Sunday, December 21, 2014

The China Pandemic: A Review

A.R. Shaw's The China Pandemic is a pandemic fueled apocalyptic novel set in Seattle, Washington, and the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It is the first book in a series, but ends at a reasonable stopping point.

A.R. Shaw (facebook) is originally from Texas, but now lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.  Her Summer vacations along the Skagit River inspired the bug out location for the series. Looking at her blog and facebook entries, she has an obvious interest in the prepping community.
The Chinese, who have zero direct involvement in the story, design some bio-bug virus, and then accidentally let it loose on the world.  This bug kills, in the usual mysto-fictional way 98%, of the folks who come in contact with it.  And again, everyone comes in contact except for tiny groups of people (preppers) who have isolated themselves from all of humanity. 
But this book is only  a little about the preppers.  The preppers are a group of hyper prepared folks that are reluctant neighbors of our surviving immune protagonists along the mountain lake where they have all settled.  The preppers have all sorts of expensive items, and military training and what not.  They are not quite as extreme as the folks in Thomas Koloniar's Cannibal Reign. They don't have a refabbed missile silo. 
The story mostly involves a family like gathering of survivors who make their way to a small hunting lodge in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  At the start, we have a Korean woman, who knows she is dying of the China Plague, leaving her son five year olds son, Bang, with Graham, a math teacher with a woodsy background.  Starting in a bedroom community (noted as Mountain View) near Seattle, they make their way to Grahm's father's hunting cabin.  The trip is episodic and they collect a few teenagers along the way.  Eventually they settle into their cabin with a grandfather-figure, mommy-figure, daddy-figure, teenagers, and little boy making up a reasonably cooperative ad hoc family.
The cabin sets the second stage of the story.  The virus has the now usual apocalyptic aspect of having all survivors being carriers (plague vectors) to any that haven't come in contact (aka. preppers).  That this isn't a normal part of most truly deadly pandemics (people don't worry about survivors of Ebola killing them after all), or even the flu-based relatives the Chinese designed it from, is beside the point.  It is a given truth now in apocalyptic fiction circles, so does not need justification.  So the preppers are around, and they have some interactions, but it must always be done at a distance.
The family group's main focus is getting ready for the winter, dealing with a group of bad guys that want to steal their women-folk, and the occasional run into town for supplies.  All very normal prepper-based apocalyptic fare.  The group combines a helpfully large amount of outdoor/camping survival knowledge, with a more appropriate level of general cluelessness about much else.  The bad guys are, fortunately, not Navy SEALS, so it is a somewhat fair fight.  The author is realistic in that this oversized family, with only a few able bodied adults, doesn't try to start commando raids against the bad guys, and truthfully, their defensive preparations are pathetic.  In rural America, it doesn't seem to dawn on them that their is likely a rural supply house that should have rolls of barbwire in stock to slow up and annoy intruders.
There are a few odd notes that just don't add up.  They release trapped deer, and then much later in the book, speculate about whether they have enough meat to survive the winter.  They talk about a garden, but it is not clear where in these heavily wooded surroundings they plan to plant a large enough crop to make it worthwhile.  That they won't be able to drive into town to get canning supplies (gas going bad) doesn't seem to be on anybody's radar screen.
I would give it a qualified approval. I tend to like prepper books that involve a little bit of group dynamics, and don't turn the apocalypse into some sort of weird World War 3 with semi-automatics.  The author does have the common obsession of all the wild animals becoming instantly dangerous.  After this type of pandemic, where the owners don't have time to eat their dogs, wild dogs would be an issue, but wolves and mountain lions?  Maybe a few birthing cycles after the collapse, but not in the immediate months preceding.  Two-percent is still a pretty large group of people to contend with.  The author also makes an odd comment about people naturally heading for the hills, which indicates that she really has no justification for the scenario.  Yes! Why would everyone head for the hills, if they are part of the immune population?  The answer: they wouldn't!  They would stay in town for a year or two until the supplies started to run down.
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 bit difficult.  There is a weird quirky lip service to supplies, but if the group hadn't wandered up into the mountains after 98% of the folks died, or would make a few more supply runs into town to get their share of the loot, that wouldn't be such an issue.  It is almost as if the book follows the known fictional memes, without ever really thinking through important issues of cause and effect.  Still, there are issues of survivor psychology, group psychology, psychiatry when one's meds. can't be taken, etc.  So even with that quirky feel to it, let's call it a 5.
Readability is straightforward.  Their is some activity.  There is a little drama.  But it is all fairly slow moving.  The author has a tendency to extend her gap filling/explanatory scenes far too long.  But, it is all very straightforward. There is not a ton of deep thinking going on here.  Excepting the Korean mom, you pretty much get the shallow philosophy of modern American folks here. It is in the middle: a 4.

A.R. Shaw

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