her continue on through adversity.
It is a nice story.  I might read it to my eight year old, but I am not sure what to do about the nice illustrations (see one example below) that are washed out in my black and white LED screen.  Since at his age, he might be inclined to want to copy them down in one of his notebooks, it is particularly problematic.
Our descriptive ratings (1 to 7: 7 is high) are easy.  It is not Realistic, in the sense that it is an adventure you or your family might experience.  Beside the fact that it takes place in as early as the 6th century, most people don't think that cats, or other animals, have a word based language that they can understand amongst themselves:  Think Watership Down.  It's a 1.
Readability is also easy.  It is a novella, you could probably read to a clever 6 year old.  It has lots of little episodic adventures.  It's a 7.

Monday, November 12, 2012

High-Rise: A Review

J.G. Ballard's High-Rise (Kindle) is  novel of a very focused social collapse with an a high-rise apartment complex at the edge of London.  The novel is obviously highly allegorical in nature, and takes pointed shots at the English upper middle class, and their lifestyle.

J.G. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930.  He, along with his family, was put in a Japanese civilian prison camp during the war, and returned to England in 1946.  He rose to prominence when he began writing for Micheal Morcock's avente garde Science Fiction magazine New Worlds in the mid-1950s.  He is generally considered to be one of the established figures of the 1960s "New Wave" movement. He rose to prominence as a novelist with a destructive cycle of novels, that showed the ruination of the world with the four classic Aristotelian elements Air, Water, Earth, and Fire:  The Wind From Nowhere (1961),the Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and the Crystal World.  He has never been popular with the hard-science science fiction audience, which may be why he never won any of the field's major awards (Hugo, Nebula).  He has a long history of reversing the normal heroic paradigm, and his hero's often are self-immolating, and often work to further along the disastrous scenarios of his fiction.

On the backside blurb of my copy of Ballard's The Drowned World it comments: 
Camping in the abandoned, mouldy Ritz Hotel, the temperature rising, [Dr. Robert] Kerans dreams the strange dream, delving deep into the wells of humanity's remote biological past.  Penetrating man's eternal psyche, Kerans asks whether man must slip back to antediluvian consciousness as the earth returns to its primordial panorama.

The back blurb on High Rise has the following:
...from innocent beginnings it reduces people to murder, incest and above all a passionate lover for chaos.
The high rise is a self contained forty-story apartment building built on abandoned dockland a convenient commute from London.  As the story goes on, additional sister buildings can be seen to be going up across the vast separating parking lots. There are about 2,000 residents, and there is shopping, entertainment, and schooling for the children all in place.  The novel opens:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within his huge apartment building during the previous three months.   Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into clearly more sinister dimension.  With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school - all in effect abandoned in the sky - the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities ofr violence and confrontation....

High-rise was written in 1975.  It is looking at a society that was turning more and more to the gated community, and an isolation of the mid-upper elites within their own society.  Not even anticipating the ability of the internet to allow people to roam far and wide with the most tenuous connections to everyday real tactile world, it anticipates an eventual societal collapse through self-atomization. 

From the novel:
A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake...people who were content with their lives in the high-rises who felt no particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed...By its very efficiency, the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behaviour, and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses...
The very remote control nature of society.  The very protective cocoon that shields us, will eventually remove the social mechanisms that keep our society intact. 

I won't go into the escalation of squabbles that brings about the complete breakdown of culture within the building.  They are somewhat surreal and not that specifically important.   What is very interesting is that the author views the people within the building being drawn to the excitement and chaos once they are exposed to it.  Having lived without it for so long, they have lost their self-control, their immunity to anti-social impulses.

Did I enjoy the novel?  It was interesting, it was entertaining, but it was not the master work one would like to see from such a famous author.  Although there is an attempt to show the slow shift into collapse, and by implication the slow collapse of our own society into collapse, the progression is not particularly compelling.  The novel, written at the tale end of the societal changes of the 1960s has themes that were likely more compelling to that time period.  The not particularly graphic sexual looseness is more a part of the pre-aids era.  The lack of concern about their collapsing outside careers, as the residents become more cocooned in their tower, is pre-1980s.

On to our two descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings:  Realism and Readability: 1 to 7, 4 is the midpoint, and 7 is high.

Realism is easy.  It is set in the modern world, but it is obviously satirical.  The activities are exaggerated to illustrative a trend.  There is some focus on collapsing infrastructure, and running out of food, but not in the nitty gritty survivalist fashion.  The tenants are psychologically chained to their situation, not physically forced into it.  It is a 2.

Readability is literal:  how fast and easy is this book to read.  There is clearly two levels of reality going on here.  The in your face collapse storyline, and the commentary on the situation of the modern world: an older, upper class, Lord of the Flies.  Much like Lord of the Flies, you can almost ignore the heavy handed symbolism and read it as a straight storyline.  The pacing is uneven, and while it is not a long book, I found it to be a bit plodding:  a literary 2.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Book out: Rational Preparedness

 Jane Alexandra-Krehbiel from, Rational Preparedness has published a new book.

"Rational Preparedness".......The Blog

Kimber over at Framboise Manor, who apparently does not have my insane backlog of books, has already read it.

Her comments:

... this book is a must-have! although it was written for people new to prepping, there is much information contained in the book that even seasoned preppers can learn from! Jane's straightforward approach and excellent writing style make the book a very easy read...

She continues on from there.  Obviously she like it!  You can order the book Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Election Changes

Well we are all about the grand finale here.

Our book reviews were slotted into the election week, so we have had to wait to report on the big elections news.
We may be at the end of our 50 star flag.  Puerto Rico, to my great surprise, in a non-binding referendum, has decided that it would like to be the fifty-first state of the union.

Puerto Ricans opt for statehood in referendum
Associated Press, 7 September 2012 (hat tip: Balance via MR)
The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States. Nearly 54 percent, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46 percent, or 786,749 people, favored the status quo. Ninety-six percent of 1,643 precincts were reporting as of early Wednesday.
The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favorite, garnering 61 percent. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33 percent, while independence got 5 percent.

I have worked down in Puerto Rico a couple of times as a contractor for FEMA.  Very nice people.
For obvious reasons, some Puerto Ricans have always wanted their own country.  But being a "Commonwealth" (in name if not reality) allows them to lower their taxes, while still receiving some of the welfare benefits of being U.S. citizens.  Being relatively poor compared to other States (but not to the rest of Latin America) that is important.   But obviously, not having any representation in congress limits their influence and participation within the country.
It should be noted, that the Puerto Ricans have a major difference from other Spanish speaking people in our country.  Most of them did not emigrate.  The United States took the island from Spain after the Spanish American War.  So they are not immigrants in the usual fashion.  More Puerto Ricans live on the mainland United States than on the island, and as citizens of our country, they can vote and participate with everyone else.
While most Puerto Ricans are Democrats.  The islands Republican-like party does win island wide elections as is a major presence.
So maybe we need to think about where we should but an additional star on our flag. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

White Pickups: A Review

Larry Kollar's White Pickup (smashwords) is an apocalypse-in-progress set in a gated residential development on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia.  In this first part of a continuing series, the white pickups are not entirely explained, but they are clearly part of greater scheme of possibly extraterrestrial, possibly metaphysical threat to all of society.
From the blurb:
At summer’s end, mysterious white pickup trucks take to the roads and compel nearly everyone to “drive off.” Some of those who remain gather in a suburban Atlanta subdivision, and struggle to cope with a world whose infrastructure is rapidly crumbling.

Larry Kollar, lives in the suburbs north of Atlanta, Georgia, is a technical writer who has gone public with his fantastical, and science fiction writings.  He has had a variety of short works published, but this is his first full length novel.   He has a blog-published longer militia-collapse piece online. I recently reviewed the novel, Enfold Me, also by a technical writer gone fiction-rogue, and noticed that the years of writing seem to make these first efforts less clumsy and relatively polished compared to the usual self-published efforts. 
The story begins with people getting in, and driving off in the mysterious white pickup trucks.  It is all relatively fast, functionally, and a little coolly clinical.  There is some of the looting and mayhem of the typical fast-collapse novel, but all of this action occurs en cameo - briefly told in passing.  There is some discussion that it appears to be more independent minded folks that are best able to resist the siren call of the pickups.  Combined with the surreal nature of the disappearances, that may go a long way toward explaining the rather tempered grief at the loss of so many people.  Of course, the first thing that all the featured independent minded people do is band together to form a rather eclectic urban version of an ad hoc survivalist group.  As one would expect in the suburbs of Atlanta, there are a variety of skin tones, a few gays, and a general hodge podge of the mostly well off.

Initially the only children are teenagers.  But as time goes on some left behind youngsters at a local cinema (good drop off parenting there) and adopt them into the group.  Various couples pair up and they settle into a semi-communal group. They are an odd mix of brilliant endeavor, hooking up methane generator from their waste lines, and ad hoc half preparedness. Even though some of the people joining the group have run into bad guys on day one, and wild dogs latter, outside of a little target practise, they make very little real effort at defensive preparations until they get attacked.  In a world full of left behind firearms, only a few of them have long arms, and no attempt at even a simple strung wire fence to slow up, or at least funnel, any rush on their little enclave is made.  They are more thorough about the dogs, but only after a surprise in-your-face encounter.

Fortunately for them, the bad guys are, probably somewhat realistically, inept tacticians.  Finding them (easily) by following their smoke trail.  The bad guys march right up the main road in daylight so that they are seen approaching, and then clump together in their attack so that the wildly firing defenders have a target rich environment even though there are only a handful of bad guys.

Similar strange thinking occurs off and on throughout the book.  One item I particularly recall is their semi-serious efforts to see if they can destroy some trucks without any concerns what might happen if their is passengers of some sort inside.  I am not saying that it is not a sacrifice you might make, the trucks are fairly inimical, but it doesn't even occur to them- Even after 99.5% of the population has climbed into them.

On the positive side, as noted above, it is a very clever group.  Although you aren't bored with the blow by blow details (that's what the Internet is for) they have far more constructive ideas as to how to make a little post-collapse settlement work than most more dedicated survivalist fiction.  It is an empty world, so they have the resources, and they have sufficient people.  You don't get all to that "How should we modify the constitution?" discussions because...well let's face it why on earth would a tiny band of survivalists be worrying about how to modify the constitution.  Everyone pitches in because that is what happens in small groups.  

It is a rather light hearted affair: a survivalist tale from a more modern liberal point of view. They do gardening. They have projects.  But they still take time off from their classes to have skate boarding lessons for the youngsters.  That's right, it is post apocalyptic America, and the kids want to learn skate boarding.  It makes a certain amount of sense, but this band of survivors don't take themselves nearly as seriously as most.  As with the much more serious in tone, Dark Road, that we reviewed recently, there is a little bit too much jaw-boning that doesn't seem to entirely lead anywhere. But within the much looser structure of this story, and a much smaller cast of characters, it does not weigh down the story nearly as much.

There are a few people that come along who have religious convictions, including a relatively open minded pastor, but the surreal nature of the disaster keeps some of the metaphysical speculations in check.  Whether the pickup trucks are alien, or metaphysical in nature, or both, is so completely unclear as to leave those types of issues unresolved. Based on the hints on the upcoming novel, those issues are to be explored later.
Heavily emphasised in some of the promotional blurbs, there is a plot thread that sounds very much like the "legend in the making" trope that you sometimes see in post-apocalyptic tales (Maleville, American Apocalypse, Earth Abides...).  It takes up a little space, and is not particularly convincing.  It would help if the "hero" in the making was a little less self absorbed, and  little more obviously competent.  Keeping your video games going, and taking time out to give skate board lessons to the kids, is not the normal activities of a driven leader who keeps things together in times of despair;  and the groups activities suffer for it.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  It was about as light hearted as a life and death, end of the world, situation, can be.  The low pressure narrative winds its way through the story in a rather leisurely pace.  This leisurely pace keeps the story from getting far with resolving the white pickup truck issue, which does leave you with the usual multi-part story dilemma.  While I am interested in knowing what is intended with this part of the story line, with the massive number of novels to read out there, the multi-part projects are very much at risk of loosing readership at each step along the way. 
For our descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings:  1 to 7;  4 is the midpoint and 7 is high.
Realism is difficult.  I don't generally include the likelihood of the collapse scenario itself because that tends to get into very core arguments about the philosophy of reality.  It may not be likely that a meteor would knock the moon of course, or that a mediocre soldier would become leader of Germany and start a genocidal world war, but if you live in the improbable world where it happens:  well than it happens.  But the white pickups have a continuing effect on the story.  The unresolved nature of their threat, also keeps them from being a stand in for the more typical pandemic plague.   There are issues of supply, and group cohesion.  There are threats, and a lack of preparation does seem to slow up their efforts at times.  They huddle together, but there huddling is that of modern people used to their own space, and it makes supply issues (wood/fuel) a larger issue than need be.  It is a prepper novel with a very strange collapse scenario:  a 5.

Readability is very straightforward.  It is not a literary work, but the language is effective and direct.  The symbolism is generally portrayed in a rather straightforward manner, and if not entirely resolved, that is because it is a multi-part story.  A little too much chatting and navel gazing to be called a page turner.   Modern people are very in touch with the "inner" selves, and aren't likely to go off looting without thinking through their group motivations.  It is a 6.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Shelter: A Review

SunHi Mistwalker's The Shelter is a short story set in a dystopian apocalypse-in-progress set in contemporary America somewhere in (what appears to be) the Southeast United States: possibly Atlanta.  The tale is set from the vantage point of the newly homeless who have lost the ability to keep the roof over their head in a severe version of today's economic collapse.  The shelter in question is a seven-level parking garage that people pay rent to stay in.

Born and raised in Chicago, SunHi Mistwalker (an online role playing handle for the anonymous author) has been specializing in writing about social collapse.  In her own words:

I made the decision to not sugarcoat some of the darker sides of childhood. I wanted to explore how poverty and societal collapse can drastically alter a child's life in ways most of us never imagine... my stories take a very intimate look at the relationships between individuals living in these corrupt societies. How does the individual and family respond to economic collapse, oppression and other nastiness created by unbelievably rotten cultures?
 She appears to be currently living in Seattle, Washington.
The initial impetus for writing this short story, and the novel that is to follow, appears to have come from the author playing in an online dystopian sym-world Second Life

Since it is a short story, we can be relatively brief.  A little girl Sunni Brown (a character, not the author) lives with her mother in an apartment building.  The story starts with the Sheriff showing up to evict them, and the two of them left fighting with the scavengers over the scraps of their belongings.  A couple days later they make their way to a low budget shelter for rent. A seven story parking deck where people live in the variously numbered parking places.  Sunni and her Mom share space number 202 with another family.  It pretty much goes downhill from there.  Sunni's Mom does not take the fall from grace well.  And Sunni is pretty much left to her own defenses in a world where the people in charge take a personal and perverse interest in little girls.  The telling is not overly graphic, but it is not a mystery as to what is going on.
The story is very dark and gritty.  The emphasis on urban homelessness reminds me of the American Apocalypse series in its (better) earlier portions.   It is missing some of the telling details of poverty.  If Sunni and her mom are so broke, how come the T.V. still has power, and the phone is still hooked up?  In what world have the bad guys ever been able to visibly molest young children without worrying about a severe fall in social status?  The author's description of the sequel I think is telling:
After four years of hellish cruelty in a sex trafficking gang, Sunni Brown moves to a southern city mired in poverty and despair. Her mom disappears and Sunni must fend for herself. But when the jaded teen meets a disillusioned cop, will hatred, rage and the burning desire for bloody revenge morph her from a helpless victim into raging vigilante?
This is realism?  I am sorry, this is wish fulfillment.  Poor children left on their own, who fall into "dystopian" hands wind up in very sad straights.  Very few of them become anything other than miserable adults.  They certainly don't become crusading vigilantes.  It is interesting that this little wishful wormhole, is that same one that Nova fell into with his urban collapse fantasy.  He added in some cowboy action gun play, but also seems to have found that the easiest story telling route to take.
Its a shame because a much more subtle telling, would make for a much deeper story.  The urban collapse novel has a lot to offer.  For one, our urban environments have been collapsing for some time, and various third world mega-cities, have squatter settlements that also could make excellent background material for what actually happens in these settings.  A clue: its not pretty, but its not what happens here either.
As far as it goes, the short story is reasonably interesting.  The idea of the parking deck squatter settlement is an interesting one.   Based on her descriptions, I probably won't be looking at the follow on novel, but this story is fine.
For our descriptive ratings: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7 with 7 being high.
With such a short story length (30 pages) it is hard to get too far off the reality course.   There are a few miscues that I noted above, but it is mostly a pretty grim telling of where your place is in the world when you have no income, and no place to stay.  What exactly is working in the economy is a little unclear.  There is still a currency that people value, and still some form of government, and government enforcement.  If the author is comfortable using a virtual roleplaying handle as her "name", I suspect she is a little clueless with regards to how the economics of these situations work.  Based on what little we see in this story, I will call it a 6.
Readability is easy.  Its only 30 pages.  It is told from the viewpoint, and language level, of a young girl.  Maybe a comic book would be easier to read, but not much else.  It is a 7.