D. Robert Grixti's Sun Bleached Winter (Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K.) is post-apocalyptic novel set two-years after the onset of nuclear winter from some sort of unexplained event. It looks a lot like a post nuclear war scenario to me, but the cryptic nature of the authors blurb leaves it somewhat up in the air. The geographic setting is left intentionally unclear, but the lack of firepower from even the bad guys, and a little guessing (the place name Haversham comes up) it might be in Northern England.
There is a planned sequence that will involve a different primary character called Crusaders of Ice.
D. Robert Grixti is an independent video game developer, magazine editor, and horror writer. He is currently living in Melbourne Australia.
Authors stated purposes (interview here):
What initially led to me writing Sun Bleached Winter was a discussion with a friend about the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. We’d both been amazed by how emotional it was (most of the post-apocalyptic stuff we were familiar with being mainly fast paced action/adventure stuff, like Mad Max for example), and made me think of another spin on post-apocalyptic fiction that I’d never seen done before – horror.
I didn’t just want to write a scary, post-apocalyptic tale, I also wanted to explore the psychological condition of the characters and touch on what humanity means in a world where there are no laws
Which is a little ironic as Honey Brown, a fellow Australian, won an Australian prize (Aurealis) for best Horror Novel with her apocalypse-in-progress: The Red Queen. Poor Honey just can't get any respect! There actually is a pretty long list of apocalyptic horror set within a realistic setting, it just doesn't always cross reference in searches. Arguably, apocalyptic-horror, was what H.P. Lovecraft was all about.
The novel involves a grown brother and sister, Lionel and Claire, wandering around the devastated landscape. It is obviously playing off of McCarthy's The Road except that presumably the sister is the stand in for the innocent youth. They wander around and have episodic adventures, much like The Road. Eventually they stumble upon someone who is a little more helpful, and they make their way toward a small enclave that is in some fashion trying to forge ahead. Somewhere along the way, ghost-like visages show up to pester the brother.
It just doesn't hold together. Almost from the very beginning you get odd events that don't make a lot of sense.
At the very opening, the part that is in the free sample, you have the hero risking himself to get hold of a notebook. Yet latter on we have them traipsing around through a small downtown area and noting that there are office supplies for the taking. (?).
We get detailed combat scenes, but the author seems to have learned his combat knowledge from the video game genre: weapons are misnamed, revolver ammunition is universally acceptable by all of that general type, people dodge bullets...that kind of thing. There are the obligatory super-dogs, that don't seem to have had the same problem finding non-poisoned water. There is no discussion as to why Newtown can grow crops in the open under the darkened sky.
Apocalyptic novels are often a little short on logic. That wouldn't be the end of the world, if the characters and activities can keep up the story line. The author is trying to make Lionel into the brooding, thoughtful sort. Unfortunately, he tilts past brooding into whiny in a serious way. Granted, the poor guy has ghosts of some sort hectoring, him, but he cannot even be bothered to check out the fact that the ranger's station they stumble on has power to supply a radio, and he ignores the message about Newton. Lionel is the most grating main character I can recall since the professor in The Fall of Eden.
Which brings up another odd point. In looking around the web at a number of different reviews, the reviewer notes some items from the opening chapter, and then verbatim tells the plot line from the provided book blurb. The problem is that the book's blurb, doesn't actually describe the plot line very well. When Lionel hears the radio broadcast about Newtown, he ignores it. When they head to Newtown latter, they aren't searching for it because they are with someone who has just come from there. Having seen the occasional blog-reviewer get caught out for cribbing their reviews, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that one way to pad your review totals is to read the first chapter and then comment on the blurb. I don't pretend to understand the logic, but it's out there. None of this is the fault of our book author, but it is a sad indicator of our current mode of pump-and-dump blog spot marketing techniques.
I appreciate what Mr. Grixti is trying to do. Creating a "The Road" with an interesting twist seems like a good enough idea. But the road is written by one of the most successful American author's of the late 20th century. You can't simply pull apart some of his themes and then throw in a little blender produced other-genre ingredients and expect good results. It doesn't work.
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 a tough call. The novel has a very similar of a setting to The Road. It actually avoids that novels problem of having too many successful cannibals around so late after a disaster by only being two years after the catastrophe. It has the occasionally seen mantra that it is hopeless to stay in one place, that you must keep moving to survive. The storyline, in its own odd way, I suppose does demonstrate that concept. But there are ghosts, or spooky things. And some pretty mediocre detailed combat scenes. Tactics used to take a fortified house involve running up to the house and shooting at the people. (?). There are no elves, and people are hungry. It's a three.
Readability is a little more straightforward. There is a lot of brooding, which keeps it from being a page turner. The logical flaws, at least for those who notice them, lead to some confusion as to what exactly is going on. The ghosts and the mysterious nature of the cause of the destruction leave some unanswered questions hanging out there. But it still moves along. There is action, There is adventure. There is trying to save poor Sis'. It is a four.