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.


PioneerPreppy said...

OK this one is definitely on my list now. Thanks for reviewing it.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: I hope you enjoy it. If the book had not been so high on preachy-prepper advise, with lists of bug out bag accoutrements and what not, I might not have thought its severe lapses in realism were much of an issue. I had some of the same problems with Joe Nobody's Holding Their Own. Recall, people do actually read these for advice.