Monday, March 17, 2014

Predicting war

A fairly plausible cause of novelist apocalypses are wars: generally big ones.  With the wind down of the cold war, the nuclear apocalypse, outside of the much cleaner EMP limited war version, has faded a bit.
 
Are we correct in predicting the unlikelihood of future conflict.
 
Well maybe not:
 
Erik Voeten, Washington Post, 12 March 2014 (hat tip: MR)
Other than Sarah Palin and certain Russian astrologers, few people foresaw that Russia would intervene militarily in the Ukraine. The Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary held a snap poll among international relations scholars, which asked: “Will Russian military forces intervene in response to the political crisis in Ukraine?” The results, reported in Foreign Policy, were disheartening: only 14 percent of the 905 interviewed scholars answered affirmatively on the eve of the intervention. (The poll was conducted from 9 p.m., Feb. 24 to 11:59 p.m., Feb. 27. Russian forces controlled the Sevastopol airport on Feb. 28).
So, in other words, only 14 % of the experts could predict military action by Russia 4 days before it occurred.
 
I seem to be more worried than most apocalyptic-handicappers about future armed conflicts (excepting dubious surgical strike EMP attacks) as a very dangerous possibility.  The retreaters of the 1970s (what they used to call survivalists) had their bomb shelters.  We have sustainability.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Death of the mall: the fallout

One of my favorite apocalyptic novels, though it is not always viewed as such, Gillian Flynn's Goodbye Girl, has the sartorial collapse of her Midwestern town centered around the closing of its Mega Mall.
 
Very few commenters on the novel seemed to even pause at the idea that an economic collapse should center around the retail market.  I guess we are a long way from the handwringing over the industrial core (a.k.a. The Rust Belt) of our country.
 
When an apocalyptic novel has a mega economic collapse, it usually starts in the banking sphere; Granted a portion of our economy that does look a bit like a house of cards at times.  But not wanting to get lumped in with those hedgehog prognosticators who are one-note harpies of doom, I feel I must offer alternatives..
 
So here we have consider the start of the retail driven apocalypse. 

This Is the Real Reason Sbarro Is in Bankruptcy
Neil Irwin, New York Times (Economix), 13 March 2014 (hat tip: MR)
Let’s get this out of the way first: The food at Sbarro, the pizza-and-pasta chain, isn’t very good. The pizza crust manages to be both thick and limp, the tomato sauce bland, the cheese the victim of sitting for too long under heat lamps.
Plenty of fast-food places serve food that isn’t very good. But Taco Bell, Arby’s and Long John Silver, to cite three examples, have not found themselves at the doors of a bankruptcy court twice in the last three years, an honor Sbarro managed this week with a Chapter 11 filing...
The reason Sbarro is having a rougher time than other, more solvent purveyors of not-good food goes to the root of its business: You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food. The last time I ate at one of its 800 locations was in an airport where the next best alternative was a turkey wrap that looked as if it had been in the chiller even longer than the Sbarro pizza had been under the heat lamp. 
The company is in financial trouble because one of its big bets on real estate — that Americans will keep going to mall food courts en masse — has turned out to be wrong.  
Ms. Flynn's novel also noted the demise of the local second tier tourist sites within her collapsing scenario, so we will need to be on the lookout for other signs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Resurrecting giant viruses

I remember reviewing a book some time ago, a somewhat fanciful book, that stated that the cause of the pandemic collapse was global warming's melting of the ice caps, and thus releasing all the stored up frozen baddies. I was a bit dubious.
 
Well, the authoress may have been overly simplifying, but apparently there is some legitimate concern.
 
Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, 3 March 2014 (hat tip: MR)
A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra, sparking concern that increased mining and oil drilling in rapidly warming northern latitudes could disturb dormant microbial life that could one day prove harmful to man.
The latest find, described online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to belong to a new family of mega-viruses that infect only amoeba. But its revival in a laboratory stands as “a proof of principle that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” said the study’s lead author, microbiologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France.
“We know that those non-dangerous viruses are alive there, which probably is telling us that the dangerous kind that may infect humans and animals -- that we think were eradicated from the surface of Earth -- are actually still present and eventually viable, in the ground,” Claverie said.
With climate change making northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases, the researchers concluded. Average surface temperatures in the area that contained the virus have increased more steeply than in more temperate latitudes, the researchers noted.
“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.”
It should be noted that most pathogens can't just jump around from species to species with ease, so it is not necessarily humans at risk.  But most of our food supply comes from relatives of grass, and we no how a disease that wipes them out would turn out.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lucifer's Hammer: A Review

Jerry Pournelle, and Larry Niven's Lucifer's Hammer is an apocalyptic novel set mostly within the Los Angeles, California area during the lead up and aftermath of a rather large meteor strike on earth. I read it when it first came out in paperback, and refamiliarized myself with it this time with an audio book.



Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle are both very famous within the science fiction genre.  This novel is probably their most successful crossover into a more mainstream style of novel.  That a science fiction novel written and reflecting the libertarian/conservative beliefs of its authors can make it onto a NPR fan-poll of the top 100 Science Fiction Novels of All Time, is telling of the story's punch.

There is a humorous shot at boring survivalist types early in the story.  The humor is in that Jerry Pournelle was very interested in survivalism.  Along with being the editor of a survivalist magazine(see here), he wrote the introduction to Mel Tappan's "Tappan on Survival" (pdf).

As to a broad outline of the story, I do like a summation by Bart Leahy:
Lucifer’s Hammer is probably the first novel to describe realistically the effects of a comet striking the planet Earth. Rather than a hero story, like the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact, Lucifer’s Hammer is more like a 1970s disaster film, such as The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, or the awful Meteor. In a disaster film, the story begins by introducing a large, star-studded cast of characters, often with varying degrees of likeability or ethics, and then threatens them with death from natural forces. Some characters live; some die; the survivors usually learn some underlying lesson; and life goes on.
Note that this also describes a lot of features about a cozy catastrophe, by its narrower definition, which might be summed up as "sorry for all the dead bodies, but we needed to sweep clean up that messy world to build our own cute little utopia".  If you add in the fact that most of the post apocalyptic folks who "matter" at the worlds end are middle class to wealthy, the coziness goes a bit into overdrive at times.

There are many items within this novel that can be seen in later survivalist works: meteors became popular for a while, the defensive berm shows up from time to time (American Apocalypse and One Second After to note just two), even the dangerous boy scouts (Daybreak Zero).
 
So a wealthy amateur astronomer, Timmothy Hamner, spots a large comet heading in from deep space.  As it gets closer there is a slow realization that it is going to pass awfully close to earth after it makes its swing around the sun. The odds are lottery-sized large against the chance for a direct strike: but still.    The crazies jump in, and the powers that be go into denial mode. Much of the novel is spent in the early set up.  As with the disaster movies of the day, the cast is large, and much time is spent with all sorts of mini love affairs.  This is the 1970s in Los Angeles, and there is a lot of sleeping around: light on the detail but described.  Very few of the main characters are particularly appealing, and only become heroic when compared to the cannibalistic, nihilistic, militaristic religious cult that rises up to become a threat.

There have been objections to the novels methodology:
 
The novel shares the time periods obsession with a rising up of the black underclass, and even though most of them would have drowned in Los Angeles, blacks are greatly over represented among the bad guys.  The religious are generally portrayed as ineffective and ignored, or as wide eyed lunatics leading cannibals.  Taking in the very loose morals of the good guys, and the make up of the bad guys, you do have to sort of wonder about the authors' world view. 
Harvey's emergence as the next ruler of the valley community is based on his winning Maureen's hand.  And Maureen knows the role that she plays in guaranteeing this new authority...She acknowledges her role unhappily, but does not challenge it.  It is [] important that the women choose their subordinate role just as the black members of the new Brotherhood Army have chosen their membership.  It seems as though Niven and Pournelle want not simply to present a world where equality based on race and/or sex are dismissed as luxuries; it also seems as if they want to acknowledge the readers' potential discomfort and thus explain the subordination (and extinction) as chosen.  Given this, the essential racial genocide of the novel is passed over as a rational protection of the only legitimate community in the novel.  Niven and Pournell are not asking their readers to acquiesce to direct racism, the reader simply has to acquiesce to the rational decision to eradicate cannibals intent on total destruction.
[B]odily security is based on destroying the primary threats to that insecurity: hunger and then the New Brotherhood Army.  But of course this means that security requires the eradication of most and the enslavement of the rest of the remaining black men and women. This happens in the novel as a simple matter of course.  And the reader is not likely to protest- they are cannibals; and in postapocalyptic fiction cannibalism is the sign of total inhumanity, and thus an inability to enter into a contract.  As Maureen notes, "it made so much sense" (536). Claire P. Curtis, Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: We'll Not Go Home Again, p 63-64.
It should be noted that both Harvey and Maureen are multi-cheating partners with comparatively little activity within the novel that would justify their ascension to power.  It is a little odd that so many survivalist/prepper folk love this book, as well as One Second After, as both books involve the small authoritarian state communalizing everyone's stockpiles for the greater good.  Arguably you are allowed to stay outside the system, but it is fairly obvious how things would work in the long run if you don't play ball.  This is not a libertarian contractual society of like-minded preppers on their homestead.
 
Of course for those looking for an apocalyptic action yarn, or for those who agree with this neo-Hobbesian world view,  it doesn't really matter. 

But is the criticism completely fair?  One problem is that the criticism misses the final point of the novel.  The novel does not end with the defense of the stronghold.  The stronghold is safe, and yet in a very tense moment, they elect to go continue on and go on the attack to rescue the very precariously located nuclear power plant.  The book, in a slightly ham fisted way, is trying to make the point that unless we embrace the technological possibilities of nuclear power, the space program, et cetera, we are doomed to fall back on a minimalist life style:  a life style that involves slavery, and poor choices for women, and outnumbered minorities.  It is arguable that any of its polemics are effective, but it is not fair to simply ignore one of the major points of the novel.

And yes, the pro-technology polemics get stale.  But unless you are offended by a lack of appropriate multi culturalism, or Hollywood style sexcapades, it all is a very wonderful apocalyptic romp.  The authors have a tons of interesting speculation on what happens in a collapse.  Shoot, they even worry a bit about how the cannibals would go about recruiting, and how they would  get enough to eat if most of the people they run into are turned into recruits - versus food.  So while, I wouldn't say that it is a perfectly delivered novel, and the setup is a bit long winded, it still does a better job of delivering a large frame (versus the man in a cave, or on the road alone) viewpoint for an apocalyptic disaster than most any other novel out there.  Unlike a lot of todays popular scenarios (plagues and zombies in particular) it does not shirk from dealing with all those hungry people:  they just don't go away and die peacefully.  That it sets up any opponents to the author's favored polemics as selfish, or foolish, strawmen is rather unfortunate.
 
So did I/ do I like it.  At the time I first read it, I doubt I even noticed the social aspects of the book, and while I am more ambivalent now, the action adventure aspects of the story play out interestingly enough to make it a fun read.  It is a bit long, with some amazingly long setups that go just about nowhere.  It is the strength of the reasonably logical combat scenes with the cannibals that make the book.  The cannibals are not strawmen when it comes to combat.  They are better than the amateurish stronghold folks. Except for a little bit of incaution, they would have won the day.
 
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.

Is it realistic?  It suffers some from being both a bit dated culturally and socially.  Nobody is building nuclear power plants in California, and the manned space program is mostly dead.  But the portrayal of the possibilities within a collapsing society are realistic.  You may not like that blacks are over represented in the cannibal ranks, but it is hard to argue against the general idea of rogue military units, and cannibals in general.  The book pays a lot of attention to issues of supply, and is somewhat realistic in that many of the preparations (remember people know the comet is coming) pretty much bite the dust in the chaos that ensues.  It is a seven.

Readability is tougher.  It is not overly sophisticated or metaphorical in its delivery.  But there are a lot of story threads to keep up with, and a lot of them don't really go anywhere much.  This makes for a slow, sometimes meandering read.  I put it in the middle: a four.
 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Neccessary End: A Review

F. Paul Wilson and Sarah Pinboroughs' A Necessary Evil is pretty much along the lines of most pandemic apocalypses set in England, except that it is an auto immune reaction to biting flies that is killing everyone off.




Sarah Pinborough is a prolific horror writer.  F. Paul Wilson he is well known for both his horror writing and his science fiction.  His most famous current works are the Repairman Jack series.
 
The title comes from a line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar...

Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

...which is given to us in the front piece of the novel: thus setting the stage.
 
The official story blurb goes:
It spreads like a plague but it’s not a disease. Medical science is helpless against the deadly autoimmune reaction caused by the bite of the swarming African flies. Billions are dead, more are dying. Across the world, governments are falling, civilization is crumbling, and everywhere those still alive fear the death carried in the skies.
The death comes a few days after the bite, with the victim drifting off into a peaceful sleep.  I presume the idea for the disease was taken from the African Sleeping Sickness that is transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly .
 
The story follows a newspaper reporter and his wife as he is returning from Africa on a pandemic inspired fact finding mission. The wife, prior to the outbreak, has already been diagnosed with cancer.  There is a lot of tension between the two as, his wife has turned to religion to find solace and purpose in her life.
 
The novel has elements of horror to it.  But I didn't find the biting flies to be all that particularly creepy.  The crazies who would help the flies jump oceans by transporting them to new locations as part of God's work were a little creepy, but since the flies seemed to need no help, somewhat superfluous.  Unlike many writers of non-supernatural apocalypses, the nature of religion is not ignored here.  But for the most part, the religious seem to come across as idiots.   One of the side effects of the disease is that people see a light coming toward them as they slowly drift off into death, and there is much discussion of this illusory effect.
 
A plague of deadly biting flies, that only come out in the day time, would certainly kill a lot of people.  But how it is that so many people are so incompetent at protecting themselves, is a bit odd.  I thought the story was going to take the route of society collapsing because of the secondary effect of everyone hiding out in the day so that the economy crashed, and it did seem to be going there. But the flies were faster, much faster.  So you don't get much in the way survivalist type action.
 
So did I like it?  It was all right.  It read very quickly, and the story line moved forward most of the time.  But by the end, a lot of the activities and adventures just seemed like a waste of time.  I guess the point was to illustrate the differing reactions (show not tell so to speak) of folks as everything came unraveled, but I don't think the choice of the reporter and his wife worked very well.  They were both sort of annoying, and ineffectual, and didn't strike me as particularly good conduits for lessons on the philosophy of reality.  I would give it a qualified recommendation.
 
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.
 
It is set in the modern world.  As with most pandemic style novels, the die off is way to fast.  But beyond that it is hard to fault its realism.  It is intended to be an updated Lovecraft: science fiction-horror within a contemporary setting, and succeeds at that level.  It is a seven.
 
It is an easy read.  Not quite a page turner, and the naval gazing does slow up the story a little bit, so we will call it a six.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tribes: A Review

John S. Wilson's Tribes is an apocalyptic survival story set along the hilly slopes of Western Missouri, north of Kansas City outside the small town of Tracy, Missouri.  A small gated subdivision pools its resources to try and survive the economic collapse of the United States.  It is part of the Joshua (Joshua, Traveler) series of apocalyptic novels, but has its own storyline.

I am not sure who the couple and child are supposed to be, they don't match the main characters in the book.  Maybe it is the suicidal mom, and her family.

We have done an author biography on our two previous reviews of this series (see links above), so I won't keep repeating the same information here. 

The action takes place in Greenwood Estates "a small gated community snugly nestled out of the way on a hill north of the city.  Twenty-two houses, a tennis court, a "community room" with both a pool and card table, a private security guard and one duck pond."

Although the author has worked at  a lot of different jobs in his life, I doubt he has been a successful real estate developer.  You don't get too many middle class developments with full stone and iron walls around them.  Shoot the fence would cost as much as the homes in such a small community. But realistic or not, that is where the action is. 

The location of the novel, near Tracy, Missouri,  is based on the mention of refugees coming from North Kansas City High School, someone getting to their place having to break a barricade where I-29 crosses the One-Hundred and Two River (which it does just north of Platte City), and the presence of Missouri National Guardsmen.  If I had to guess, I would say they are in a little cul de sac development on either Rt 273 or 321 leaving to the north from Tracy, Mo.  Nine miles north of Platte City.
 
The author is oddly sloppy in his tactics.  He goes into all these details about how they build a safe house in the middle of the community (o.k.) and then they cut back the woods from the upper slope overlooking the stone wall to 100 yards.  Hmmm, one of the big problems with perimeter walls is not from people firing at you from the front, but people shooting at you from the back side.  This knowledge goes back to before Vauban (1833-1707).  Cutting back the woods on the uphill back or side of the property pretty much means that someone has a pretty could clear shot on the front gate, or at the very least can command one stretch of wall. And once the bad guys have a stretch of wall, now they are firing away into your compound.  The solution to this, was abatis and barbed wire. The action gets to be a little like in F-troop when the Indians attack the fort, except that some superficial nobody usually bites the dust so they can all have a good cry. FWIW, I when I have done miniature skirmish level simulations, I have found the backyard defense if combined with some entanglements to slow up pursuit seems to work the best: houses and other strong points (like walls) are too easy for a better armed or numbered foe to focus on.


Shoot em in the back (from here)
The novel is a much simpler, and readable version of David Crawford's Lights Out.  You have the community pulling together, and common defense criteria being established.  The survivalists within the community decide to share with the other folks, so the tiny community has an amazing one-years worth of food on hand.  The folks seem a bit wooden to me at times, but I have to admit, modern passively entertained folks who have lost their method of livelihood, or just retired, are not always the most interesting folks anyway.  So maybe the wooden characterization is realistic.
 
The story only covers the summer after the collapse.  So the action involves some adventures outside of the compound, and some fighting involving attacks on the compound.  They are variously plausible, but certainly entertaining.  There is only one competent soldier type with them, but you would not expect a lot of competence at this stage of the game.  Even most of the soldiers are going to be amateurs at this style of warfare.
 
So did I like it?  It was fun. It was painless.  I don't think it was as well thought out as the two earlier books of his that I reviewed, but at least the author makes an attempt at some logical thinking through of the situation.  This one gets a little closer to the prepper-fantasy world were a bunch of average Joe become competent military types, but it is not too obnoxiously triumphant.  The author doesn't waste time ranting and raving about politics. So if you like the genre, and its many close cousins (zombie-fare for one), you would probably like it well enough.
 
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.
 
It is about a near term collapse within the context of the modern world.  The some what unlikely situation with the one-years worth of food, the lack of concern about what would be huge ammunition expenditure, and the convenient fort-like nature of the community takes a little bit away from the edge.  I will call it a six.


It is a very readable story.  A little slower to get going than his earlier works, I will also say it is a six.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Darkness After: A Review

Scott B.Williams' The Darkness After is an apocalyptic novel set mostly in rural Mississippi near Hattiesburg, MS.  Two strangers, a teenage boy and a young lady are trying to get back to their loved ones after a solar storm has knocked out all power and electronics in (at least) the western hemisphere. The novel takes place within roughly the same setting as his earlier novel, The Pulse, but the two storylines are completely separate.


Since we have already covered the author's bio earlier, we will just do a quick recap. Scott B. Williams is an outdoorsman writer who has turned to the survivalist/prepping niche.  His recent works include "how-to's" on Bugging Out, and Survivalism.
 
The novel starts a few days after a relatively brief, but large solar flare has wiped out everyone's electronics and automobiles.  The amount of energy involved in a Solar Flare is much larger than the much ballyhooed EMP strike, so this level of damage is a little more likely, even if the event itself can't be said to be a particularly common one.  The author towards the end of the story, brings up the idea that there may be parts of the world that were not effected by the storm, as they would be on the opposite side of the globe, an odd idea since the big recorded storm of 1859 took place over 5 days and thus would have plenty of time to get both sides of our spinning globe. 
 
In any case we start of with a very young looking 18 year old trying to get back to Hattiesburg, MS where her one year old daughter and fiancĂ©e are at.  A 16 years old boy, who lives somewhat in that direction is trying to get home to protect his younger sister.  The boy is dressed in hunting cameo and has a bow, the girl has a knife.  Both know how to use their weapons, and come pretty close to Navy SEAL like proficiency in combat.   After the boy helps the young lady to survive an attack by three rapists, they join forces and continue along their way. 
 
Since the world is already a few days into the power outage, the bad guys are out in full force.  If you had to make up a random encounter chart (in a Dungeons & Dragons sort of fashion), all encounters would be hostile in some fashion and half the encounters would be rapists.  It is a little overblown, but makes for a lot of excitement.  Given the kids propensity for traveling along pipeline right of ways, and creek beds, the story likely should just be that they trudge on to where they are going and meet up with their loved ones.  But lets face it, that would be a rather boring book, so we get a number of pitched battles where the bad guys are plausibly amateurish, but the kids are not.
 
Did I like the book.  Sure, it was fun.  It is not bogged down by excessive survivalist advice, although it does a reasonable job of highlighting some potential situations.  It continues the inland waterway boating theme of the first novel.  Although religion is not a discussed topic, and not much emphasized, the author rather plausibly has at least some folks rallying around their church for mutual support and protection, and there isn't the usual end of the world cultist types floating around.  It is very quick entertaining read.
 
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.
 
The novel is set in a modern setting with a realistic concern for supplies, and appropriate skill sets.  If the kids are outliers in their skill sets, and the adventures a little too exciting, you could plausibly just say that they were cursed (in the Chinese sense) to lead interesting lives.  Realism is a seven.
 
I already noted that its 284 pages is a fast two sitting read.  Designed as a page turner, the book keeps moving, and doesn't really bog down at any point.  Readability is also a seven.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Moving Snow: A Review

Ian Weekley's The Moving Snow is an icy apocalypse. Written in 1974, it is  set 15 years in the future: 1989.  The setting is a small hamlet outside of the small market town of Spilsby in Lincolnshire, and eventually moves to the Welsh Coast. Over the course of a few years, the climate gets progressively colder, and winters longer.



Ian Weekley (1933-) was born in Heathencote in rural Northamptonshire.  A school teacher, he  had a special interest in rural and environmental problems. As a side note, he is not the same person (different birthplace) as the military modeler/author of the same name. This may be his only published novel.
 
Lincolnshire, for those not familiar with the specifics of  United Kingdom geography is about halfway up the eastern coast of England on the way up toward Scotland.  I think the oil rig in Alex Scarrow's Afterlight was located off the coast here, and Tom Ward's more recent A Departure started in the area.  Obviously heavily "apocalized" territory, although in this case we are in the countryside with the hobbits country folk.  The novel later takes a journey to the more survivable Welsh coast, where our trepid band teams up with some remnants of a small fishing village.
 
The action is mostly about a small community of folks, not particularly well trained for roughing it, in the cold wilds, developing skills and a survival strategy for making a go of it.  There are a number of times when the main character lucks into some money which gives them the ability to buy some of their supplies, but it isn't all that overdone.  The story could have had them just buy some of the itmes before prices went through the roof.  With the Northern part of the country slowly being abandoned there is a lot of stuff that can be picked up for free.
 
What is interesting is that the author does not ignore the problems of violence, or disease in the now overcrowded Southern England, it just doesn't happen to our group.  It is a somewhat straightforward tale, except that unlike say the kids in our recently reviewed The Darkness After, who are cursed with interesting lives, our group has a bit of luck, and avoid the bad guys and diseases.  They are just a little too far out, and too remote, to make easy picking.  They stand watch, and don't ignore potential problems, its just that they don't happen.  It makes for a sort of sedate read.
 
The novel does read like a bit of a cosy, where the author obviously thinks there are advantages to being able to live a smaller, simpler life.  That having money to invest, and smooth the way, doesn't hurt.  The hobbits country folk settle down and live happily ever after.
 
Did I enjoy it?  Yes, it was a slow paced, but fun read.  Not a classic, but different enough, and well though out enough to keep up the interest level.  While we don't worry much about ice ages anymore, some of the survival thoughts aren't completely dependent on the frosty backdrop, and the characters methodical preparations and the author's scenario building are interesting.  So I would call it a qualified recommendation.
 
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.
 
Is it realistic?  Mostly, the author's undeserved wealth is a little unrealistic, and could easily have been substituted for a little more advanced preparation.  Much of what they do wouldn't require massive wealth, if they had used a little more forethought.  There are realistic concerns about supplies.  We will call it a six.
 
Readability is mixed.  With very little action, almost none really, it is not a page turner, but it isn't overly complicated by lots of metaphysical wisdom or symbolism. It is a relatively quick read: a 5.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rhubarb Culture: A Review

Doug Shear's Rhubarb Culture is a satirical book of survivalism in a slow economic collapse set in Miami Florida.  A young couple tries to earn enough cash to make the most of their survivalist compound (off stage) while working for a boss who is an insane business tycoon, and also dealing with the local suicide cult.



Doug Shear, a native of Miami, is a writer, and stand up comic. As he puts it, "Since the Great Recession I've tried to eke out a living by creating websites, growing a cactus and succulent nursery, teaching marketing, spying on my neighbors for the US Census Bureau and much more".
 
The story involves a young survivalist couple, the mechanizations of an insane business mogul who he comes to work for and Rhubarb. Rhubarb being the name of the very large lady who is the guru of the local, gone national through the media, suicide cult.  With much of the population unemployed and desperate, their activities are tolerated, possibly even condoned.  Rhubarb is an honest broker, who is channeling a spirit who is giving her the information with which she started her cult.
 
Without getting into too many details, the story is that of the young couple.  The "boyfriend" is a night watchman, posted near a bridge, who eventually starts saving people who try to take their life by jumping off the bridge.  One day he saves a beautiful young Cuban woman, and that is the start of a rather nice part the story.   He gets a job with the insane business mogul, and is sent out to spy on Rhubarb.  At some point the business man decides to kidnap Rhubarb so that he can interrogate her about her channeling abilities.  It just gets crazier from there.
 
As I noted above, it is all rather satirical.  The couples story is a nice one, and Rhubarb's rather sad. It is funny at points, if not an hysterical read.
 
Did I like it.  Yes, if not fanatically so.  It is just a nice, not all that serious, story.  It is not that clear what the purpose behind it is, other than maybe to say something like "love can conquer a lot."
 
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.
 
It is set in the modern world.  But it is comic satire.  It is not attempting to build an actual world which people live in, but to poke fun at our current one.  No elves and fairies, but a lot of implausible activity.  The survivalism points mentioned seem more to be plot devices than serious attempts at planning.  We will call it a two.
 
Readability is straight forward.  Satire is not generally a straight read, as there is supposed to be implied meanings behind what is presented.  But much of the satire seems more to the point of having a laugh, rather than making too heavy of a point.  Not enough action for it to move too fast, so we will call it a five.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Man Who Saved Two Notch: A Review

R.W. Ripley's The Man Who Saved Two Notch is a western style post-apocalyptic novel set in a desert badlands after 75 years of warfare have left society a collection of disheveled outposts.



R.W. (Richard W.) Ridley has won the Ippy (independent Publisher) Award for his YA zombie horror series The Oz Chronicles.  Per his various bios, he lives in Charleston, SC with a number of pets, and a beautiful Italian-American wife. He seems to have some sort of interest in Big Foot.
 
The story has more Western a feel than post-apocalyptic, but the p-a element is necessary to introduce some of the folks and themes that occur in the novel.
 
A small isolated village has found out that there are marauders coming to attack.  The decrepit, despotic, religious leadership decides to send off a twelve year old boy to find the semi-legendary gun for higher, Abel Decker.  The story is something of a questing tale, with the boy, and a young mute girl sent along to help him, running into all sorts of unusual folks along the way.  A number of the themes, and the language, is adult, although it is not pornographic in nature.  The story is told in a somewhat satirical fashion, much like the gritty cowboy movies of the 1970s.  Like the 1970s fare, it is not the cowboy good guys saving the good citizens, but that of a grim downtrodden anti-hero saving the corrupt and incompetent.  As is common for this type of story, a prostitute is one of the more sympathetic and helpful characters that they run into.
 
Did I like it?  It was o.k. but not stellar.  The author does a good job of imbuing the various actors on the stage with a certain amount of personality, often with only a few lines.  However, the satirical-comic, very over the top tone kept me from taking the fate of the two most sympathetic characters (the boy and the girl) very seriously.  There just wasn't enough suspension of disbelief to make it work.  So I will call it a very limited recommendation. 
 
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.
 
The novel talks about realistic issues, but the portrayal is not particularly realistic.  It is set far enough into the future that anybody old enough to remember our world as it is today will be at least 80.  The goofiness just gets too much in the way: call it a three.
 
The novel is a fairly easy read.  There are a few twists and turns but the author does a good job of what is going on.  It is not a page turner, but does move along nicely: a five.