Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jakarta Pandemic: e-book review

Steven Konkoly has written a new Apocalypse in Progress book called The Jakarta Pandemic.
[Note: this book has received a clean up since the early e-version.  Although weighing in at 389 pages some of the rough edges have been smoothed out.]

The blurb from the book website:
In the late fall of [2013], a lethal pandemic virus emerges from the Islamic Republic of Indonesia (IRI) and rages unchecked across every continent.  When the Jakarta Flu threatens his picture perfect Maine neighborhood, Alex Fletcher, Iraq War veteran, is ready to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe.

With his family and home prepared for an extended period of seclusion, Alex has few real concerns about the growing pandemic.  But as the deadliest pandemic in human history ravages northern New England, and starts to unravel the fabric of their Maine neighborhood, he starts to realize that the flu itself is the least of his problems.  A mounting scarcity of food and critical supplies turns most of the neighbors against him, and Alex is forced to confront their unexpected hostility before it goes too far. 

Just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, the very face of human evil arrives on Durham Rd, forcing Alex and his few remaining friends to defend themselves from a threat far deadlier than the flu.
The blurb is a little on the breathless side.  The book is a little more even in tone.  In fact, where it is even in tone is often where it is scariest.  The run up to the pandemic is fairly frightening.  The do I go into work and keep my job versus do I stay home safe is fairly well thought out.

Alex Fletcher is a what some people call  a Yuppie Prepper.  In his case he is an NPR liberal type prepper who also happens to be an ex-marine officer who served in Iraq.  It is an odd combination.  He lives in an upscale neighborhood in Maine with one entrance from the main road that circles back around itself: a loop cul de sac if you will. He works as a pharmaceuticals salesman, and his wife is an accountant.  With his company selling a Tammy Flu-like product , he is on the front line of the early stages of the pandemic.

One side-effect influenza as "End of the World as We Know it" (EOTWAWKI) is that it makes cooperation amongst the survivors difficult.  Although the die off ratio is a realistic 20%, the number of people susceptible to the sickness, and greatly weakened by its effects is much higher.  The die off rate is set at a realistic 20%, presumably being somewhat in line with the 1918 flue (see here).  The Bird Fly (H1N5) has had at times a death rate of closer to 50%; its just not that easy to contract. Twenty-percent, Fifty-percent, needless to say after a while people start getting nervous.

At times it is almost as if he was channeling the neighborhood in  Lights Out; but in this case we have its evil twin.  If the cul de sac neighborhood in Lights out bands to together, and everyone loves the ever helpful hero, they do the opposite in Jakarta Pandemic.  Where the main character is helpful, he is resented for being better off (for having prepared), and becomes a figure of hatred to some.
Given the rather cantankerous temperament often displayed by online preppers, one can only assume that Jakarta Pandemics outcome might be the more likely outcome over the ubber-cooperation of Lights Out.  Alex does have a tendency to come of as a bit truculent at times.

The unprepared are really really unprepared.  Almost from the start they  try to angle their way into other people's preps.  Since their is no magical EMP strike, to knock everything out at the very start of the novel, most of the neighbors are more interested in making baby sitting arrangements than a cohesive defense.  They want to pool resources.  When Alex makes the offer to help with any defensive duties, they (correctly) view him as making threats.  His offers of Tammy Flu-like products is backfires because he does not have enough for everyone.  The logic for why he does not have more is very unclear. 

Alex makes so many mistakes it is amazing.  It is a little unclear if all the mistakes are intended as such, but clearly most of them are.  A partial list of mistakes:

  1. The family continues to go into town way longer than needed.  Their last few meals before they button up are eaten at restaurants (?). 
  2. Well into the crisis the hero is jogging around the neighborhood unarmed, and is unwilling through much of the novel to openly carry a loaded gun.
  3. He does not get a night sight that will work with his AR-15.  He is a marine, he should know better.
  4. He try to do absolutely everything by himself.  He allows nobody else in the house to use any of the real weapons (rifle-shotgun) even though his injury or death would leave them very unprepared.
  5. What is good as that he does have a few neighbors who have made some preparations.  And while he only interacts with them to  limited extent, their team work is crucial.
And some odd items:
  1. Nobody seems to put any fences in their backyards.
  2. Why Alex, with his connections to Doctors has so few doses of Tammy Flu or his companies products is unclear.  What he has he swiped as free samples at Doctors offices so it cannot be an unwillingness to go outside the usual channels.
  3. Given the previous closeness of the neighbors, they actually know each other by name, it is unclear why he does not stock beyond the families immediate needs.  He has spend a lot of money on expensive items, but is relatively short on the relatively inexpensive.
The bad guys are not that impressive.  If Alex did not insist on taking them on with very limited help they would be much easier to deal with.  Of course pissing off most of your neighbors does limit your options for allies.
The early part of the novel is taken up with unpleasant interactions with his employer.  This is interesting enough, but is drawn out too long.  It might have been more interesting if the protagonists had a few more money problems.

The novel does a very good job of highlighting the problems with partial law enforcement.  Partial law enforcement won't even slow up the bad guys, but will tend to limit effective vigilantism.

All and all, Jakarta Pandemic is an exciting book.  The tension, while uneven, is still very real.

Steven Konkoly


Steven Konkoly said...

Hi Russell,

First off, you're review of my novel was fantastic. As a new writer, I am still amazed when it becomes apparent that readers have put so much time and thought into my novel. I don't know why this surprises me, since as an avid reader, I do the same thing. You clearly put a lot of thought into my're review is probably the most comprehensive breakdown of my novel to date. Thank you.

From your review, I sense a common theme that I would love to address. Why Alex did some of the things he times he could have done better, prepped better, etc. I agree. First, I'll admit that prior to this novel, I was not a prepper. I thought about it a lot, but like most people, I just never took it seriously enough to start the basics (sad, really). Now this may be hard to believe, but I had never visited a prepper/survivalist site prior to publishing the book. I started looking for an initial market to share my store...and I found an incredible wealth of information, opinions and resources in the form of the prepper community.

I'm kind of glad I didn't find it until after, because I would not have been able to write certain scenes with this new knowledge. I purposely added a dimension of clumsiness to Alex's actions, to more reflect the attitudes of a "Yuppie Prepper." A real prepper wouldn't eat out at a restaurant, go into town, jog around unarmed...I agree.

I created a ground level of preparation and competency, based on what I thought to be common sense and a ton of research into pandemic flu characteristics, essential services breakdown, government response/capabilities. Not all of Alex's glitches were purposeful...some of them probably reflected a weak spot that I would have corrected, had I found the prep community earlier.

Why not more Tamiflu? Simple, I didn't want Alex to have enough to give everyone. Had to move the conflict along, as I am a drug rep in real life, taking that much Tamiflu could be very risky. Taking enough for your family and friends is a risk I'd be willing to take.

No night scope for the AR-15? If I had read the prep boards before...I would have had a difficult time not giving him one. He spent a lot of money on other things for sure. I just thought that the prospect of a night battle would be one of the last things he would prep for. I gave him basic NV to scope out the neighborhood.

Thanks again for the thought you put into your review. I'm extremely impressed and honored.

Steven Konkoly

russell1200 said...

LOL: does your employer-bosses know that they have been cast as bad guys? They are actually pretty warm and fuzzy compared to a few that I have worked for!

You don't need a night-scope for the AR. Some of the red dot sites work very well with night vision monoculars: you just need the right combination.

I didn't complain about him using an AR, because it is the weapon he is familiar with. But for the first few rounds he is arguably outgunned by the shotguns at the range he chooses to fight at. His big advantage is that the shotguns will run out of ammo pretty quickly and is harder to reload in a stress situation. If he had been fighting experienced troops who charged into the ambush, he might have had serious problems: as it is they charged the wrong way, and went after the guy they really couldn't get at.

I am glad you liked the review. Your book is much better written than most of the other prepper literature.

Steven Konkoly said...

You're right. I wrote a prologue a week ago, which I uploaded to the Kindle and Amazon book. You may not have seen it. You can read it at my blog: It has him lying out in the cold, reflecting on what went wrong in the neighborhood. I added it to give readers a taste of what was to come. His biggest concern while lying their is that Charlie will miss them, and they'll get too close. Shotguns are devastating at shorter ranges.

I think the one big difference between my book and all of the other prepper lit, is that my protagonists aren't superheroes...nor do they make all of the right decisions. In the more notable prepper books (all good), the prepared seem infallible in every way. Especially in Patriot. I didn't want to create that sort of a feel. I wanted the reader to walk away with the concept that preparing will help you "better" deal with a crisis/disaster, but there are still a ton of variables that can never fully be appreciated. Like your whole neighborhood turning on you.

Thanks again for the review.

russell1200 said...

Thanks for the tip. I did not see the prologue.

I will put it in the contents of the post so those passing through will see it. It will give me another chance to see if I can straighten out the formatting as well.

Patriots apparently went through a number of genesis. I think at times it was intended as much as a militia-book as a prepper book.

The following is from a posting that I have worked on but never did with regards to non-traditional post-apocalyptic stories.

Three Monks East by Philip Revene is set after the post-apocalyptic period has somewhat stabilized into a neo-victorian society. A fun read.

The Far North by Marcel Theroux is far more apocalyptic. It is set in Russia although the protagonist has an American background. This one is one of my favorites.

Things We didn’t see coming, by Steven Amsterdam also does not have a ton of action in the shoot-em-up sense, but is pretty interesting as it is a collection of short stories where the protagonist is not always a “good guy”.